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Spending Under $10 Million: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

By T.L. Stanley

Never mind what eating spinach did for Popeye—check out what drinking milk can do for you. It turned a puny, brittle-haired geek into a classic guitar god, complete with the Axl Rose physique (circa 1990) and a silky, flowing mane.

Such is the miraculous turnaround tale of White Gold, a preening spandex-clad lead guitarist created by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, for the California Milk Processor Board. White Gold was inspired by Spinal Tap (he wears a handlebar mustache and his volume goes to 11), and he does look alarmingly like any frontman from an ’80s hair band.
It’s just that this rocker owes it all—his body, his skin and especially his hair -- to milk.
With help from the “Calcium Twins” (two female rockers on bass and drums), White Gold’s high-watt homage to dairy -- including a cheeky EP titled “The Best I Can Give Is 2%” -- was designed to be the foot in the door to talk to teens about drinking milk. Considering that the bev of choice for rock stars runs closer to Jack Daniels, White Gold is a pretty out-there approach. And that was the entire idea, according to Steve James, executive director of the CMPB.

“If you try to go straight at a teen target with a nutritional message, you’ll get yawns,” says James. “We were trying to get them to use the words ‘milk’ and ‘cool’ in the same sentence -- basically, attempting the impossible -- and do that in an entertaining, attention-grabbing way.”

James isn’t kidding about that “impossible” bit. The trade group’s research showed that by the time they turn into teenagers, kids generally leave milk in the fridge. They’re making their own buying decisions outside of mom’s influence, and are much more excited by Red Bull, Vitaminwater and even Starbucks coffee. These findings convinced CMPB (which had traditionally aimed its messaging at moms, anyway) to speak directly to teens for the first time. CMPB turned to longtime agency Goodby, originator of the iconic “Got Milk?” campaign, but charged it with the creation of something wholly unique.

White Gold is the musical messenger for all of milk’s virtues (one of his songs is called, “Is It Me, or Do You Love My Hair?”) and a shrewd linking of milk with attributes that preoccupy teens of both genders -- muscles, skin, hair, etc. But how the agency disseminated the work was as important as walking the creative fine line between playful kitsch and complete goof.
Though White Gold is a fictitious character, Goodby execs followed a true music-industry model with his material. He sings original songs supported by full-length music videos.

Goodby also tapped into social networks and seeded iTunes, YouTube, Rhapsody and with the content. Creative execs had an advantage over traditional records (they were giving the music away for free), yet they worked with some real rockers -- members of Detroit’s Electric Six -- to craft power ballads worthy of legitimate music reviews. “It was a lot more complicated than picking the right TV show that teens might be watching and buying ads there,” James explains. “We thought of how a record label would introduce a new band. That informed all the media choices.”

Goodby’s media team worked hand-in-hand with the creative side, making sure there were enough assets like photos, biographies, mobile downloads and music videos to fill the viral pipeline. But the biggest challenge was striking just the right, well, chord: getting teens to laugh with -- not at -- the guy in the gold-lame pants. White Gold’s character is satiric, but stops short of buffoonery. His props are funny (yes, that is milk inside his lucite guitar), but he succeeds in being just enough of a badass that you’re hesitant to make fun of him.

“We wanted to let people in on the joke without being completely obvious that it’s a fake band,” says Stephanie Charlebois, Goodby’s senior communications strategist. “That’s why we put White Gold in places where teens would find the band naturally, that weren’t intrusive or inauthentic.”

The marketing mix was about 60 percent TV and 40 percent print, digital and other grassroots outreach. The digital components allowed youths to interact with the mock rocker, posting photos of their homemade White Gold Halloween costumes and discussing the merits of tunes like “Tame the White Tiger.” The music videos racked up 1.5 million views, the Facebook page gathered more than 8,200 friends and there have been 443,398 (and counting) views of the MySpace profile.

The biggest impact, however, is in how teens view drinking milk. After White Gold’s debut, milk consumption increased 3 percent among the target demo (this despite the spike in commodity prices in 2008). Teens exposed to the campaign later said they understood that milk helps strengthen nails and hair and rebuild muscles. In California, 52 percent of teens reported they knew who White Gold was, and 28 percent said they’re more likely to drink milk multiple times a day.

White Gold, now in year two with an ongoing “Thrashteurizer” online game, will launch a new phase this fall. Details are being kept under wraps, but it revolves around the concept of putting the band in young fans’ hands and letting them customize it. “We love that the band’s become part of pop culture now,” Charlebois says, and she might soon mean that literally.
An actual White Gold tour has not been ruled out.

Rock on.

Contributing writer T.L. Stanley frequently writes for Brandweek.

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