ReFuel with Chocolate milk wins national WOMMIE

By Ted Wright December 1, 2009

CATAGORY: MOMENTUM – Word of mouth program to juice existing products/services.



The American Dairy Association (ADA) of Ohio wanted to sell more milk. AcrossAmerica, milk consumption had dropped by half since the 1970s and Ohio was no exception. Milk simply had become less and less a part of peoples’ daily lives. It was old-fashioned. There were newer, flashier alternatives. The ADA decided to make a change. Study after study has shown that today’sconsumers are cynical; they just don’t trust commercial messages like they used to. Whatever was to be said had to be “real.” Instead of relying on broadcast media, the ADA turned to word-of-mouth marketing and asked Fizz to help them sell more chocolate milk. So what could be done to revitalize the milk sales? 

The first step for Fizz was to immerse itself in the client’s business. Nine boxes full of almost everything imaginable–posters, T-shirts, presentation materials–arrived at Fizz from the ADA. Within one of the nine boxes wasa study by the University of Indiana. Researchers and nutritionists at Indianafound that chocolate milk, the drink of little kids, was the perfect beverage to drink after strenuous activity. It was, in reality, a better for you, high tech sports drink.

Next, Fizz traveled to Ohio for ethnographic field research. Fizz knew going in that over 65% of Ohioans live in cities under 50,000 people; 22% live in towns under 10,000. During its research process, Fizz discovered that in addition to being the local sports guru, high school football coaches are the de facto source for nutritional and performance information across Ohio. This knowledge dovetailed perfectly with the Indiana research. Few garner such esteem and respect by young adults as “coach.” These men are Influencers across Ohio from small towns to large metro communities. As such, coaches are one of the few groups addressed according to their honorifics (“Coach Smith says…”) by even the most skeptical high school teenagers. The strategy became obvious: Win over the support of the high school football coaches and the rest will follow. 

Fizz and the ADA decided to have conversations with coaches wherethey naturally convene–football clinics. Every year, high school footballcoaches attend intensive training clinics to gain a competitive edge on the field throughout the season. During these sessions, coaches learn and share valuable information to improve their team’s performance. Fizz and the ADA positioned themselves at these clinics to facilitate conversations about chocolate milk. Fizz mailed high school football coaches throughout Ohio with the valuable information they’d found, as well as an invitation to discuss it and to find out more. How does direct mail relate to word of mouth marketing? Coaches are accustomed to receiving poorly executed and cheaply printed marketing material, so Fizz designed interesting luxurious high-end mailers. They were not only cool, they were packed with information about chocolate milk’s benefits. It worked. The coaches were so delighted by these mailers (some brochures “mooed” as they were opened, others used luxe printing techniques)that after reading the information inside, they shared it with their whole staff.  The mailers were so successful at generating conversation among coaches that they brought these mailers with them to the clinics with yellow Post-it note questions attached.

 To drive the message home, Fizz found NFL and MLB alumni and state championship athletes (who we called the “We Won a Ring” gang) who read, digested, and believed in the chocolate milk story. The gang, armed with this remarkable information, attended football clinics across the state interactingwith coaches at all levels. They sent a strong nonverbal message; the bright gold rings these former athletes wear needed no explanation, they tacitly convey that the wearer knows what it takes to win the championships. Some of the noted athletes included Mark Inkrott, 3-year NFL veteran, Pete Shier, former MLB player with the Orioles and the Phillies, and Tyson Yirak, Ohio State basketball champion. Their presence supported the verbal message that chocolate milk is the drink to drink after strenuous physical activity. In fact, many coaches shared their own chocolate milk story (see ADA video)with other coaches.

The message these champions conveyed to the highschool coaches was simple: Chocolate milk is a terrific beverage for their playersto drink after practice and weight training. It is the equal to higher pricednutritional supplements. And, best of all, it can already be found in the highschool cafeteria. The best sports drink has been there all along: it’s chocolatemilk.

Soon after the clinics ended, Fizz followed up by sending members of the “We Won a Ring” gang to the high schools loaded with chocolate milk and a story. The coaches got the message and they passed it along. Chocolate milk sales skyrocketed. Kroger’s chocolate milk sales in the Cincinnati region increased an incredible 475%. That is a Kroger system-wide record for increase in milk sales; Kroger management could not believe so much milk was being sold. In markets across Ohio, milk consumption increased 12-28% YTD as verified by IRI Scandata. This was 10 times the rate of the rest of the country. The sales rise was so dramatic that concerned convenience store owners even contacted the agency staff about chocolate milk’s possible illicit use because of the unprecedented sales to teenage boys (remember “Whipits?”). Of course, they were quickly reassured that that was not the case. 

Even Big Ten colleges got in on the act as their strength and training coaches heard of the power of chocolate milk. They researched it themselves, agreed with our conclusions and started not only using chocolate milk in their own programs, but began spreading the gospel of chocolate milk too! Players at the University of Minnesota, the University of Michigan and the University of Iowa were drinking chocolate milk after workouts. It has become a sports drink phenomenon. ESPN caught wind of this and produced a four-and-a-half minute feature story on the once unassuming beverage for its “College Gameday”program. It sent a camera crew to the University of Washington for the story. Chocolate milk had, tongue-in-cheek, become the football team’s secretweapon. At the end of the feature, Lou Holtz, the famous college coach andcommentator, turned to camera and said, “Had I known this, my kids would have drank chocolate milk.” 

Throughout the entire campaign, the message stayed interesting, relevant, andauthentic. And the results show. Chocolate milk, once the drink of children isnow the refuel source for athletes at every level.


No comments yet