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Bananas Become Ads for Milk, Movie

November 22, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ By now, Americans are accustomed to such advertising gimmicks as race cars festooned with detergent labels and city buses toting around signs for jeans and underwear.

But bananas as billboards?

In the latest twist of a technique that advertising executives call ``cross-promotion,″ Dole Food Co. is putting stickers on millions of its bananas to hawk milk and the new cartoon movie ``Anastasia.″

For Westlake Village, Calif.-based Dole, the aim is to create consumer demand for Dole bananas by enticing grocers to stock their bananas by promising increased sales of milk. Typically a store offers only one brand at a time.

``Our goal is mostly to improve brand recognition,″ said Dole spokeswoman Marta Maitles. ``We try to put together programs for retailers that make it good for them to buy and sell Dole bananas.″

The milk sticker on bananas was the innovation of the California Milk Processor Board, the people who came up with the ``Got Milk?″ promotion that has run nationally since 1993.

The campaign is one of many run by agricultural producers and companies through government-supervised check-off funds they pay to promote their industry: Pork is ``The Other White Meat,″ an egg is ``The Incredible Edible Egg,″ and so on.

In recent years, dairy processors and farmers have pooled their money to contract with makers of products such as cereal, cookies and chocolate mix to advertise milk on their packages. A successful campaign put ``Got Milk?″ on Girl Scout cookies.

The milk board’s idea is to remind shoppers when they buy other products that milk is the essential complement.

``What else are you going to drink with five boxes of mints?″ said Jeff Manning, executive director of the California Milk Processor Board. ``We need those people to promote for us. In return, we affectionately call them co-dependent foods. You can’t use soda on cereal.″

The dairy industry is always searching for an edge, because growth has been stagnant for years. Per-person milk and cream consumption fell from 30 gallons in 1986 to 26 gallons in 1995 and has remained relatively flat since, according to the Agriculture Department.

In a sea of brand-name products, the fresh produce section is one part of the store that still sells mostly generic products.

Stickers depicting company trademarks are used increasingly on produce and especially to distinguish the many kinds of apples, which are priced differently and can’t carry a bar code. A sticker on an apple means a checkout clerk doesn’t have to guess.

Manning said he was walking down a produce aisle one day, noticed small Dole trademark stickers on bananas and recalled that people use the fruit on cereal.

``Have you guys ever considered putting another trademark or brand on your bananas?″ he asked Dole executives. ``I didn’t think we would ever get into the produce aisle.″

Dole agreed this fall to distribute 100 million clusters of its bananas with ``Got Milk?″ stickers, paid for in part with $30,000 from a dairy farmer-funded promotion program. The last of the bananas will be sold this month, but another campaign is likely next year.

``Their ad campaign had the kind of awareness we would want for our brand name,″ Maitles said. ``And milk, cereal and bananas make such a great breakfast.″

With that promotion winding down, Dole has found something else to put on its bananas: collectible stickers of six characters from the 20th Century Fox movie ``Anastasia.″

In addition, purchases of the bananas and other Dole products can be redeemed for free movie tickets and toys from the film.

``It reminds them to go to the other side of the store and pick up juices,″ Maitles said.

The ``Anastasia″ promotion will run through the end of the year.

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