UPDATE: Milk Board Takes Down Sexist Milk Campaign Site

6 years ago

The sexist milk campaign from the California Milk Processors Board on which we reported last week has taken down its microsite following the firestorm engendered by the campaign’s tone and message.

Along with the hundreds of articles and reports that surfaced citing its blatant misogynism, Ms. magazine launched a petition to the milk board to end the campaign, which received over 9,000 signatures.

The campaign, which was introduced on July 11, was created by the ad firm Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, which brought us the “Got Milk?” campaign in the 1990s. In statements following the backlash, both executives at Goodby, Silverstein and the milk board issued statements that their intention had not been to cause offense with the campaign, which made fun of the mood swings associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS), categorizing women who exhibit these symptoms as unstable and volatile, while painting men as the unfortunate victims of the tragedy.

Steve James, executive director of the California Milk Processor Board, told the New York Times that the board’s hope had been to draw attention to PMS as something “the sexes deal with together” and to ignite “social discussion.”

In retrospect, Jeff Goodby, co-chairman of Goodby, Silverstein, admitted that the campaign was more controversial than they expected it to be. As a result of the criticism, the California Milk Processors Board decided to pull down the content on the microsite EverythingIDoIsWrong.org, which once featured a canned apology ticker, a clearly disingenuous apology animated e-card-maker, a “Key PMS Indicators Index” that showed how high the futures of cocoa were skyrocketing, a vocabulary of phrases to employ ("Instead of: IRRATIONAL Try: PASSIONATE"), and a "Current Global PMS Level" chart that mimicked the color-coded threat level system once employed by the Department of Homeland Security (because nothing says let’s “work this out together” like a reminder that we don’t negotiate with terrorists).

Now when the URL is accessed, users are redirected to GotDiscussion.org, a site created by Goodby, Silverstein to attempt to navigate the deluge of criticism the campaign encountered almost immediately after launch.

“Rather than to continue the campaign, it’s better to have this bigger discussion, which will get more readership,” Goodby said when he commented to the New York Times on the new campaign direction.

GotDiscussion offers links to articles and posts that criticized the campaign, as well as a handful of comments praising it.

The original post I wrote regarding the campaign was one of the posts targeted for inclusion on this site. On Monday, I was contacted by an employee at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners with a request to reprint a quote on their new site.

Because I am not in the habit of publishing e-mail, I hesitated to print the message I had received. However, after some consideration, I decided to run it on my own property, Sex and the 405 after removing all personally identifiable information, because I felt its contents reflected a corporate position that was in the public interest. The following is an excerpted version, provided here to give readers the necessary information to understand why I declined to participate in on the GotDiscussion site.

We’ve had a lot of conversation over the last few days regarding next steps for the Everything I Do Is Wrong campaign.

In the last week, we had over 100K visitors to our website, 190 TV news reports, and 1,500+ articles. We started a heated conversation that incited supporters, haters and many folks in-between. Our next step is to start a conversation about relationships & PMS and now we’d like to feature it by aggregating the whole conversation in one place, even those statements of our most adamant haters. Why? Because some really relevant questions were asked like is PMS an acceptable topic for marketing? And do men have a right to talk about PMS? We’ll also do this because we’re are not shy or apologetic about the campaign we put out.

In order to move forward with our campaign we are hoping to obtain the rights for Company Names, Logos and the Articles to appear on our Client’s websites. The links will all go live ASAP.

From BlogHer, we would like to use a quote from you via BlogHer, “They target PMS as something the sexes struggle with together. So why are there no women in any of this, again? It’s not a new campaign… What makes it different, perhaps, is the tone.”

As I commented on Sex and the 405, the quote they selected, stripped of all context, comes from the following paragraphs from my piece:

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?

[... ] Steve James, executive director of the milk board, based in San Clemente, California, told the New York Times that 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?

The e-mail, which I verified did indeed come from Goodby, Silverstein showed a corporate position that I felt, and continue to feel, is dismissive and exploitative. The employee who contacted me made it clear that the firm was not “apologetic about the campaign,” addressing people who disagree with it as “haters” instead of using a more neutral term like “dissenters.”

Even the apology posted on the new site continues to suggest that the problem is with the humorless audience, as Andy Sternberg at LAist noted: “Over the past couple of weeks, regrettably, some people found our campaign about milk and PMS to be outrageous and misguided - and we apologize to those we offended. Others thought it funny and educational. It has opened up a topic that affects women, of course, but also relationships. We have reproduced a representative sampling of the reaction here...”

This notion is only enforced by Steve James’ comments to the New York Times that seem to suggest that board’s mistake had not been in creating the campaign, but in misjudging the “heat generated by people who thought we stepped over the line.” He referred to GotDiscussion as their way to turn down the heat, and emphasized that the Everything I Do Is Wrong campaign is “not a failure in any way,” and that he doesn’t “see it as ending it or pulling the plug.”

Frankly, I am happy that BlogHer is not a part of that site.

AV Flox is the section editor of Love & Sex on BlogHer. You can connect with her on Twitter @avflox, Google Plus +AV Flox, or e-mail her directly at av.flox AT BlogHer.com

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