New milk effort promises fame with cap game

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They've tried to lure consumers to drink more milk by dangling Britney, Batman and the beverage's bone-building attributes. Now, the country's fluid milk processors and dairy farmers are getting serious with the simple enticement, "Drink milk. Be famous."

The joint marketing forces of Dairy Management Inc. and the National Fluid Milk Processors Education Program this June will place under-the-cap game pieces offering a chance to become a "Milk Mustache" celebrity on 200 million gallons of white milk. The first-ever industrywide cap promotion, dubbed the "Milk Mustache Fame Game," will be backed by an unprecedented single milk-promotion budget of $13 million, most going toward TV and print advertising that begins May 29 from Bozell, New York.

LIKE SOFT-DRINK PROMOS

The "Fame Game" was inspired by similar under-the-cap promotions waged by soft drink marketers and even individual milk processors, which have produced double-digit increases in sales, said Tom Nagle, VP-marketing for International Dairy Foods, which runs MilkPep.

But, unlike those single brand efforts, which were able to drive sales by stealing share from competing brands, "we can only take volume from other categories of beverages," Mr. Nagle said, among them the Cokes and Pepsis of the world.

Is such a feat possible? One Midwest retail executive doesn't think so. "They have been trying for years to reinvent milk as an all-occasion beverage, but it seems to have a very set usage and demand, and I don't see it competing with other beverages," he said.

Despite skepticism, DMI and MilkPep have aggressively joined forces over the last two years to arrest a 30-year decline in per capita milk consumption with national promotions and advertising. Previous promotional efforts have included roughly four or five large-scale annual efforts, centered around free-with-purchase giveaways such as "Milk Mustache" celebrity calendars or custom-published magazines, as well as tie-ins intended to drive retailer displays, most recently partnerships with Britney Spears, Warner Bros.' DC Comics superheroes and stars from the WB Network.

The efforts-along with awareness-building advertising that last year began integrating formerly separate "Got Milk?" and "Milk Mustache" campaigns-have staved off sharp declines.

VOLUME UP 0.7%

Total volume for overall milk sales in 1999 grew 0.7% to 5.8 billion gallons, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Sales in supermarkets and supercenters, which sold 3.7 billion gallons, grew 6% to $10.7 billion, according to International Dairy Foods numbers.

"Milk is such a large category, you need only a relatively small incremental increase per household to get good category growth," Mr. Nagle said.

The "Fame Game," developed by McCracken Brooks Maier, Minneapolis, in conjunction with Bozell, will be the first nationally advertised promotion for milk and the first to include promotional elements on packaging for the entire industry.

Two 15-second TV commercials breaking May 29 will feature an older woman who wins the "Fame Game" and, like other celebrities, begins to aggressively ward off fans and the paparazzi. The spots, along with a print ad in June magazines and point-of-purchase materials, entreat consumers to collect caps to win the grand prize: a chance to appear in a milk mustache ad. Some caps also offer a total of 2 million instant-win prizes.

SEQUEL IS LIKELY

"Fame Game 2" is already on the books for next year, pending how successful the first effort is, said Craig Plymesser, VP-milk marketing for DMI. In addition, 2001 promotion plans include a greater focus on the new single-serve resealable plastic packaging for milk as well as on flavored milks, two areas that are expected to be the real growth drivers of the industry going forward.

"We're trying to create demand [with promotions and advertising], but we need the processors and farmers to provide products people want to buy," said Sal Taibi, senior partner, director of account services at Bozell.

Flavored milk, which grew 12% in volume and more than 20% in dollar sales in 1999 (mostly driven by chocolate milk), was responsible for 40% of the total growth in milk although it makes up only 6% of overall milk sales, Mr. Nagle said. He attributes the phenomenon in large part to single-serve packaging.

Dean Foods Co. initiated the single-serve packaging innovation in 1997 with the introduction of portable, resealable Milk Chugs, which have grown to more than $100 million in sales. Other companies, including Suiza Foods Corp. and Land O'Lakes, have followed with similar branded initiatives.

As with this year's "Fame Game," next year's promotional program will be targeted at stealing share from soft drink and water competitors that have successfully reached teens through sales in vending machines, convenience stores and foodservice outlets. According to Mr. Nagle, the milk boards are in the midst of testing vending machines that offer Nabisco products and milk as well as a variety of initiatives with convenience stores.

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