Borden Dairy gets serious about marketing

Regional dairy brand hires ad shop Curiosity; modernizes Elsie the Cow

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Borden Dairy's Elsie the Cow.
Borden Dairy's Elsie the Cow. Credit: Courtesy Borden Dairy

Borden Dairy has hired Curiosity Advertising as its agency of record as the dairy company known for its Elsie the Cow character plans to kickstart its marketing.

Curiosity's assignment includes creative, consumer strategy and media, with the first work set to appear in the first quarter of 2019.

"Who were we previously using? I think it's fair to say it was nobody," says Borden CEO Tony Sarsam, who joined the company this year. "The business was not actually investing anything in marketing in the company for several years."

Borden was founded in 1857. It introduced Elsie The Cow in 1936. Sarsam said he sees the power in the brand, which currently reaches about 30 percent of the U.S. population yet is still well-known, thanks in large part to Elsie.

"I like the dormant nature of the brand and the company," said Sarsam.

When Sarsam joined Borden there was no marketing team to speak of, he said. Now, Elsie the Cow is starting to pop up online as Borden figures out its more modern voice. Lines on Elsie's Facebook page and the Borden website, for example, include: "My name is Elsie the Cow. I'm a mom on a mission to bring all moms together to help our kids grow up healthy and strong."

In 2017, Borden was bought by private equity firm Acon Investments. Borden's prior owner, Laguna Dairy, continues to have a stake in the Dallas-based milk marketer.

Now, after an RFP process, Sarsam and his growing team of executives have selected Curiosity. There are plans to increase marketing spending by an undisclosed amount. Sarsam said it is starting from essentially zero.

For now, Borden products are available in only part of the country, essentially covering Texas and heading east to South Carolina, and north to Ohio, and has annual sales of around $1.2 billion. It faces a few competitive threats, including from other branded milk such as Dean, less expensive store brands, and interest in almond milk and other alternatives to moo juice.

In researching the brand for the pitch, Curiosity saw a way to relaunch Elsie for the modern mom, noting that she was built on an idea of a contemporary woman who could be reimagined for today, said Trey Harness, the agency's president and chief client officer.

Without sharing too much of his strategy, Curiosity Chief Creative Officer Jeff Warman said there are plans to use Elsie's "positivity and optimism" as well as her being supportive of moms, echoing comments from Sarsam that Borden looks at things with a "glass half full" approach.

Curiosity is exploring whether Elsie will be portrayed as a cartoon or an actual cow. For now, she's an image that hasn't changed much over the past few years. The upcoming marketing plans include video and social.

Along with Sarsam, people who have joined Borden this year include Chief Marketing Office Joe DePetrillo, who joined in June after most recently serving as a VP of sales for packaged salad brand Earthbound Farm.

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