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Milk Board Forced to Remove Outdoor Scent Strip Ads

Chocolate-Smelling 'Got Milk?' Displays at Bus Shelters Draw Protests

By Published on . 15

SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- A new "Got Milk?" ad campaign that gives off the scent of chocolate chip cookies around bus shelters here has caused a reaction among those with allergies, with diabetes -- and even without food.
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Bus shelter ads for a 'Got Milk?' effort in San Francisco employed a new advertising scent technology.

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Special-interest groups representing the homeless, the obese, diabetics and citizens who just don't like scents have succeeded in scuttling an outdoor campaign from California Milk Processor Board involving some new scent technology. The Metropolitan Transit Commission yesterday ordered the scent strips removed.

'San Francisco story'
"This is such a San Francisco story," said Jeff Goodby, co-chairman, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, the milk board's ad agency. "It could have gone either way: We celebrate the hippy nostalgia of cookies in the oven, or we excoriate the possible effects on select health minorities. It's 2006. We went the latter way," he wrote in an e-mail, adding: "I guess The City has once again made herself safe for bus shelters that smell like urine and vomit instead."

The project involved five downtown bus shelters that carried a stark black ad with the words "Got Milk?" on it. Hidden around the shelter were the carefully placed scent strips set for optimal downwind distribution. The subliminal scent was to entice those waiting for the bus to smell the cookies and think about having a cookie and a glass of milk. The campaign kicked off with distribution of cookies and milk around the bus shelters during the day.

But before it officially launched, publicity generated by the milk board's public-relations shop resulted in a story in the San Francisco Chronicle. Molly Ireland, a milk-board spokeswoman, said the story got the attention of a number of activist groups, which initiated a letter-writing campaign. Some said the campaign "was cruel to the homeless because they have no food," Ms. Ireland said.

Several complaints
Diane Rovai, systems-change coordinator for the Independent Living Resource Center, San Francisco, said several complaints to her office led her to e-mail city officials once news of the campaign was out. "We have no problem with chocolate chip cookies," she said. "Our function is to make the world a more accessible place for people" with disabilities, from those in wheelchairs to people with chemical sensitivities such as allergies and asthma, she said.

Ms. Ireland noted the scent strips contained "flavor-based oils found in many of the foods we eat today." Mr. Goodby said the strips did not contain distasteful chemicals.

Ms. Ireland said the board isn't giving up on using the nose for marketing, and is considering moving the campaign to another city. "We've begun a dialogue on using scent in outdoor" advertising, she said.

But a number of San Francisco residents hope the conversation is over. Sara Linnie Slocum said the campaign was "insulting" and that it was ludicrous to think a passenger who inhaled a chocolate-cookie scent would get on a bus, go home and drink a glass of milk.
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