The advertisement is a fairy tale for our Year of Viagra. In the first shot, a spry, elderly man, wearing nothing but his skivvies, prepares for a tryst. He grabs a sport coat out of his closet. He combs his thinning hair, pausing briefly in the loo to gargle and spit. After buffing his shoes, our would-be Casanova checks himself in a full-length mirror. Damn, I look good, his expression says. And he does. The story nears its climax as the cute old codger grabs a bouquet of flowers out of the icebox and hops into his convertible. His final destination: a meadow where the object of his affection awaits. "If ever there was a time to show your true feelings, it's now," a voice-over intones.
Finally, we meet his date, and though she's a bit on the heavy side, her visage displays an expression of matronly patience, of giving, of bovine complacence. His date is a cow--a love-sick Holstein. The octogenarian gently bends over to smack her on the kisser--moo--while a caption appears underneath the pair: "June is Dairy Month."
At first viewing, the ad seems clever, breezy. But the spot's racier implications pop out of the pastoral landscape. In the interests of determining the accuracy of the commercial's scenario, City Pages contacted several local dairy producers who might be more--how to put it--intimate with the subject. Byron Jacobson, a onetime dairy farmer from Cresco, Iowa (located some 10 miles south of Harmony, Minnesota), reports that although his dad once hugged a cow after a night of carousing, he has rarely witnessed this kind of affection directed toward dairy cattle. "If that man really wanted to woo the cow," Jacobson says, "he should've offered her a bouquet of hay rather than flowers."
Meanwhile, Duane Rajel, who runs a 60-cow operation in Villard, Minnesota, and says he likes the ad, also expresses skepticism about the bond between man and beast. "Well, I've heard guys tell me that they've been on a date with a cow before," Rajel says, "but really, it's just some broad that they weren't too happy with."
Bovine ribaldry aside, Rajel is quick to point out that he isn't happy about being forced to pay for this--or any other--American Dairy Association ad. In 1984, Congress implemented the checkoff program, which requires dairy farmers to pay a mandatory fee toward dairy advertising and research--15 cents for every 100 pounds of milk they sell. (Based on an estimated $12 unit price, this figures to 1.25 percent of total sales.) Though this might not be a steep allotment for a trade organization, one wonders if the average dairy operator minds paying to publicize the suggestion that he might bugger cattle back in the barns.
John Gundale, American Dairy Association of Minnesota communications director, counters that USDA statistics show that dairy consumption has increased 27 percent since the checkoff program began. (The "Got Milk" campaign, in particular, has been wildly successful.) That should be good news to dairy farmers--numbering some 9,000 strong in Minnesota alone--who now can sell their product instead of relying on the government to buy back their surplus. And since 70 percent of Minnesota milk goes into cheese, this latest five-part campaign, titled "Behold the Power of Cheese," might enable local farmers to get the most bang out of their buck. They'd better hope so, as the individual dairy operators exert sway over their marketing through at least three tiers of elected representatives--a complex bureaucracy that even dairy-industry folks seem scantly to understand.
But the consumer will no doubt have a stronger response to a tale of a coot and his cow than a fictional depiction of a business association founded by congressional mandate--a fact that is certainly not lost on Dick Cooper, vice president of cheese marketing for Dairy Management, Inc. (DMI), an umbrella trade organization located in Chicago. "Dairy products are so wonderful that this man [in the ad] who loves them wants to express his gratitude to the element source," says Cooper. "And so the little gag is he's getting ready for a special lady--and he is. Only it turns out that the special lady is the cow who is responsible for all these wonderful dairy products."
And who better to represent the experience of the small-time dairy farmer than the massive Chicago-based advertising concern Leo Burnett, which bills $6 billion for accounts each year. Cathy Rhomberg, the firm's vice president account supervisor, says that after previewing the story boards to several hundred consumers, her firm decided this campaign would be most likely to trip the trigger of "cheese cravers," folks with nearly carnal appetites for dairy. "These people don't just use cheese in recipes," Rhomberg says. "These are people who mostly eat cheese right off the block."
When it came time to film the spot, Leo Burnett chose a location outside Los Angeles--appropriate, perhaps, as California is the largest dairy-producing state in the country, holding most of the largest corporate concerns. But the ad's director chose not to offer up the hulking appearance of industry, inserting an old man into the spot in place of the strapping young lad the writers had originally envisioned.
The change made little difference to Dale Hernke, who operates a family-owned farm corporation just outside Cannon Falls, and lacks both influence on and interest in the ads that represent his work. "I always knew a certain percentage of my check goes into advertising, but the farmers don't really have anything to do with it," Hernke says. "Can't say that I even know who my local [American Dairy Association] representative is."
The ad's bawdier and more bestial themes don't affect this stolid farmer either. "I didn't think of it that way," Hernke says. "I'm married."