Popular milk ad campaign extends to English market
But Quebec producers struggling to maintain market share among aging population

Few businesses would be satisfied with a sales decline. But the Féderation des Producteurs du Lait du Québec is not just any business. The organization, which groups together the province's milk producers, is plagued by stagnant domestic population growth, an aging marketplace and an outright decrease in its key clientele: youngsters.

But the federation, and its advertising agency BBDO Montreal, is credited with producing some of the province's most innovative marketing efforts, which has helped dampen the effects of worsening market demographics.

Although sales dropped by about 1% last year, it could have been a lot worse says Nicole Dubé, the agency's advertising and promotions director. Quebec has one of the lowest birth rates in the Western world. The number of youngsters aged 0 to 9 - traditionally among the province's biggest milk drinkers - is expected to drop by 62,400 between 1996 and 2006.

To combat declining demand in its primary markets, the milk producers responded with a communications plan designed to boost consumption among older Quebecers, notably baby boomers between the ages of 30 and 49.

One of the plan's lynchpins was a television campaign. Launched three years ago, the ads, -- designed by BBDO Montreal -featured slice-of-life ads shot in trademark white cinematography with oldies background songs, and were an instant success.

Much of this has to do with the song selection, which consisted of traditional favorites by French stars such Edith Piaf, Charles Trenet and Gilbert Becaud. The campaign coincided with a surge in popular demand for nostalgia products, -- so-called "comfort foods," -- which analysts say is a public reaction against increasing uncertainty in their lives. These products provide comfort by reminding consumers of a time when life was simpler.

Several additional spots were shot, but successful though they were, the ads were only part of a variety of innovative marketing efforts. In one of its biggest coups, last year, the federation managed to convince the singers to let them use the songs from in the commercials in a compilation CD.

Ironically, despite its huge success among francophone Quebecers, the milk campaign has gone largely under the radar of the province's Anglo's. Last year, your faithful marketing correspondent was sent the ad tapes, as well as a copy of the CD, but he tossed it in a corner pile remarking out loud "it'll never sell."

But the CD titled "Le Lait, l'Album Blanc," (Milk the White Album), did sell. It immediately shot to the top of the Quebec charts, with oldies music lovers buying 50,000 copies its first week. Sales are now approaching the 200,000 mark.

Although the federation's share of the profits is being donated to charity, the album - whose cover features nothing but a glass of milk shown on a white background --was a huge marketing bonanza. When you can get people to pay to look at your ads, you know your marketing is working.

In fact this week the federation extended its campaign by airing an English version of one the ads. The spot features a woman nursing her baby, to the music of Doris Day's "I'll never stop loving you."

Spurred by its success, the federation is taking more chances in other areas of its advertising. For example, one ingenious poster --to be displayed in bus shelters starting next month --features an X-ray shot of a hand whose fingers form the "OK" sign. It's a clever way of illustrating the fact that milk is good for the bones. But the execution is risky given the fact that X-ray's are often associated with sickness, and bones with death.

The federation's innovative advertising is being increasingly recognized within the ad community, with a truckload of prizes at award shows, including one to Dubé, who last year was recognized as "Personality of the Year," by the Montreal Marketing Association.

But the final impact of its marketing efforts is difficult to measure. Milk is heavily protected from foreign imports. Its prices are kept artificially high -- in what amounts to a tax on babies -- to finance the province's inefficient farmers.

With the domestic market protected, it's hard to know whether milk producers are becoming more or less efficient. Because advertising awards and CD sales don't measure that.



Photo caption: The Fédération des Producteurs de Lait du Québec has been producing increasingly innovative advertising such as this poster, which uses humor to remind people that milk is good for the bones.



E-mail can be sent to Diekmeyer at: peter@peterdiekmeyer.com


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