“Got milk?” campaign launched in 1993 and trademarked in 1995. Why do you think this campaign was so successful?
Good question. I can’t remember how I answered — except that I touched on the “Where’s the beef?” campaign that preceded it; Oreo cookies and their essential accompaniment, milk; the fact that my parents offered us powdered milk as youngsters; and my personal aversion to milk, unless accompanied by some sweet baked good. I know I thought of the time I “saved” my milk for later on the picnic table in mid-summer — and got sour, warm milk as my reward — though I didn’t actually say it out loud.
It was after the meeting — when the “Best Table Topics” ribbon and the honorably mentioned second place nomination were revealed (not me) and I had given my evaluation (and won the “Best Evaluator” ribbon) — that I realized “Got milk?” was simply bad grammar.
Have milk? Not much better. Maybe “Do you have milk?” But certainly not “you got milk?” or “I got milk?” or “they got milk?” or “Bob got milk?” And yet my focus — perhaps because the theme for the Toastmaster’s meeting was “All Things Dairy” — was on the milk rather than the bad grammar.
What kind of English teacher am I?
Oh, yeah. A former one. As of just about a year ago. But I am a Technical Editor, who edits documents for a living. Grammar is what I do. I even got a “grammar police” pin from my boss for Christmas. It’s official.
Yet “got milk?” got me. Once again during Table Topics, I was the proverbial “deer in the headlights,” completely stumped by my assigned topic. And once again, minutes after the meeting ended, my brain was flowing with ideas — great ideas — that might have garnered me that blue ribbon awarded the best Table Topic speaker of the day. If I had only thought on my feet and separated the topic from the context, “All Things Dairy”…
(Table Topics is the extemporaneous portion of our weekly Toastmasters meeting. The Table Topics Master crafts four or more topics based on the week’s theme — determined by the Toastmaster or emcee of the meeting — and then divvies them one by one to the person who seems to have the greatest aversion to the particular topic. Or so it seems. My face is an absolute mirror of my thought; hence, I was selected for another Table Topics stumping session.)
But I thought it might be a good idea to go ahead and craft that speech that I would not speak — and post it here for all posterity.
The “got milk?” campaign shouldn’t have gotten anywhere. Seriously, “got milk?” should have failed. The slogan is simply bad grammar, made famous in a year — 1995 — that would only precede the world of Internet and text-speak that followed such faux pas as the terms “drive thru” and “donut.” Since I am speaking, I should spell out drive through as “d-r-i-v-e space t-h-r-u” and doughnut as “d-o-n-u-t.” Perhaps these were just honest, phonetically correct shortenings of words that preceded our fast-paced and rule-breaking world as we now know it. But I digress. “Got milk?” is bad grammar. I wouldn’t ask “you got milk?” or “I got milk?” or “they got milk?” or the like. I would ask, “Do you have any milk?” or, maybe, “Do you have milk?” or maybe, even, “Would you like some milk?” but never, ever “got milk?” Yet as soon as I hear the trademarked advertisement “got milk?” I think Oreo cookies. Milk. Must have milk with Oreo cookies. Must dunk Oreo cookies in milk. And if I decided to bring baked goods to work, I would wonder if I should also bring a gallon of milk. Because the advertising was successful. Because when I think sweet baked goods, I think I need milk — and so I ask, automatically to myself at least, “got milk?” Despite being grammatically incorrect, “got milk?” is famous and effective. Bad grammar can be successful. Go figure.
And now I feel better. The headlights have passed, the deer has had a reasonable thought and acted accordingly, the speech is written, never to be spoken, never having been spoken extemporaneously. But I can’t help but wonder if the context, “All Things Dairy,” stifled my ability to look beyond cows and cow milk to look at what was written and immediately notice the grammatical incorrectness. The meeting’s theme, its context, directed my thinking.
When I was a teenager, my pastor once preached a sermon on the topic, “Context is the key to the contents.” He was talking about the Scripture — and how often people take Scripture out of context and, thus, twist the original meaning of the text. He was encouraging us to first understand the context and then relate the meaning of the text to that context. I did that with my assigned Table Topic.
But while context is key to understanding the contents of Scripture, I think the Bible encourages us to look outside of context to better understand our position in the Christian life. Some examples:
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV).
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1-2 NIV).
Why? Because the context of this life — the circumstance in which we find ourselves — is not the whole story. When we look outside of the context to see Jesus, to see as He sees, we feel hope and love and joy and unspeakable peace.
Which is what I’d like to feel when I’m facing my next Table Topic — except for that unspeakable part, of course. Had I been able to look beyond the context of “All Things Dairy” and better analyze the topic, I might have seen something I could have discussed intelligently for the 1-2 minutes required.
Next time, right?