Got Milk gets real, and there’s no going back

—Like other brands before it, the California Milk Board has taken its advertising past the point of no return, says Craig Redmond—

I once had a creative director who didn’t like me very much. We got off on the wrong foot because he was a few insoles shy of being able to look me directly in the eye. But the fact we didn’t see eye-to-eye escalated well beyond that early Napoleonic complexity.

He was a dick. And I let him know it. Often.

Yet ironically, despite being a giant dick, he lacked the testicular fortitude to fire me. And instead, he hoped to force my resignation by denying me any creative opportunity and by sending the worst possible briefs my way—a not-unfamiliar death-by-papercut, Chinese-water-torture kind of evil management strategy.

It should have worked, except I was a stubborn son of a bitch and kept returning those bad briefs with defiant creative thinking.

The best of all came in response to a briefing on Nair.

You remember the stuff. That acetylene combo of calcium hydroxide and potassium thioglycolate that, when sprayed on a woman’s legs, would incinerate anything in its path like the Agent Orange of body grooming.

Well, every spring since time immemorial, the brand spat out a full-page ad in fashion magazines featuring a young woman in short shorts straddling the shoulders of some bare-chested buck, along with the relic of a headline kept on life support since the days of systemic advertising misogyny. It read, appallingly and completed with a gratuitous exclamation screamer at the end: SHE’S A NAIR GIRL!

After seeing the ad abomination for the first time, and choking on my freshly brewed tea, I began as I always have, to probe around the brief and poke at its cushy soft under-bits. That’s when I asked what seemed like a simple question that turned out to reveal El Dorado gold: “Why doesn’t the media buy start until April?”

To which the junior media planner explained, a wee bit sheepishly, that most Canadian women didn’t tend to their leg harvests during the winter months. So, no need to advertise.

And boom. The concept was born.

It featured a stock photo of a young grizzly bear with an elegantly scripty headline that read honestly: “It’s Been a Long Winter.”

Much to our surprise—especially the creative director who probably thought this would be the briefing straw to finally bust my camel hump—the client bought the ad. And not only did it run in all those high-profile fashion rags, it was also picked up in the news and gathered a ton of unpaid media in a day when that wasn’t even a marketing KPI thing.

One TTC driver tore out the magazine ad and taped it to the front of her bus windshield for all her passengers to see. When asked why by the reporter, she replied, “Because it’s the truth. The absolutely hilarious, honest truth.”

Truth in advertising.

It’s a bold creative strategy that can stick a firm stake in the ground for a brand, but also make it vulnerable to reproach. Either way, it’s a path of no-return. Once you’ve committed to baring your brand’s soul and letting it all hang out, there’s no turning back.

For instance. I remember us all holding our collective creative breath when we woke up to see “The Rant” for Molson Canadian. There he was, the Canuck everyman, laying it all out there and giving a summation of what being a Canadian truly means. Of course the ad industry loved it. As did all Canadians. Glen Hunt’s writing was poetry to a nation’s ears. And it bled the brand’s red and white truth.

But then we stopped and thought, you’re done. There’s nowhere to go from here after that. And there’s no going back.

And that’s exactly the same feeling I had watching this latest effort for the California Milk Board and its timeless Got Milk campaign. After nearly 30 years and classics Like “Aaron Burr” and “Heaven or Hell,” the marketers have decided to wear their lactose tolerant hearts on their sleeve and claim that their claim to being real might be the only truthful claim out there worth claiming.

Of course, my own little sojourn into the world of truth in advertising was entirely accidental—like a drunk stumbling successfully into bed in his or her pitch-black apartment. And while the consequences would be much less perilous than the two marketing giant examples cited here, I can guarantee there were no more “She’s a Nair Girl” ads after that journey of no return.

And perhaps more importantly, that little victory of ours pissed off one notorious dick of a creative director no end.

Craig Redmond