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About those PMS ads for milk…

Update: The milk board has pulled the PMS campaign. Read more.

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Maybe you’ve heard about the California Milk Processor Board’s new “Everything I Do Is Wrong” campaign. It presents milk as a way for men deal with their wives’ and girlfriends’ PMS. Here are some things people are saying about these advertisements:

  • “It speaks directly to that tired old idea that a woman’s problem is a man’s inconvenience.” – Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon.
  • “It presents women as more uncontrollably irrational than ever before!” – Rebecca Cullers at Adweek.
  • “Overwhelmingly sexist.” — Ms. magazine, which started a petition against it.

I hate giving this more attention, but it’s like a slow pitch straight down the middle, and I’ve got to take a swing at it. Hold your nose, here we go! These are the print ads:

PMS Got Milk? Campaign - I apologize for the mutual misunderstanding that was clearly my fault

PMS Got Milk? Campaign - We can both blame myself

PMS Got Milk? Campaign - I apologize for letting you misinterpret what I was saying.

PMS Got Milk? Campaign - I'm sorry for the thing or things I did or didn't do.

PMS Got Milk? Campaign - I'm sorry I listened to what you said and not what you meant.

PMS Got Milk? Campaign - I apologize for not reading between the right lines.

There’s also an interactive website with some more jokes based around using milk to apologize for relationship-related misunderstandings.

Milk! — The drink for bad times!

Actually, the benefit message is pretty clear: “Milk can help reduce the symptoms of PMS.” The milk board has made this point before, drawing from some close-enough-for-advertising medical research. In this campaign, it’s just a quick hop to this conclusion: Men should buy milk when their partners are on their periods.

Bookmark this post for the next time you need an example of sexism in advertising.

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But the problems with this concept don’t end with sexism. If the joke were a carton of milk, it would have expired around 1955. Culture marches along, and it’s cliché to describe women as mercurial pressure cookers who get irrational once a month, as opposed to men, who are cool, calm and collected, and willing to be punching bags.

PMS jokes are the type of humor that dopey dads laugh at. (Not your dad, of course!) It’s like listening to some terrible comedian tell jokes about how much he hates his in-laws. It’s like back-slapping older men who tell their younger coworkers that college was the best time of their lives, and the fun ends when you get married. It would be like something from Andy Capp or The Lockhorns, if those strips ever acknowledged human reproduction.

This campaign is easy to beat up on, because so clearly deserves it. You can hate this campaign because it’s sexist, and I’ll back you up on that. But the real reason I hate it because it’s a throwback. It seems like the people who made these ads (Goodby, Silverstein) didn’t realize what decade it is.

Perhaps Goodby knew this was a terrible idea, but figured the sexism would push enough people’s buttons to get media coverage and drive visitors to the website. Okay, that worked. It was also dumb, risky and cynical. And since when does controversy sell milk?

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Who created these ads?

A team of men, probably. Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, under co-founder Jeff Goodby. (No detailed credits available.)

Who signed off on them?

Steve James, executive director of the California Milk Processor Board.

(Spotted at The New York Times — Thanks Ashley.)

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Advertising


  1. copycat says:

    yes, PMS-slanted jokes are older than Cathy Rigby. And yes, men having to deal with PMS-ing girlfriends/wives is older than Cathy Rigby’s mom…but can we at least be fair? why do we keep concepting beer ads around big tittied women with platinum hair? why do we keep alive the idea that old people can’t work a cell phone or any technology for that matter? why? because for some totally sophomoric reason, (see Tosh.O) IT NEVER GETS OLD. and if it does, you’re too old. face it, we laugh at stereotypes. the idea that a man would run out to Speedway to fend off PMS is funny. (Only ’cause you know they have beer one door down). get over it ladies. Loosen your belt and get a self-adhesive maxi-pad.

  2. Adam Clarke says:

    So it’s not okay to exploit a stereotypical female reaction. Noted. But it IS okay to exploit an overgeneralization about certain men?

    Perhaps one day in the far future you’d be raked over the coals for calling certain dads “dopey.” (Two-parent families are becoming an endangered species, you know?). But today you don’t even give it a second thought.

    Think about the gender inequality in our mass entertainment media culture. Men are portrayed, without fail, as the comic foils: The ones who forget the milk after going shopping, the ones who can’t remember an anniversary, or the ones who would rather drink beer and cheer on the San Francisco Giants than care for the family. Create a caring and consistent Ward Cleaver-like character and you’ll be asked to dumb him down and make him vulnerable and prone to moral ineptitude — to make him more like Doug on “King of Queens.”

    Female protagonists, on the other hand, can practically do no wrong. God forbid that they get irritable once a month or so! To even suggest that is considered “sexist.”

    Do you see the double-standard? Think about that before you join the anti-sexism witch-hunt, ok? That’s all I’m asking.

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