Milk Is at the Center of Sexist Allegations

The people behind "Got Milk" pull their ads over sexist claims

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Players:  Rebecca Cullers, a contributor at Adweek, writers at Salon, Jezebel, The Frisky, Feministing, and Babble; Steve James, executive director of The California Milk Processor Board, which created the "Got Milk?" advertisements.

The First Serve:  Over the past two weeks, the Milk Board has come under criticism and scrutiny for having released their "Everything I do is Wrong" campaign on July 11. In an interview with The New York Times, James said that the concept of aiming milk ads about PMS at women by aiming them at men is "something we’ve done as a campaign five, six times, in general media and in Hispanic media." "We felt good about the responses we were getting,” he adds, "and felt it was time to bring it back with a new twist." The advertisements featured frazzled men holding copious amounts of milk cartons in their arms--the takeaway being that milk alleviates PMS symptoms and that these men are victims of PMS symptoms (from the women in their lives). The New York Times reports that this isn't the first time the Milk board has released ads touting the promise of assuaging PMS symptoms. They cite a 2005 "Milk to Rescue" commercial.

One day after The Times interview went online and the milk ads were released, Cullers posted a criticism on Adweek. "Today's deep, patient sigh goes out to the California Milk Processor Board," wrote Cullers on July 12th. "The campaign probably will appeal to men, as sad as that makes me. But you know that poor, unknowingly sexist guy out there will inevitably offer milk to his significant other as a nice way to say, 'I think your concerns are invalid and you're just bitching at me because your baby maker is about to blow.'" Writers at Salon, Jezebel, The Frisky, and followed suit and posted criticisms of the ads on July 12th. Babble and Feministing posted criticisms on the 13th and 14th respectively.

The Return Volley: Cullers reported on July 12 that a representative from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners--the company who collaboratively worked with the Milk Board to conceive the campaign--said: "We are very happy with the response to the campaign so far. We knew it was going to be a little controversial."  But as of July 21, the campaign's website has since been taken down. "" now links to The infographics and charts which depicted how men were affected by PMS have been swapped out for an apology:

Over the past couple of weeks, regrettably, some people found our campaign about milk and PMS outrageous and misguided-and we apologize to those we offended. Others thought it funny and educational. It has opened up a topic about women, of course, but also relationships. We have reproduced a representative sampling of the reaction here. Thank you for your comments, pro and con. And for those of you who would like more information about this benefit of milk, we have provided some links below. Got Milk?

The site now links to an interview on CNN, a study on calcium and vitamin D and their effect on PMS, as well as links to both criticism and praise for the ads--Jezebel and Adweek's responses are both linked. The campaign asks its visitors to continue the conversation on Facebook and to use the hashtag #gotdiscussion on Twitter.

In a follow up interview with The Times that appeared on July 22, James explains the decision to pull the ads.  “It certainly wasn’t our intention to offend people,” said James. “We regret that.” Jones did not name names but acknowledges the social media firestorm that the criticisms caused. “No question, with some people we have stepped over the line,” he added. “We certainly misjudged the heat generated by the people who thought we stepped over the line.” James said not to read too far into the website switch-a-roo. Taking down is “not a failure in any way,” he said to The Times. “I don’t see it as ending it or pulling the plug.”

In response to the Milk Board pulling the ads, Cullers told the AP she wasn't surprised. "The fact is, they're pretending that women are completely irrational beings during their time of the month and they're blaming PMS. And PMS has a wide variety of symptoms. It's having back pains, cramps, irritability," she said. "In their mind, it's something to joke about."

What They Say They're Fighting About: The sexism of the ads. The Milk Board concedes that they wanted to be controversial with this new ad campaign. Carmon and other websites argue that the ads cross the line from humor and controversy into sexism.

What They're Really Fighting About: The effectiveness of the marketing strategy. Several websites questioned how successful this marketing campaign would be and proposed that female consumers might create a backlash. Cullers proposes and (sadly) admits that the marketing strategy, though sexist, may appeal to men. The Milk Board thinks they've opened up a conversation (and opportunity) about relationships.

Who's Winning: All parties. The controversial ads have been taken down and the campaign is indefinitely kaput. But this might also turn out in the Milk Board's favor. Though it would have been interesting to see how much profit an "alienating your target audience" marketing strategy would have yielded, the Milk Board has parlayed the controversy and outrage into a "discussion" website and Twitter conversation. And with this spat, milk and its PMS-assuaging properties have garnered massive amounts of attention--which is all that you could ever want from an ad campaign.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.