Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein were pitching for the California Milk Processing Board.
For years, the advertising had been: "Milk, it does a body good."
But this was old news, everyone knew milk made strong teeth and bones.
As Carl Ally said: "Advertising should make the new familiar and the familiar new."
In this case they needed to do the latter, make people reappraise milk.
Jon Steel was the planner and he ran some focus groups before the briefing.
For a week before the groups, he asked the participants to stop using milk.
Then he asked them what it had been like.
One man’s experience was typical: "I came down in the morning, poured out my cereal and sliced a banana on it like usual then I remembered, no milk. Now what could I do, pour the cereal back in the box, I can’t use soda or Gatorade or water?"
Eventually one woman summed it up: "You don’t really notice milk until it’s gone."
Jon Steel wrote that down as the brief.
To demonstrate the strategy at the pitch, they put a video camera inside the agency fridge and filmed staff when they discovered there was no milk.
They’d have to have their coffee or sandwich or cake without, their faces dropped.
A planner asked Jeff Goodby what title he wanted on the deck, he said: "I dunno, maybe just 'Got milk?'."
The planner said: "Surely ‘Got ENOUGH milk?’ makes more sense."
Goodby said: "Nah, I prefer it shorter, it’s catchier."
During the pitch, Goodby was thinking maybe "Got milk?" might make a good strapline.
After the pitch they gave the client a booklet with their thinking, and photos of the agency team and, just for a laugh, each of them had a little milk moustache.
The planner, Jon Steele, said: "You know that would make a great campaign, celebrities with milk moustaches."
Jeff Goodby said: "Nah, it doesn’t fit with the idea of food needing milk."
So the agency ran the campaign they’d pitched: people unable to eat peanut butter, or cookies, or chocolate cake without milk, and they used the strapline: "Got milk?"
It was a massive success.
Then the Milk Processing Education Program decided to do national advertising.
An agency called Bozell launched a campaign with celebrities with milk moustaches, but they used the strapline: "Milk, what a surprise."
The visuals were a huge hit, but the strapline was dull and forgettable.
The client made them change it to the hugely successful: "Got milk?"
Suddenly celebrities wanted to be photographed wearing a milk moustache, and Annie Liebowitz wanted to photograph them: Harrison Ford, Elton John, Muhammad Ali, Jackie Chan, Spike Lee, Danny DeVito, Whoopi Goldberg, The Simpsons, Kermit the Frog – 350 ads and 70 commercials over 20 years.
People even adapted the line for their own uses: Got cakes? Got Jesus? Got bacon? Got burritos? Got raisins? Got muscles? Got balls? Got teeth? Got gas? Got porn?
Oreo even imprinted "Got milk?" straight onto their cookies.
All because ordinary people spotted what a planner, Jon Steel, had spotted before a single ad had run.
When something is part of life, the way to get people to notice it is to take it away.
And the way to make that noticeable is to have fun and not take yourself seriously.
Jon Steel went on to write the bestselling book Truth, Lies, and Advertising.
My favourite quote of his is: "The best attribute a planner can have is to be useful."
The same way there aren’t many great creatives, there aren’t many great planners.
Dave Trott is the author of Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three