Dairy advertising dilemmas

Meet Deb Poole, dairy farmer’s daughter and professional waterslide tester, and her husband/coach Gary. Incidentally, she fronts Dairy Australia’s latest appeal to “balanced mums”, like me.

“People look at me and they see an ordinary woman. But what they don’t know is that I’m a…ah…pretty intense waterslide tester and there’s nothing ordinary about it.” – Deb Poole

Deb and Gary’s appearances were slotted in around the top-rating Molly miniseries.

Unsurprisingly, not all of the 6,000 or so dairy farmers whose levies pay for DA’s marketing are delighted with the ad and took to social media this week to vent their spleen. A board member of peak body Australian Dairy Farmers, Tyran Jones, was just one of them.


In the face of such criticism, it’s important there’s transparency and accountability around what must be a significant investment of levy-payer’s funds. So, I asked Dairy Australia’s marketing team to answer some questions about the campaign and veteran ad creative, Rod Clausen of Red Creative for an independent expert’s take on the ad (his thoughts follow below). DA’s Isabel MacNeill was quick to respond.

MMM: What are the objectives of the campaign and who is the target audience?
The overall marketing objectives are to: 

  • Improve perceptions of dairy products and the industry
  • Decrease the percent of women who agree “I’m concerned dairy foods will increase my weight”
  • Increase the percent of women who agree “dairy foods are essential for good health and wellbeing”
  • Increase the percent of women who agree “I trust the dairy industry”
  • Increase proportion of women who make an effort to consume enough dairy.

Currently, 8 out of 10 Australian adults don’t consume their recommended serves of milk, cheese and yoghurt each day as advised by the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

Research shows, while consumers generally believe it’s okay to enjoy dairy (as it is relatively natural and healthy), they see it as something they should have in moderation. With new dairy alternatives claiming to offer a healthy choice and a plethora of fad diets generating confusion, mums and women have become uncertain about dairy’s essentiality in the diet.

Dairy Australia, through its consumer marketing program, aims to positively influence attitudes and perceptions around dairy. If attitudes towards dairy’s essentiality in the diet track positively then it can be anticipated that this will hold up consumption behaviours and/or drive increased consumption.

The key target audience is “Balanced Women”, (with a specific focus on mums with children between 5-12 years), who take a practical approach to food, with “everything in moderation”.

With the unifying tagline: “It’s amazing what dairy can do“, the current campaign, which has been specifically created to appeal to women, will reinforce the benefits of having dairy every day to women, who are searching for the best health and wellbeing choices for themselves and their family.

MMM: We’ve seen the waterslide ad aired during Molly. Are there other elements to the campaign?
IM: The television commercial is part of a much broader marketing program. ‘It’s amazing what milk can do’ combines a range of awareness building advertising that will run nationally, combining television, print, radio, mobile and on-line executions.

To coincide with the campaign launch, February was renamed ‘Februdairy’ across a range of Australia’s most popular magazines, with titles including Australian Women’s Weekly,

An extensive range of promotions is also planned including a media partnership with the Logies and the announcement of new Legendairy Ambassador, Chef and TV personality, Karen Martini, who will join Michael Klim as public supporters of the Australian dairy industry.

Dairy Australia is partnering with this year’s Melbourne Food and Wine Festival Hub from 4-13 March, which will see the creation of an interactive ‘Urban Dairy’ presented by
Legendairy. The Urban Dairy provides the opportunity right in the middle of the city to bring the industry to life, from show casing producers to highlighting the quality of Australian dairy products.

The Legendairy media activity has been planned in consultation with dairy manufacturers and allows the overall category to benefit by linking in to media buying cycles of the major brands. The launch activity for Legendairy will focus on broadcast and high reaching media channels rather than more targeted health and wellbeing spaces.

MMM: What was the rationale for the creative approach?
IM: Recent quantitative research has told us women are likely to consume more milk, cheese and yoghurt when they understand it is:

  • Rich in nutrients, such a protein and calcium;
  • Good for maintaining and building bones and muscles; and
  • It provides natural nutrition

To cut through the increasing ‘nutrition noise’ and deliver these messages, we required a creative approach that was disruptive. Being noticed is key; and creating fun characters is extremely powerful when it comes to getting people talking, sharing messages, and eventually changing behaviours.

Formulative research told us that the creative concepts and corresponding characters developed as part of the ‘It’s amazing what dairy can do’ campaign were appealing to our primary audience, in the same way that the character of ‘Rhonda’ cut through for AAMI.

The concept centres on women who do real, but very unique occupations, and the unifying factor is that dairy makes this possible. Memorable characters have been developed, such as Deb Poole the waterslide tester, who relies on the unique combination of nutrients in milk to give her energy and strength to perform her job. By using humour in a documentary style approach, we hope to engage consumers emotionally through entertainment, while delivering rational messages about dairy through the story.

Because the reasons and barriers to consume milk, cheese and yoghurt differ between products, as do usage behaviours and consumption occasions, the creative executions will be targeted around milk, cheese and yoghurt, rather than dairy as a category.

MMM: The waterslide ad has been accused of portraying milk drinkers as stupid. Was this considered by Dairy Australia?
IM: People like to be entertained and like characters with personality. Humour helps us create a natural affinity with the audience – ordinary Australians. By using humour, we’re saying, ‘we’re one of you, Australia’.

Deb is an ordinary mum of three. She may have an unusual job, but she is just like one of us. She is relatable, in her very unpretentious way and because of her very simple values she is inspiring.

The tone is humorous and down to earth. Milk is a very basic down to earth product and the tone helps remind us about the good, simple, healthy values milk stands for. It’s the ordinary things in life that are sometimes the most special, they can even be Legendairy.

Our research on the concepts show the campaign style and messages resonated with mums and will motivate more consumption of dairy, while positioning it as a simple, natural, and nutritious food.

MMM: How are creative concepts assessed by Dairy Australia during the selection process?
The creative process was concept tested with the target audience. The research showed the campaign style and messages resonate with mums and will motivate more consumption of dairy, while positioning it as a simple, natural, and nutritious food. Key outtakes from the research were:

  • “Broad appeal of idea for most, with family focus or message and context appearing to drive connection and engagement.”
  • “Quirkiness and uniqueness felt to be distinctive for the category, and create talkability.”
  • “Implied ‘elite athlete’ status considered very funny.”

MMM: What is Dairy Australia’s budget for consumer advertising and media this year?
The consumer advertising and media budget is approximately $3.4M for this year. This is for all production and media placements across TV, radio, magazine and digital channels.

MMM: How does Dairy Australia gauge success?
We set clear KPIs for our marketing program each year which we track and report on. These include attitudes and perceptions of dairy foods and the industry that we aim to shift.

In addition to the annual tracking, we recently commissioned baseline research with our target audience to establish awareness of the key messages that will be delivered through the milk campaign. We will test them again in six months’ time to see if there has been cut through and uptake of our messages through the campaign.

MMM: Will evaluative metrics be available to levy payers?
Yes. Dairy Australia reports on its marketing metrics through the annual report each financial year.

You can download Dairy Australia’s 2015 annual report here. The only reference I could find to the effectiveness of DA’s mass media advertising was this one on page 54:

“Mass media advertising delivered through television, digital and outdoor channels maintained awareness, but was limited to one major burst due to significantly smaller budgets. Digital advertising ran from February – April 2015, achieving 20.7 million views. Last year’s popular multivitamin television commercial was updated to include the Start and End Your Day With Dairy call to action airing on prime time television, reaching 1.4 million mums at an average frequency of 7.6 times. Outdoor advertising saw 641 billboards featured in bus shelters across metro areas nationally, strategically located around schools, shops and retail centres.”

Unfortunately, the number of people who watched an ad is no gauge of its effectiveness, so this is very disappointing. The good news is that there were much more encouraging measures of other DA marketing activities.

So what did independent expert, Rod Clausen of Red Creative think of the waterslide ad?

RC: “Interesting ad. Creatively I like the ‘Chris Lilley’ style documentary approach and the professional waterslide tester story. It’s definitely entertaining and it’s got reasonable cut through. I ran it past a few of the target audience and it makes people smile.

“I have to admit if I was a Dairy Australia levy payer, the long version of the ad (the back story) would make me cringe. Especially with Deb being portrayed as the ‘slightly thick’ daughter of a dairy farmer. I’m sure this is meant to make her character appear down to earth and resonate with the average mum. But I can see how this would be seen as a negative stereotype, particularly if you were part of the industry. Do I think viewers will take this away from the ad? Not really, I don’t think people analyse ads that deeply. In any case, her husband is from the city and he’s also a bit of a ‘plonka’. 

“Do I remember the benefits of milk or that it’s essential for health and wellbeing? I get that protein and calcium gives me strong bones and that’s definitely the take out people get, even if it is buried amongst the entertainment. The 30sec version of the ad does push the product benefits – Phosphorous, Riboflavin, Vitamin A and four more. And the 15sec promotes nutrients, simple and natural. Presumably these ads are meant to build on and reinforce the original story and push more the rational benefits. They are a good reminder, but they’re not telling me anything I didn’t already know. So I don’t think it will change perceptions or increase the proportion of women who make an effort to consume more dairy.

“I can’t help comparing this ad with the ‘Anchor Dairy – the journey to beautiful milk’ film I saw when I was researching this piece. If I was looking to improve perceptions of dairy products and portray the industry as innovative – this film really hits the spot – even if is answering a different brief. To be fair it also doesn’t have the entertainment value of Legendairy Deb. It’s a catch-22. Be more entertaining and you get slammed for not talking about product benefits. Focus on the rational benefits and no-one takes it in.

“In a nutshell, Legendairy Deb is more entertaining than informative. It says milk is good for active people and will make me strong – which is true, but nothing new. It’s not improving my perception of the dairy industry or milk. But it’s not detracting from it either. Do I think mums will take the message seriously and consume more milk? – I’m not sure. But with $3.4 million worth of media spend behind it they are bound to get the key messages. Time will tell. We won’t know its true effectiveness until the usual tracking reports are done after the campaign.”

But how many farmers will consider the tracking reports, if they are indeed available? With this in mind, I asked Isabel one final last-minute question yesterday afternoon.

MMM: When you were testing the consumer facing ads – were they also tested on farmers?

IM: Our advertising campaign is directed at balanced mums, and last year we conducted qualitative and quantitative research to understand the key barriers and opportunities to promote consumption of dairy products.

These insights have been used to develop the campaign approach. The creative concepts were also tested with the balanced mums by a specialist agency prior to production.

While famers are our most important stakeholders we didn’t  test creative with them as the campaign has a very defined audience.

We did of course present the creative concepts to the DA board (where there are a number of farmers) and also the marketing teams of the major dairy processors.

To me, this answer gets to the very heart of the problem. As every advertising suit knows only too well, no concept – however brilliant – flies without client approval. And in this case, there are 6,128 clients sprinkled across Australia. In this respect, it seems DA has not learned from Devondale’s infamous “Dev ‘n Dale” campaign. Farmers may not be advertising experts but DA can ill afford to put them offside.

Perhaps, just perhaps, DA could add one more element to its ad agency brief: your creative pitch must remember the dignity of the farmer and test its appeal to this other vital audience because dairy farmers are the ultimate client and they have TV’s too.

17 thoughts on “Dairy advertising dilemmas

  1. Hi Marian
    They did miss the mark on that one my blood boils with misguided ad programs even these no hormone ads try and sell a cow with hormones there is no way in hell you will (you sould have stood for position on board when they where up last year) just my take on it


  2. I found the ad funny and did not construe any reflection on actual farmers. I know I’m not the targetted audience – being MUCH older than that. Maybe that’s what gives me more perspective than a ”young mum” (but by golly I hope not!) Whilst I found the full ad funny, whether the shorter bites will appeal I cannot say, not having seen them. but in the end, I rarely watch television nor read most of the publications that might carry these advertisements, certainly don’t twitter, and hence make up my own mind on what to buy without being persuaded by advertisements, so maybe I should just butt out and leave it to those who might be swayed.
    Did people really get offended at Sam Kekovitch with his lamb ads? I don’t know but I should hope not.
    I really think that too many people these days are too willing to be offended by the slightest little thing though. Are we really becoming a nation of sooks that cannot stand a little bit of ribbing?
    PS. The flm clip for the link to the Deb ‘n Dale ad above no longer exists apparently Marian because I did try to watch it.


    • Hi Kayepea,
      It’s great to be able to make your own mind up about things!
      The thing is that dairy farmers are levied quite a lot of money to support the advertising, so take a real interest in its effectiveness, especially in a tough year like this one.


  3. From a bloke in the suburbs perspective this ad is nowhere near as bad as the Dev n Dale fiasco. But it is not great either.

    I know you have to make your clients happy but Marian have you ever seen 6000 dairy farmers agree on anything? That hurdle is too high. You have rep. organisations, with boards representing you. Don’t like the ads? Boot out the dairy farmers who approved them.

    Having said that, I think that dairy farmers may not be the best people to judge what works in advertising. The average punter is disengaged, apathetic and totally uninterested in dairy products. Much as I am no lover of advertising agencies, it seems the stupider or more controversial the ad, the better it is remembered. (HL Mencken’s quote seems apt here)


    • The Dev ‘n Dale ads (which Devondale has taken down, sorry) presented farmers in a very poor light and I think that experience made farmers much more sensitive about the advertising of dairy.
      I’m not suggesting every one of the 6000 dairy farmers who paid for the ad should, or could, be happy with any concept but I am surprised that testing the ad with farmers was not considered prudent.
      I’m also suprised that Deb was presented as a dairy farmer’s daughter when there really was no need for it.


  4. Oh golly, what a shocker. Maybe if they substitute the mum for someone with a normal day job who also volunteers for a worthy cause on the weekend (SES, VRA, St John ambulance or surf lifesaver) who doesn’t have a dill for a husband they might have hit the mark. Stop trying to be funny DA, then you might get the Legendary right!
    The school kid one was perfect. Do some re-runs!


  5. I think the best advert the dairy industry has run for some time was the one illustrating that Devondale dairy products are owned by an Australian dairy farming family near you. I have gone out of my way to buy Devondale dairy products ever since. This has also applied to the campaign to keep SPC employees and local producers in business by purchasing only SPC tinned fruit, tomatoes and baked beans, and that is despite SPC now, I think, being owned by Coca Cola.


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  7. I must admit I missed the advert or it didn’t catch my attention, but probably I’m not the target market, but as a dairy farmer i can’t understand what all the hoo-ha was about, so maybe it didn’t work (hard to verify) not everything does, try something else (a bit of blue sky thinking wouldn’t go astray).


    • I think you and I are the only ones not seeming to be upset about this issue Paul, though I’m neither a dairy farmer nor target audience member.


      • I’m not upset, truly, Kayepea.

        It’s important and healthy for DA to be transparent and accountable, which is why I asked the questions.

        It’s also why I would like to see a more detailed set of metrics so we could assess the value of this large mass media spend.

        I also think DA would have been wise to check whether the ad is appealing to its levy payers.


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  9. The ad agency needs to be given the green needle and then sent to the glue factory. Sadly this isn’t the first embarrassingly shocker of an advert the dairy industry has associated with it, in fact there is a string of them…

    Dairy Australia deserve a right royal kick up the “le derriere” for approving this one and of all people they should have known better give past history with some others.


  10. For many, the move away from milk is rooted in concerns about lactose intolerance, or the view that plant-based alternatives are healthier. Recent research suggesting that milk might actually be bad for your bones has only further soured our relationship with it.


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