Friday off-topic: Milk Dot Spots

Anyone who’s been watching TV in Canada for the last couple of years has seen a bunch of weird little quickie interstitial ads, so fast that you’re not entirely sure what you just saw.  Each of them is a bizarre scene, never presented in the same way twice, followed by a roaring cow leaping through a logo, Warner Brothers-style.

They are weird tiny visual jokes about the benefits of milk:  a skeleton stands up in front of a crowd, flexing like a body-builder to applause; a hand puppet dressed like an usher guides two more hand puppets through a darkened theatre with the shine from his smile; a pencil-crayonned hero obliviously resists dragon fire while happily drinking from his mini-carton.

They really bug the hell out of a lot of people.

They look strange, they don’t make a whole lot of sense, and they feel like the kind of odd, government-funded weirdness Canadians grew up having to watch in NFB films.  If the bellowing bovine didn’t appear at the end of the spot, you’d hardly know what it was about — and the very fact that you find yourself thinking that sort of thing just seems improper.

It’s hard enough to make sense out of life, let alone some nutbar milk commercial, right?  Right.  Let’s just have some attractive women in yoga clothes talk about how dairy makes them regular, and leave it at that.

Of course, I love them.  These ads are inspired, and I just can’t get enough of them.  They clearly are guided by very simple principles that result in how weird they are, namely:

  • Because no ad can be no longer than 5 seconds long,
  • it must clearly communicate a benefit of the product,
  • which means it has to be immediately catchy and stay with its audience long after it’s over

So how do you do that, when you’ve got the same pitch for milk that has been around since the 1970s:  Builds a strong body, healthy gums and teeth, solid bones and makes you grow, etc.?  Plus, you know, it’s milk — it’s cold and good and goes with chocolate cake?

And then, assuming you get an idea, how do you mash it into 5 seconds and get people to remember it?

The results feels like the entrants into an art contest, experiments in the most compressed kind of storytelling that ad firms could come up with.  There isn’t a single one that doesn’t commit to a striking (if not totally novel) visual style, most  including discordant or even openly violent audio — think of the monster in front of a burning city, jabbing a giant straw into a milk truck and having a refreshing drink as the world burns.

It’s like the structural opposite of the still-hilarious Viva Pinata ad, which took you down an increasingly awkward and insane journey in order to make their game unforgettable.

Viva Pinata gets two minutes to set its pop-cultural, self-aware tone; the Milk dot spots get all of five seconds.  Both use bizarreness and a distinctive visual direction to get their point across:  Viva Pinata’s ad takes the juxtaposition between its lunatic premise (the smooth-talking, yet desperate, pinata) and its hyper-real visual style (complete with ugly, numb-looking kids) to the limit as it edges towards its punchline; the Milk ads are all punchline, and nothing else.

I suppose what makes them brilliant is that you already know what’s great about milk, and they’re just reminding you in visually striking, weird and funny ways.

Plus, as cartoonish as they are, these are spots that never forget who their true audience is.  Kids will appreciate the bright and animated vehicles to teach them that milk is associated with cool and funny things, but the jokes are aimed squarely at the parents.

Is a child audience really going to laugh at any gag that involves tooth removal?  Would they understand why a scientist staring through a telescope might freeze in shock as a result of a beach volleyball game?  Are they even going to get a joke about someone so superhumanly strong that he can ruin a baseball game, but then cheer for himself?

The best of these spots operate on every level, eye-catching enough for kids, funny enough for adults, punchy and nutty enough for everyone to stop and say, “Wait, was that just– did you see that?  What was that?  Why did the cow ROAR at me?”

More than anything, these ads are downright ballsy.  They take a risk with the most basic assumptions of how to advertise their product, and challenge a broad creative community to come up with answers.  For a drink that we’ve all seen a hundred thousand times before, one that had for a long time defined blandness, that’s a remarkable achievement.

What’s your favorite example of great advertising for your favorite foods?  C’mon, it’s Friday.  The Olympics are on, and nobody’s paying attention.  Let’s go chat in the comments.

  • Tina

    Those milk ads TERRIFY me. I’m glad that you find them entertaining, but when an ostensibly placid bovine comes rushing forward, complete with gnashing teeth and and a snarling roar, I get scared. I’m not supposed to be scared of cows. They’re like, my safety animal. Then the good people of Canadian dairy go and do THIS. Very, very unfair.

  • Kristie

    My current favorite is the Sears commercial where this middle aged woman is wearing a full-length flannel nighty and standing outside calling pitifully for her cat. Then this big, fatass raccoon comes along and she thinks it’s her cat and lets it inside the house saying “kitty come snuggles with ma-ma.” It’s for eyeglasses. I love it.

    • Mike

      Ha he he, I love that one too. It reminds me of one that’s running now for (I think) Special K bars where a lady is tidying up in front of the fireplace in her red bathrobe, and bends over to pick something up. Her daughter sees her from behind and cries out, “Santa!” thinking it’s his big ass.

      (click for TERRIBLY RECORDED version)

  • Marcel

    Why is the milk board even bothering to run ads in the first place? They have a government mandated monopoly on milk in the province. It’s not like Neilson is runnning ads vs some other milk company I can’t even think of. They have the consumer by the balls. Their slogan should be “Just try and buy milk without us”

  • bruleeblog
  • jen

    When you said food commericial I remembered this awesome Italian Parmigiano Reggiano commercial with the catchiest jingle ever.

    I like the milk ads. I think kids will remember them fondly when they grow up, the way I do The Logdriver’s Waltz

  • Stephanie

    Does it have to be a food commercial? Because this is one of my favourites.

    • Mike

      Excellent. That is exactly how insane I go when I run past about 6 miles. Crying at episodes of home renovation shows while I’m on the treadmill? CHECK! Makes screaming at raccoons seem downright rational.

  • sara page

    aw! i wish they played those in the US!