'Got Milk?' ad strikes out with Major League Baseball
Commercial is parody of performance-enhancing substance use
George Raine, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, October 22, 2005
You're never going to please everybody.
In the latest version of the ever-popular "Got Milk?'' advertising campaign, baseball players get busted for using a performance-enhancing substance: milk.
Not surprisingly, Major League Baseball is a bit miffed about the parody on its steroid scandal aired in the latest commercials for the California Milk Processor Board.
"There is nothing humorous about steroid abuse,'' said Tim Brosnan, executive vice president for business for the league. "I would think that the California Milk Processor Board and their advertising agency would know better regarding an issue that threatens America's youth.''
You're not going to get an argument about the evils of steroids at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, the San Francisco advertising agency that has produced the now iconic "Got Milk?'' advertising since 1993.
"There's a good-naturedness to (the campaign) that I hope comes through, because it's just milk,'' said Jeff Goodby, the agency's co-founder. "Believe me, we know parody is based on a serious topic. So we wanted to make sure that it was goofy enough so that people didn't get upset.''
The ads rolled out statewide on network affiliates and cable channels during the baseball playoffs and will continue through the World Series. They pass critical advertising tests, grabbing attention and delivering a message, this one about the nutritional value of milk.
The five 30-second reality-based ads describe a performance-enhancing substance that helps rebuild muscles, maintains bone strength and promotes sleep. The message is that milk is a healthy drink with calcium, protein and vitamin D.
In the first in the group of spots, called "Caught,'' a television sports anchor reports, "Home run hitter Dave Laden was pulled from last night's lineup after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.'' We next see a coach reaching into a locker and pulling out a carton of milk. The star tells reporters as he leaves the stadium, "I don't know how that got in there ... I think I'm being unfairly singled out. This stuff is everywhere. You can buy it in broad daylight. It's on about every corner. That's it, guys.''
In a voice-over, an announcer delivers the tag line "Got milk?''
The "Got Milk?'' material over the years has largely told stories of milk deprivation or the misery of running out of the stuff. But there have been departures from the theme, such as the somewhat serious ad in 2003 that was nothing more than a montage of X-rays -- a hand, a tibia, a pelvic bone and more -- with a message to think of milk as a source of calcium to help prevent bone loss and osteoporosis. More recently, the ads made the case that milk helps alleviate symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
The milk spots have even been controversial before. Former Gov. Gray Davis told his staff he hated the "Got Milk?'' ad in which a calcium-deficient man's arms are pulled off and asked whether there was some way it could be yanked off the air, Goodby said.
In the new campaign, the "currency of the parody'' helps deliver a message that "milk is good for you, that milk actually does many of the things that people hope those wonder drugs might do for them and does so naturally,'' Goodby said.
Steve James, the president and general manager of Swiss Dairy in Southern California and chairman of the milk board, said the creative work is combined "with a timeliness and newsworthiness we have never had as a component of our ads.''
When the board decided to concentrate on the nutritional value of milk, the question of how to advertise it went to copywriter Patrick McKay and art director Feh Tarty at Goodby, Silverstein. They came up with five or six ideas, one of which was to play off the steroids scandal to promote milk as a wonder substance.
"They said that, when you think about it, (milk is) kind of like steroids, because it does so many things to build up your body and build your muscles and makes you stronger. But it's a good-for-you kind of thing, a positive thing,'' Goodby said.
He said his reaction was, "I don't know. Let's try to write something and see if it is in bad taste.'' He thought the biggest problem they faced was producing the ads in time to air before the baseball season ended. The agency had a month in which to create the work.
The milk board unanimously went along and wanted it completed as quickly as possible.
A casting call went out in Los Angeles, where the agency was looking for men who looked like baseball players, understood their body language and could convincingly talk their talk.
The director, Mike Maguire of Goodby, Silverstein and others on the team studied a file of sports talk shows to see how athletes and interviewers carry themselves and how cameras move.
"We added a lot of paparazzi and reporter voices yelling things at these guys like, 'Did you pour (milk)?' '' said Goodby.
Copywriter McKay wrote a lot of material, much of which went by the wayside during the production process. The crew wanted and got good improvisation.
For example, in "Batting Practice'' a ballplayer rats on a former teammate. In the course of helping the actor playing the accuser, Kevin Hanchard, dig deeper into his character, someone on the set asked, "How do you feel about all those athletes claiming that they don't know how this substance got into their bodies?'' Tarty said. The ad closes with the actor's ad-libbed line, "You poured it. It disappeared. It's not rocket science.''
"The funnier stuff is sometimes not the stuff you wrote,'' McKay said.
In "Manager,'' an interviewer asks a team manager the sorts of questions Americans might ask about the steroid scandal, such as how telltale signs were overlooked. The ad cuts to black-and-white security camera footage of two baseball players pouring milk in a locker room. The skipper squirms, saying virtually nothing.
Then there were legal considerations, Goodby noted. The parody could not be too close to actual characters. "We changed the uniforms, changed the names, made it into something that was good-natured.''
Steve Stone, the president and creative director of San Francisco ad agency Heat, said there actually is something humorous in the steroid scandal -- the slap-on-the wrist suspensions major league officials imposed.
"In a way, the way MLB handled the situation gives permission to make fun of it," he said. "And I think these spots are pretty funny. ... It's a very smart way to evolve the campaign and make it incredibly current and relevant.''
The ads can also be seen at www.gotmilk.com