California Milk Advisory Board

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California Milk Advisory Board

400 Oyster Point Blvd., Ste. 220
San Francisco, California 94080
Telephone: (650) 871-6455
Fax: (650) 583-7328
E-mail: [email protected]
Web site:



In an effort to promote the state's dairy products and to deal with its growing milk surplus, the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) established the "Real California Cheese" campaign in 1982. With the creation of the "Real California Cheese" label, the active marketing of the state's cheese began. During the first campaign, which used the tagline "California cheese is great cheese," California surpassed Wisconsin as the leading U.S. dairy state and jumped into the number two spot in the production of cheese. In 1995 "It's the Cheese" was introduced as the new tagline. The "Real California Cheese" campaign continued to be extremely popular and helped California to close in further on Wisconsin as the national leader in cheese production. The tagline "Great cheese comes from Happy Cows. Happy Cows come from California" was introduced in 2000 with the clear intent to take over the number one spot.

Supported by a $33 million marketing budget, the "Happy Cows" campaign was created by the advertising agency Deutsch LA. Television advertisements first appeared on local stations and then, beginning in December 2003, appeared on national cable channels, where the "Happy Cows" campaign would eventually have an audience of more than 500 million viewers. The spots aired during the 2004 and 2005 Super Bowls were especially important. Using humor and a sense of fun to convey their message, the television spots portrayed the lives of California cows as being carefree. In "Ding Dong," for instance, a couple of cows broke into fits of giggles as they played the "ring-doorbell-and-run" trick on their farmer. In addition to television spots there also were radio commercials, ads for buses and bus shelters, and outdoor billboards.

The "Happy Cows" campaign met with incredible success. It was overwhelmingly popular with the public, and it won various advertising awards, including being named by Adweek to its list of Creative Best Spots. The campaign was accompanied by increased sales of California cheese as well as of California dairy products generally. Partly as a result of the campaign's success, California was able to narrow the gap in cheese production between itself and Wisconsin. In 2004 the production of cheese in California neared 2 billion pounds, which was an increase of 163 million pounds, or 8.9 percent, over 2003. Although cheese production in Wisconsin in 2004 was almost 2.5 billion pounds, the CMAB continued its campaign to help California eventually take the lead.


The CMAB was established in 1969 in an effort by the California Department of Food and Agriculture to proote the state's high-quality dairy products and to deal with the state's developing milk surplus. The state was producing 10.8 billion pounds of milk annually by 1975, and in the following years the amount increased dramatically. By 1982 it had become clear that California needed to face the problem of an ever-growing production of milk, which coincided with a declining rate of consumption. With the assistance of the Stanford Research Institute, the CMAB developed the idea that cheese might be a solution to the problem. Because 10 pounds of milk were generally needed to make 1 pound of cheese and because the nation's rate of cheese consumption was rising, this seemed to be a sensible solution. The "Real California Cheese" campaign was the result.

Although the "Real California Cheese" campaign began somewhat cautiously, starting with local markets and only slowly expanding nationwide, it quickly gained success. Within a decade of its introduction the campaign had helped make California the biggest dairy state in the United States, surpassing Wisconsin and bringing tremendous revenue to the state. Initially the tagline for the campaign was simply "California cheese is great cheese." Targeted mostly toward California women between the ages of 25 and 54, the "Real California Cheese" campaign represented an attempt to create an emotional connection to products made in the state. To achieve their goals, the advertisements were marked by intelligence and sincerity, along with a sense of humor.

In 1995 the "Real California Cheese" campaign introduced a new tagline, "It's the Cheese." This series of popular ads played on the humorous claim that the real reason people traveled to California was for its cheese. The advertisements used a representation of the "Real California Cheese" seal with the tagline, "It's the Cheese," next to it. Even the words in the ads were made of cheese. Running from 1995 to 2000, these ads appeared everywhere—on television; in outdoor advertising, including billboards, buses, and bus shelters; in retail stores; and on coupons and other printed materials. The success of the campaign helped to pave the way for the "Happy Cows" campaign, which was introduced in 2000. Like its predecessors, this campaign relied on a combination of humor and love for the state in its marketing of California cheese.


With some 60 makers producing more than 250 varieties of cheese, the target market of the "Happy Cows" campaign was diverse. In a breakdown of California cheese production that was done in 2004, the major types were identified as follows: 45 percent mozzarella, 27 percent cheddar, 15 percent Monterey Jack, 4 percent Hispanic-style, 3 percent Parmesan, 2 percent provolone, and 4 percent other. This wide variety, which included many higher-priced specialty cheeses, resulted from an extraordinarily diverse consumer base that ranged from ordinary families to individual connoisseurs.

Though the "Happy Cows" campaign, as well as previous campaigns, targeted any consumer of cheese, the primary focus was on women between the ages of 25 and 54. Women in this age range were thought to have slightly higher incomes than other women, and they were more likely to be mothers and, thus, often the grocery shoppers for a household. It was for this reason that television spots were aired more often during daytime programming than during the evening (60 percent versus 40 percent).

While the "Real California Cheese" campaign began by focusing on the local market, by the time of the "Happy Cows" campaign the marketing goals had been expanded, and the effort had become national. Thus, the "Happy Cows" campaign promoted California's cheese far beyond the state's borders.


Although Wisconsin remained the number one producer of cheese in the United States, California appeared to be catching up. Wisconsin was working hard, however, to keep its number one spot. After California surpassed Wisconsin as the nation's top dairy producer in 1993, the Wisconsin dairy industry threw additional resources into its cheese industry, including $150 million for the expansion of production facilities. Under the guidance of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, established in 1983, there were continuing efforts to maintain the state's leading position. Ventures such as the Chef Ambassadors Program, which published recipes calling for the use of various Wisconsin cheeses, were established for this purpose. Advertising campaigns such as "Where It Comes from Matters," which was launched in 2005, got right to the point, asking customers, "Why order your cheese from anyplace but Wisconsin?"

Cheese manufacturers located in other parts of the United States, such as the Tillamook County Creamery Association in Oregon and Agri-Mark, Inc., in New England, provided smaller-scale competition for California. Tillamook, a co-op owned by 150 Oregon dairy farmers, offered a range of dairy products, including milk, butter, ice cream, yogurt, sour cream, and dry whey. Still, Tillamook's focus was on cheese, in particular, cheddar, which accounted for 85 percent of the company's overall production. Agri-Mark, another privately owned co-op of farmers in Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York, had sold cheese since its startup in 1916. The co-op's cheese offerings included both the Cabot and the McCadam brands. Tillamook's sales in 2003 were $270 million, while Agri-Mark's were $600 million.


In 2000 "Great cheese comes from Happy Cows. Happy Cows come from California" was introduced as the campaign's new tagline. The tagline proclaimed that happy cows produced great cheese and that, because of the many things that made California great, California cows would, of course, be happy. The campaign, developed by the advertising agency Deutsch LA, began appearing in local television, radio, and print ads as well as in outdoor venues.


When People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sued the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) over its "Happy Cows" campaign, a superior court judge in 2003 sided with the defendant, but only on a technicality. PETA, arguing that the ads wrongfully idealized the lives of dairy cows as being pastoral and peaceful, had sued the CMAB for false advertising. The judge did not rule against PETA on the grounds that the cows were happy. Instead, he cited the fact that the government was exempt from the laws on false advertising that applied to private individuals.

Several television spots were aired in rotation. Hailed as funny, clever, and cute, the commercials portrayed cows thinking and acting like humans. California loyalists, the cows affectionately revealed various aspects of life in the state, including the good weather, the beautiful scenery, and even earthquakes. "Cloud," for example, showed cows fleeing in panic from a tiny cloud in the sky, calling attention to California's sunny climate. "Race," which played on the carefree lifestyle of California, highlighted a race between cows, with a couple of bulls looking on. "Keep your eye on Doris; she's a rocket out of the gate," said one bull to the other. When the race began, Doris took the lead. "I'm winning!" she exclaimed; "I'm winning!" But when a fresh patch of dandelions, as well as the other runners, distracted her, the race was over. "We gotta move that finish line closer," said one of the bulls. The spot ended with the "Great cheese comes from Happy Cows. Happy Cows comes from California" tagline.

Although they started locally, the advertisements of the "Happy Cows" campaign appeared on national television beginning in December 2003, and they eventually reached the homes of more than 500 million viewers. As part of the national campaign, "Happy Cows" spots aired during both the 2004 and 2005 Super Bowls. There were further promotions in print and on the radio, and retail promotions included in-store coupons and a sampling program. There also were comprehensive public-relations and food-service promotions, as well as promotions through the "Real California Cheese" website, which covered the "Happy Cows" campaign in detail. The site even allowed visitors to view a selection of "Happy Cows" television commercials. The total annual budget for the campaign reached $33 million in 2004.


The public loved the "Happy Cows" campaign. Consumers from around the United States submitted comments about the ads to the "Real California Cheese" website. One Idaho viewer said, "When your ads come on everything comes to a stop, people run in from different rooms just to watch because they are so wonderful … the sheep are adorable, they look just like ours! Too bad we didn't have you design an ad campaign for Idaho potatoes! Thank you again for giving us a few minutes of pure fun." The ads not only made the general public smile, but they also won numerous advertising awards, including being chosen by Adweek for its list of Creative Best Spots.

The "Happy Cows" campaign also seemed to spread the word about California cheese and to support the general "Real California Cheese" undertaking. By 1993 California had become the nation's largest supplier of milk and the largest dairy state overall. A decade later, after the debut of the "Happy Cows" campaign, milk production in California had increased by another 44 percent, to 36.4 billion pounds per year. Further, by 2004, through the efforts of the CMAB and the "Real California Cheese" program, California was selling 40 percent of its milk production—in the form of cheese, butter, and powdered milk—out of state. In addition, between 1983 and 2004 the production of cheese in California increased by an astonishing 609 percent, seven times the national growth rate. Over this period California had become the second-largest manufacturer and distributor of cheese in the United States.

Of course, the eventual goal of the CMAB was to replace longtime leader Wisconsin as the number one state in cheese production, and some strides toward this goal seemed to have been made. For example, in 2004 California was producing 25 percent of all mozzarella cheese in the United States. Being a top cheese producer and distributor had tremendous economic benefits for the state. In 2003 the U.S. cheese industry posted $40 billion in total sales. By 2002 the dairy industry in California was bringing in $35 billion year, approaching the income from the state's lucrative wine industry, which made $45 billion in that same year.

It appeared that California got into the right business at the right time, with a good product supported by an effective advertising campaign. The "Happy Cows" campaign and the remarkable success of "Real California Cheese" not only sparked the interest of cheese lovers across the United States but also gained the attention of academics. In 2005 Columbia University's Graduate School of Business published a case study of the CMAB's "Real California Cheese" campaign. The 34-page study, which was created as a teaching study at Columbia, was made available for use in business schools worldwide. As the case study's author, Michelle Greenwald, put it, "The growth of the California cheese industry over the past twenty-plus years is nothing short of a tremendous success story."


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                                             Candice Mancini

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California Milk Advisory Board