Industry milks Biggs
Tiny town a prop in calcium-rich publicity stunt
In a shameless bid to promote a product that most Americans already consume on a daily basis, a milk promotional board has asked the town of Biggs to consider changing its name to Got Milk?, Calif.
The proposal, sent as a letter in a milk carton, was mailed to 20 California towns last week, offering vague promises of compensation if the town would change its name to the tagline of the California Milk Processor Board’s long-running ad campaign. Contrary to rumor, the town would not receive any cash compensation for the name change.
Biggs Mayor Sharleta Callaway, the only official out of the 20 cities to respond to the letter, said she was initially amused by the offer. But when news reports started implying that the city was seriously considering the name change—before the City Council had even met on the subject—her amusement quickly turned to aggravation.
“I thought it was kind of funny, it was so ridiculous,” she said. “Then the media got a hold of it and basically ran wild.”
The word leaked out when a councilmember mentioned the offer informally to a friend in the newspaper business. Soon, Callaway was inundated with requests for interviews and complaints from residents. In addition to receiving almost 30 calls from media outlets—including major players such as CNN and ABC—she also received hundreds of e-mails from residents and activist groups opposed to the name change, including the lactose-intolerant group Not Milk.
Callaway called a special meeting Monday to inform residents and the City Council about the offer. Though city officials expressed their intent to stay neutral on the issue, some of their comments seemed to indicate a high level of skepticism.
“We’d be named Got Milk?” asked a somewhat incredulous City Manager Karen Helvey. “We are a rice community. Where’s the nearest cow around here?”
Though Biggs once had a number of dairies, the last one is said to have shut down almost a decade ago. Whether a town had a dairy industry did not figure in to the decision as to which 20 cities to send proposals to, said milk board Executive Director Jeff Manning.
“There wasn’t any science to it,” he said. “Most of the towns we sent proposals to are on the cusp or at risk, you might say. We think this could be a wonderful opportunity for them.”
Manning said he hoped Biggs, named for its founder, state Senator Marion Biggs, would help his board put “Got Milk? on the map—literally,” in exchange for help in creating a Got Milk? museum downtown, a Got Milk? retail store, or possibly a “greatest milkshake in the world” shop.
Councilmembers wondered openly at the meeting what benefit the town would derive from such an arrangement and worried that the notoriety already created by the proposal was turning Biggs into a national joke.
“We have a good little town here,” Callaway said. “Here we’re coming up on our 100 year centennial, and I don’t want [the milk board] to steal our thunder.”
City officials will decide how to proceed with the proposal at a town meeting scheduled for Nov. 18. But whatever they do, the stunt seems to have already worked for the milk board, which is being given perhaps millions of dollars’ worth of free advertising by reporters—like this one—across the country eager for a light-hearted and easy-to-write feature that might calm the nation’s mood after weeks of reporting on deadly sniper fire and foreign-policy debates.
Got publicity? Mooo.