Thanks to a kindly mentor dur-ing a summer internship at an ad agency, his career took an about-face.
Today, Mr. Kushins, managing partner-North American media at Bozell Worldwide, New York, has managed to combine elements of both professions by helping promote a product in part by touting its health benefits.
In the process, he's emerged as the toast of the consumer magazine ad world-and a media executive who guides one of today's better-known and better-funded campaigns in print-thanks to Bozell's work for the National Fluid Milk Processors Promotion Board.
BACALL TO ROSSELLINI
In the '95 kickoff year that featured the famous "milk mustaches"-sported by the likes of Lauren Bacall, Christie Brinkley, Joan Lunden and Isabella Rossellini-$53.6 million, according to Competitive Media Reporting, was spent in consumer magazines to encourage greater milk consumption.
After preliminary results showed that a decades-long decline in milk consumption was stabilizing, the board's Milk Processors Education Program decided to more than double the '96 budget to $110 million in magazine ad-vertising plus another $15 million in outdoor advertising.
"It's the strongest and most well-received brand introduction that I can ever remember in the magazine business," says James Guthrie, exec VP-marketing at Magazine Publishers of America. "What is most amazing is that he's doing it with what has traditionally been a commodity product."
"The first year of the campaign, we wanted to change people's attitudes," says Mr. Kushins. "As we move into the second year of the campaign, we're trying to boost sales."
This year he is expanding the effort beyond women to target teen-agers with magazines like Seventeen and Sports Illustrated added to the media mix. Celebrities Spike Lee, Rhea Perlman, Danny DeVito and Ivana Trump are featured in this year's new milk ads. Added-value campaigns are bringing the theme to on-campus promotions and fashion-world events.
The campaign is not to be confused with the California Milk Processor Board's "Got milk" campaign on cable and broadcast TV.
"We didn't do any television," Mr. Kushins says, figuring that medium already had substantial beverage ad expenditures for everything from iced tea to cola, with brands often receiving support of $100 million or more apiece.
Also, he says, there was a strong educational message that was to be conveyed along with the humor from the mustaches.
PROOF OF PRINT
"I think it proves the print story very dramatically," says Nora McAniff, publisher of People, which received about 50 ad pages, including 20 in one issue in October when the milk board sponsored a section on celebrity fitness.
"The `milk mustache' campaign has captured the imagination of the world," Jay Schulberg, Bozell's vice-chairman-chief creative officer, noted earlier this year. "It has been consistently chosen by the American public as one of its favorite campaigns. That's all wonderful, but . . . what makes it great is that it is changing the way people think about milk. No other campaign has accomplished that in 30 years."
For their part, the magazines or their parent companies responded with a big package of added value.
While he is generally a strong advocate of print advertising, Mr. Kushins at the same time decries "the continuing fragmentation of the market" by the addition of new-and in many cases, he feels, unnecessary-magazines.
"It tends to distort readership and does little to help publishers' bottom lines," he says.
Mr. Kushins would prefer to see more of the launch money pumped back into core-enhancing, existing editorial products.
"Anytime media companies fractionalize themselves, they run the risk of turning customers away," he says. "Cable continues to offer new program concepts, and like many of the magazine introductions, too often many of them are marginal."
WEB GROWTH SURPRISE
The biggest surprise in the media world today, in his opinion, is how quickly interactive media and the World Wide Web have grown.
"Clearly the advertising indus-try has to adapt to it better than it has," he says. While it has a strong following among younger adults, he also notes, "There's a vast number of people who are not young who have come to recognize the value of these services."