Editor’s note: Last week, Dairy Herd Management reported on comments made at the Cal Poly dairy symposium that were critical of the “Happy Cows Come From California” commercials. Tony Souza, chairman of the California Milk Advisory Board, has since responded with the following remarks:

“The state and federal mandate for the CMAB is to promote and market California dairy products through communications, education and research.  The Happy Cow advertising campaign is just that — an ad campaign.  The campaign’s objective is to engage consumers, raise awareness about California milk products and drive consumer purchase.  The campaign brings cows to life in an animated, whimsical and purposefully imaginary way.  It engages consumers by giving cows human-like qualities and personalities.  The campaign never intended — and is not meant to be a realistic representation of cows or actual dairy farms.  And very importantly, consumers, including consumers who are animal rights activists understand that and are indeed engaged.

“In light of increased consumer concerns regarding animal welfare and recent legislative efforts such as Proposition 2 in California, at the beginning of this year, we asked our CMAB staff to conduct research to answer these very questions.  Through a series of focus groups and an extensive, national, quantitative survey of 600 consumers we queried to understand the mindset of the consumer — including some self-described animal rights activists — as it related to this campaign.  In conducting this research, we wanted to make sure without a doubt that the Happy Cow campaign was not setting any unrealistic expectations or in any way shedding a spotlight on “real” animal care issues.

“Respondents overwhelmingly expressed fondness for the Happy Cows campaign and viewed these advertisements as funny, designed to “sell” the idea of California dairy and not meant to accurately reflect reality.  To quote just one verbatim, “I get it.  Cows don’t really sing and dance and tell jokes, and they’re not all on beautiful pastures like that.”  The commercials do not make people think about cow treatment.  When questioned further, even the supporters of Proposition 2 defended the Happy Cows and did not feel that the advertisements should be discontinued in light of animal welfare concerns.  Participants overwhelming agreed the campaign was a fun way to engage consumers and a humorous approach to sell California dairy products — that’s it.  Respondents thought about dairy products, not animal treatment.

“What the Happy Cows campaign does succeed at however is to drive consumers’ awareness and engage them in a relationship with the CMAB.   The campaign is driving consumers in record numbers to our website, where the CMAB does communicate the industry’s animal welfare practices in a transparent and authentic way: documentaries. 

“At RealCaliforniaMilk.com we have profiled 13 dairies across the state where we discuss and show “the real story” of animal welfare and sustainability practices.   We did this to make sure that consumers can see firsthand what it’s like to be at a California dairy and walk away with a better understanding of animal welfare practices.  According to our research, documentaries are the most appropriate, credible forum to tell the real story; not advertising, which falls to the bottom of the list of credible sources of information regarding animal care and practices.  I encourage you to review these videos available at RealCaliforniaMilk.com.  We also provide information about the recent DMI certification program that California dairies are currently going through and fully support. 

“The Happy Cows campaign is far more clever and strategic than it appears on the surface.  And as our ongoing consumer tracking data shows, it has been the driver behind significant increases nationally in awareness of California as a source for dairy products and purchase intent for California dairy products – which remain, precisely, the intention of the advertising.”