Farm Beat

Farm Beat: Got Milk? campaign turns 20

jholland@modbee.comNovember 1, 2013 

DN Got Milk

Downey High School students Maya Salzar, 16, stands by Nate Overholtzer, 16, in the cow costume carries the "got milk?" sign as they listen (8-16-13) during the kick off of the Breakfast Challenge event during the first lunch period.

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    alternate textJohn Holland
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Agriculture, Turlock; local news editor on Sundays
    Bio: John Holland has been a reporter at The Bee for 12 years. He has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and previously worked at the Union Democrat in Sonora and the Visalia Times-Delta.
    Recent stories written by John

Twenty years have passed since the debut of the most famous empty milk carton in television history.

The “Got Milk?” campaign launched in October 1993 with the goal of boosting consumption of California milk, much of it from the Modesto area.

The first commercial featured a radio quiz contestant who couldn’t answer “Aaron Burr” because his mouth was full of peanut butter and he had run out of milk. “Eh-wuh Buh” was the best he could muster when asked who shot Alexander Hamilton in an 1804 duel.

The spot won a top Clio Award from the advertising industry and led to many other memorable “Got Milk?” ads. One showed a man coveting a baby’s bottle. Another featured a hospital patient distraught at not being able to drink milk through a body cast.

The campaign, created for the California Milk Processors Board, is credited with slowing a long-term decline in consumption of fluid milk.

The “Got Milk?” tagline also has been used by the national Milk Processor Education Program in ads featuring celebrities with milk mustaches. Colin Kaepernick, the Turlock-raised quarterback, donned one for a USA Today ad just before the last Super Bowl.

The slogan conveys a strong message in just two words, totaling just seven letters and a question mark. Ad people dream of crafting such gems.

The online version of Adweek, an industry publication, noted the 20th anniversary of “Got Milk?” with a piece by Jeff Goodby, one of the creators at the firm of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. He said milk is “perhaps the most boring product imaginable” but the firm managed to create “the most remembered tagline in beverage history.”

In 2005, marketing professionals across the country ranked “Got Milk?” first in a survey on the most influential slogans since 1948, when TV was new.

“It’s simple and memorable, and I think it struck a chord with people,” Steve James, executive director of the California Milk Processor Board, told the Bee in 2007. “How many times have you smacked yourself on the forehead when you sat down to eat something and you were out of milk?”

The campaign inspired similar slogans, ranging from “Got Jesus?” to “Got Fleas.” The trademark holders have not objected too much.

Another campaign involving the state’s dairy products has won plaudits from marketing experts. The California Milk Advisory Board promotes cheese, yogurt and other items with the “Happy Cows” and “Real California” slogans.

Got an idea for the Farm Beat? Contact John Holland at or (209) 578-2385.

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