Post-Celebrity ‘Got Milk?’ Campaign Survives—Barely—at 25


Got Milk? - 2010 - Taylor Swift

It’s June Dairy Month once again, and one of America’s most iconic and longest-running advertising campaigns and taglines is still at it—barely—and still fighting for relevance.

Now in its 25th year, “Got Milk?” is still in use by the California Milk Processor Board (CMPB) as it promotes the world’s first beverage—well, second after water—even if it’s no longer in use at the U.S. national level with the MilkPEP (US Milk Processor Education Program) “Milk Mustache” celebrity campaign that brought it fame.

Ivana Trump / Milk Mustache campaign

One of the most famous taglines in marketing history and an hallmark of the 90’s, “Got Milk?” inevitably shrunk and lost its VIP status—and mustaches—over the years. The campaign launched at the national U.S. level in 1993 with the “Aaron Burr” campaign:

Now, instead of actors, musicians, athletes or musicians, it’s more likely to be seen on California kids:

And in ads touting food pairings that go with milk, such as ravioli:

“Food Loves Milk” is the latest campaign from the CMPB, which emphasizes milk’s culinary flexibility and “draws emotional parallels between the excitement of discovering new foods and the joyful rush of falling in love,” according to a press release.

Launched last fall, the California-focused campaign “draws on classic dating scenarios to highlight the versatility of milk when it comes to food pairings.”

Got Milk?

It’s the final “Got Milk?” campaign by the campaign’s longstanding agency, Goodby Silberstein & Partners, who were replaced by Gallegos United in December.

The San Francisco-based ad firm came up with the now-famous slogan and positioning nearly 25 years ago when a panel of consumers were asked to avoid milk for a week before participating in the study, according to Fast Company. 

When they showed up for the focus group, “they were a little anxious about being deprived of the household staple. Soon their emotional connection to milk became clear, especially in its absence. That insight led to “Got Milk?” which became a mainstay of CMPB and also MilkPEP.

Lauren Conrad unveils her national Milk Mustache "got milk?" ad and encourages teens to drink milk to get gorgeous from the inside out at The Grove on June 15, 2010

They tapped into the growing celebrity culture by getting milk mustaches onto more than  350 VIPs over 20 years, including Lauren Conrad, Naomi Campbell, Whoopi Goldberg, Harrison Ford, Britney Spears, Taylor Swift and Danica Patrick (below).

Got Milk? Danica Patrick

Kermit the Frog and wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin wore mustaches. Celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz shot many of the ads, underlining milk’s Hollywood status.

Got Milk?

In addition to the Aaron Burr spot, “Got Milk?” produced more than 70 TV commercials that ran in California alone. And over the last several years, the cultural relevance of the slogan and the campaign has been extended by countless takeoffs and continual media references, even as its influence has waned at the national level.

Stop anyone on the street today under 30 and ask if they recognize the tagline or the celebrity below and they may recognize Miley Cyrus more than the catchphrase.

Got Milk? with Miley Cyrus

After a long era of scientific disdain for the nutritional characteristics of milk and of decades of decline in fluid-milk sales, “Got Milk?” has survived to see the dawn of a potentially new phase in which millennials have come to appreciate dairy products for their protein, calcium and authenticity while there are reasons many now believe that even animal fat in milk isn’t such a bad thing.

In fact, the University of South Florida, among others, is using June Dairy Month as a reason to explain why “Milk Does a Body Good” for reasons including: Calcium combined with potassium and magnesium play an important role in maintaining normal blood pressure; milk nutrients can help maintain weight; and cultured dairy products like kefir and yogurt provide “friendly bacteria” that help promote a healthy gut.

“Milk Does a Body Good” may not be as catchy as “Got Milk?” was in its day—but it’s a different day, and milk marketers may be happy just to be in the fridge and at the table, even if milk is no longer all that hip—or on the lips of celebrities—any more.