linked in facebook twitter rss

  • Interbrand
  • Brandchannel

your chance!
your chance!
Salary Calculator
Also of interest...




Jeff Manning

Jeff Manning
From Got Milk? to Got Manning
by Dale Buss
September 24, 2010

Jeff Manning made the milk mustache de rigueur. As executive director of the California Milk Processor Board, he led the creation of the “Got Milk?” tagline and the associated advertising campaign in the early Nineties and, over the next decade, made it one of the most-recognized advertising icons in America and a brand in its own right.

Before “Got Milk?,” Manning had spent a quarter-century at major advertising agencies handling the needs of some of the biggest brand clients in the world, ranging from Procter & Gamble to ConAgra, from Bank of America to Safeway.


Manning left the milk-marketing business five years ago to go on his own as a consultant. Now, the biggest continuing gig for the 63-year-old, who lives in Orinda, Calif., is his work as chief marketing officer for the Cherry Marketing Institute. Manning’s other clients include Jamba Juice and Hewlett-Packard.

While on a shoestring budget compared with his “Got Milk?” days and with the deep pockets of many agricultural commodities that compete with tart cherries for business, Manning has helped the cherries – many grown in the Upper Midwest – to climb to No. 3 among “dark superfruits” by many measures of American consumer awareness and brand recognition, after cranberries and blueberries.

Manning talked with brandchannel about what it’s like to create a classic brand, and what you do after that:

How do you decide what brands to work on?

I choose the things I’m really interested in that are intellectually challenging for me and don’t interfere with the cherry business.

What would you tell young branders who would hope to have a career as distinguished as yours?

A couple of things. One is, be brand-centric. Really dedicate yourself — whatever brands or brands you’re working on, put them first. Put them ahead of your business, if you’re a consultant, and ahead of the agency’s business. Put the brand first.


You do that by having the chutzpah to fight for the brand inside your own agency or if you have a choice -- for example, if you’re a creative guy doing something nifty that isn’t right for the brand versus something not as edgy that is better for the brand. Because in the end, everyone will know if you’ve done what’s really right for the brand.

What else?

The second thing is to be strategic and not race off into execution. Every brand has a persona, a personality, a reason for being. Too many people are racing off and doing tactical things before they’ve dealt with, “For what reason does the brand exist? Why do people choose it?” A lot of people like to race off to execution. It’s getting caught up in the nifty little things and not dealing with core strategic issues.

So work on the stuff that you really have a heart for. If someone asked me if I’d work on an alcoholic beverage or a cigarette, I’d say no thank you; I just don’t have a heart for it. Or technology, for that matter; I just don’t have the heart for technology. I couldn’t … love it. Try to work on the stuff that you really have a heart for and you will be better for the brand and as a marketer.

How did you come up with the “Got Milk?” idea?

It came from consumers. The whole milk-deprivation thing – running out of milk, when you’ve got cookies, so you need milk – came from consumers. We didn’t make it up. We were just talking with people and said, “Well, we know that most milk is consumed with food,” and we asked, “Why do you like it that way?” People were telling us lots of taste-related things, which was all pretty boring – telling you that cookies and milk taste good together isn’t exactly profound.

And then someone had the good idea to give people in these focus groups chocolate brownies and chocolate-chip cookies and bowls of cereal — and not have milk there. And the consumers in our research went crazy. They said, “You’re torturing me. This is like prisoner-of-war stuff.” That was the moment. We just had to look and listen.

How did you know it was time to move on from “Got Milk?” to other opportunities?

When I would go into the office and sit there and look at our program and after 12 years didn’t know how to make it better. There were only increments available – we could make it more efficient or more effective, but at that point only in 1-percent increments. I wasn’t willing to change the program just because I wanted something to do. It was when I realized I couldn’t make the sort of strategic or creative contributions I needed to make that I said it was probably time.

Twelve years on one product isn’t like 12 years at General Mills; [milk] is white and comes in gallons – and that’s it. That’s 90% of the milk industry. I wasn’t using enough of my gray cells anymore. And I haven’t looked back.

How did you end up helping the cherry-marketing group?

I was doing speeches and trying to drum up business and someone at the Cherry Marketing Institute in Lansing (Mich.) said, “Can you build a brand?” I had previously done work with bananas, strawberries and raisins, mostly at Ketchum, and that’s how I got the milk job in the first place.

Are you ever surprised by the continuing cultural relevance of “Got Milk?”

Yes, for sure. For instance, recently I was in San Francisco on my way out to dinner and drove by one of the strip joints which had a neon sign that said, “Got Porn?” I looked at that amazed at how (“Got Milk?”) has become such a part of the American vernacular.

We even made an effort once to see if we could get “Got Milk?” in the dictionary. It turned out it would be too laborious and there was some regulatory stuff. But when you see a garbage truck go by and it says “Got Junk?” you certainly realize it’s become part of how we speak. And I still do presentations on building brand potency using “Got Milk?” because it’s a great case study for building a brand even though it’s not really a brand.

So I guess we know where you got your marketing tagline, “Got Manning?”

Actually, it was a bit of a conflict for me. I thought it was a bit self-serving. But most people that I trusted said, “Jeff, you’d be an idiot not to do it.”


Dale Buss is a journalist and editorial consultant in Rochester Hills, Michigan. He's a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal and writes about marketing and branding for a variety of publications.

 commenting closed Add Social Bookmark bookmark  print
 suggest topic  recommend ( 8 )  email

  brandchannel careers archive   2013  |  2011  | 2010  |  2009  |  2008  |  2007  |  2006  |  2005  |  2004  |  2003  |  2002  |  2001
Dec 23, 2010 Gary Hirshberg - Organic Oracle -- Dale Buss  
  The C-E-Yo of Stonyfield on his career  
Nov 19, 2010 Dave Knox - Marketing Technopologist -- Sheila Shayon  
  From P&G to Rockfish, Knox shares some lessons learned along the way  
Oct 29, 2010 Jaffer Ali - Web Video Savant -- Sheila Shayon  
  Ali discusses a career that has taken him A Hard Day’s Night to running Vidsense.  
Sep 10, 2010 Wayne Rogers - From M*A*S*H to Kleinfeld’s, a Brand’s a Brand -- Dale Buss  
  Wayne Rogers still may be best known for his role as Trapper John on the TV series M*A*S*H, but it’s arguable that he’s an even better entrepreneur and brand builder than actor.  
Jul 23, 2010 Chris Lee - Singapore's Design Savant -- Adeline Chong  
  Chris Lee of Asylum, a creative agency based in Singapore, talks to Adeline Chong about how he became one of Asia's most respected creatives, how he almost didn't become a designer, and much more.  
May 24, 2010 Peter Arnell - Branding’s Bad Boy Gets Contemplative -- Dale Buss  
  Dale Buss talks to veteran brand marketer Peter Arnell about his new book, "Shift: How to Reinvent Your Business, Your Career, and Your Personal Brand"  
May 21, 2010 Laureen Ong - Travel Maven Returns Home  
Jan 22, 2010 Gianine Rothschild - getting balmed -- Chana Mayefsky  
  Pookie’s smooth branding spreads overseas.