Got Sexism? The California Milk Processor Board's New Milk Campaign

7 years ago

I loved the Got Milk ad campaign of the 90s. My sister collected the ads from magazines for years, at one point filling an entire wall in her bedroom with them (a brilliant act of one-upmanship in response to my own wall of cracked and scratched CDs).

I loved how each ad seemed to let the viewer in on a story, and how it seemed to provide a perfect illustration to what Andy Warhol, my hero in those days, had once said about Coca-Cola: "What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it."

There on that wall were all these people, some stars, some athletes, some well-known for other reasons, some fictional superheroes, and they weren't selling fashion, accessories or cars. They were selling something almost everyone I knew already had in their refrigerators: milk. No matter how grand they seemed, they all wore a milk mustache and I could wear one too. That was cool, and it made the campaign memorable.

The campaign Got Milk? was created for the California Milk Processor Board in 1993 by the advertising agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. It made its debut on televisions in amusing commercials featuring people who had eaten dry or sticky foods and couldn't wash them down because they were out of milk. Two years later, the slogan was licensed to the National Milk Processor Board, which put it on print ads featuring celebrities. Since then, due to its huge popularity, the slogan has been licensed to many other milk boards nationwide.

This year, the California Milk Processor Board unveiled what they must have imagined would be an equally popular campaign based on milk's ability to alleviate the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), which most often manifest in the form of cramps, moodiness, fatigue, and bloating. The campaign, which kicked off on Monday, doesn't target women, however. It's for men. Its tag line, now also a website, is: "Everything I do is wrong."

Print ads in circulation feature cartoonish men in varying stages of distress, with headlines such as "I'm sorry I listened to what you said and not what you meant," "I apologize for letting you misinterpret what I was saying," and "I apologize for not reading between the right lines."

It's not a new campaign: in 2005, Goodby, Silverstein created a commercial featuring men in various stages of desperation buying all the milk they could get their hands on, before the screen faded to black and explained that a recent study had shown calcium helped reduce the symptoms of PMS.

What makes it different, perhaps, is the tone. Goodby, Silverstein have taken a clever, if annoying joke, too far. The new print ads are passive aggressive at best -- unlike the mustached ads of the 90s, this campaign doesn't let everyone in on the fun. Women are the irrational ones. The joke about their "condition," which men alone may be able to cure if they buy enough milk for them and memorize the pre-scripted apologies provided by the accompanying site's "Pending Apologies" ticker so as to not exacerbate it, is only for men to enjoy. Most egregious, perhaps is the site's "Current Global PMS Level" that mimics the color-coded threat level system once employed by the Department of Homeland Security -- if PMS is something the California Milk Processor Board wants to alleviate, why are they making women out to be on the same level as terrorists?

Those are not the only aggravating aspects of the site: to ensure that men identify with the content, its creators appeal to all possible stereotypes about what men are "all about." The interface makes the site look like the high-tech programs of spy films, and includes a well-located "Key PMS Indicators Index" listing cocoa futures (har har), silver futures, and gold futures. Because men are all about the stocks. It also suggests a vocabulary of phrases to employ ("Instead of: IRRATIONAL Try: PASSIONATE") and provides a geo-locator that tells you where you can get milk ASAP.

Steve James, executive director of the milk board, based in San Clemente, California, told the New York Times targeting ads about PMS to men is meant to "get attention," "surprise" consumers and "ignite social media discussion." James defended the ads saying that they don't portray so much "a battle of the sexes," as they target PMS as something "the sexes struggle with together." So why are there no women in any of this, again? And what's with the terror rating system?

It's a shame that the California Milk Processor Board has taken this position. The Got Milk campaign in the 90s showed we could all share something and benefit from it, but -- by the look of the discussions on social media -- their ads today seem to do little more than alienate 50 percent of their consumer base.

I guess this is where women should regurgitate one of the campaign's ads and apologize for not reading between the right lines.

Sadly, it's this potentially alienated 50 percent of the consumer that would stand to benefit the most, as various studies in the past decades have suggested that calcium may help decrease the symptoms of PMS. Dr. Susan Thys-Jacobs, an endocrinologist and assistant professor at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, studied the effect of calcium in a paper published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in 2000:

In 1989, a randomized, double blind crossover trial was conducted to assess the effectiveness of calcium in women with PMS . Thirty-three women received three months of daily calcium supplementation (1000 mg of elemental calcium in the form of calcium carbonate) and three months of placebo. At the end of the trial, 73% of the women cited global improvement of symptomatology on calcium compared to placebo. Elemental calcium was found to significantly result in an overall 50% reduction in PMS symptomatology.

In 1993, Penland et al. conducted a metabolic study of calcium and manganese nutrition in ten women with premenstrual and menstrual distress symptomatology. Women were assigned in a double blind manner to one of four dietary periods of either 587 mg or 1336 mg of calcium with 1.0 mg or 5.6 mg of manganese per day. The high dietary calcium intake in the amount of 1336 mg per day was found to benefit mood, behavior, pain and water retention symptoms significantly during the menstrual cycle.

In 1998, a prospective, multicenter, randomized double blind placebo controlled parallel-group, clinical trial was conducted in women with moderate to severe PMS to determine the efficacy of calcium in symptom reduction. Subjects were randomly assigned to receive 1200 mg of elemental calcium per day in the form of calcium carbonate or placebo for three menstrual cycles. Approximately two thousand women were prescreened, seven hundred and twenty women were screened prospectively with a daily rating scale for two menstrual cycles, four hundred ninety-seven women were enrolled, and 95% completed the trial. By the third treatment cycle, calcium effectively resulted in an overall 48% reduction in total symptom scores. Calcium was found to be effective on all four core symptom factors of PMS representative of this syndrome (negative affect, water retention, food cravings and pain) as well as on 15 of the 17 individual symptoms.

I think Soy Dream should retaliate with the campaign, "We may not help with cramps, but we're not sexist asshats."

AV Flox is the editor of Sex and the 405 -- what your newspaper would look like if it had a sex section.

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