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Got Ag?

Back in 1986, when Central Valley almond growers couldn't sell all the nuts they produced, a few of them went public with a plea.

"A can a week, that's all we ask," they said in TV ads for the Blue Diamond Growers cooperative.

Ask and you shall receive. These classic spots, showing the growers half-buried in a pile of almonds, are credited with boosting sales and reviving the industry.

Advertising has worked wonders with a few other farm products from the valley. The dairy industry has its "Got milk?" and "Happy Cows" campaigns. E.&J. Gallo Winery of Modesto created the folksy duo of Bartles & Jaymes to hawk a line of wine coolers under that name.

These campaigns combined humor and punchy slogans to sell the products. Take the first "Got milk?" spot in 1993, featuring a man who, thanks to a mouthful of peanut butter and no access to the dairy product, could not answer "Aaron Burr" in a radio quiz.

"It's simple and memorable, and I think it struck a chord with people," said Steve James, executive director of the California Milk Processor Board in San Clemente, which launched the campaign. "How many times have you smacked yourself on the forehead when you sat down to eat something and you were out of milk?"

In 2005, marketing professionals across the country ranked "got milk?" first in a survey on the most influential slogans since 1948, when television was new.

Bartles & Jaymes was 64th with its "Thank you for your support" tagline. That's one place behind "Lifts and separates" from Playtex and one aheadof "Try it, you'll like it" from Alka-Seltzer.

Eric Swartz, the San Mateo-based branding consultant who conducted the survey, said successful taglines leave an imprint on American culture.

"I think brevity is important," he said. "Anything less than seven words is good. These days, they tend to be two, three, four."

Swartz is hired to come up with such phrases for various clients. He calls himself "the tagline guru."

Other experts interviewed by The Bee ("The voice of the valley") said it takes some doing to fit a fresh message and repetition of the product name into an ad.

"I think two things are key," said Sue McClelland, recently retired vice president of media for Gallo. "It has to be memorable, and it has to relate to the product."

Bartles & Jaymes ads run again

Gallo pioneered TV wine ads in the 1950s and put the "all the best" tagline on its core products. In 1985, it rolled out Frank Bartles and Ed Jaymes to promote the new wine coolers via their oddball, 30-second adventures.

The TV campaign ended in 1991, but Gallo has started rerunning about 25 of the 200-plus spots on the Internet.

Blue Diamond's "can a week" campaign, retired in 1993, also is back. In the original version, the almond growers seemed almost apologetic in urging people to eat a product that had an unhealthy image at the time. The new ads emphasize recent findings on the nuts' health benefits, asking, "Have you had your can a week?"

The ads are running on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and "Dr. Phil," as well as in 12 women's magazines and in Sports Illustrated. They do not picture the growers, but they clearly hark back to the '80s campaign.

"It's simply the memorability," said John O'Shaughnessy, general manager of consumer products at Blue Diamond's headquarters in Sacramento. "People still associate it with the growers sitting up to their elbows in almonds."

'Happy cows' recognized

It's no surprise that food products are the valley's main contribution to advertising lore. The region is a huge producer, meeting a good part of the nation's demand for fruit, nuts, milk, cheese and other products.

The cheese is promoted by the "happy cows" in the "real California cheese" ads from the California Milk Advisory Board, based in Modesto. Two years ago, it was cited as a superb example of marketing in a case study by the Columbia University Graduate School of Business.

Plenty of local milk and almonds have gone into products made by Hershey Co. in Oakdale since 1965. Here's a case where a slogan can leave a bitter taste: The company, maker of "the great American chocolate bar," is moving the operation to Mexico.

Taglines also can spawn parodies, as Florida orange juice producers saw when theirs was tweaked into "Beer — it's not just for breakfast anymore."

The people at "Got milk?" actually don't mind the knockoffs, which have ranged from "Got veggies?" to "Got Jesus?" to "Got fleas?" James said as long as these uses do not affect milk sales, the processor board will not complain.

"It is part of the vernacular," he said, "and I guess imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or 578-2385.

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