Brand Strategy

Why the organization behind ‘Got Milk’ is leaning into sports marketing

The milk industry ad org recently started increasing its investment in runners and women athletes.
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· 4 min read

When most people think of sports drinks, they think of Gatorade, Powerade, or other colorful beverages that commonly appear in the hands of athletes in ad campaigns. The milk industry wants to change that.

The Milk Processor Education Program, the milk industry’s advertising arm behind the iconic “Got Milk?” campaign and ads like the Aubrey Plaza-led “Wood Milk,” has spent the last few years looking for ways to make the dairy beverage synonymous with sports performance. Three decades after “Got Milk?” was first introduced, the group, known as MilkPEP, rolled out a new campaign, “Gonna Need Milk,” in 2021, and this year is leaning further into running partnerships and deals with women athletes to get the word out.

“Milk and sports have gone together since forever,” Yin Woon Rani, CEO of MilkPEP and a former marketing exec at Campbell Soup Company, UM, and Grey Group, told Marketing Brew. “We always describe ourselves as the OG sports drink.”

Moo-ve over

MilkPEP has looked to align with the sports space for years, with athletes like Mia Hamm and the Williams sisters both involved in the long-running “Got Milk?” campaign that began in the 1990s.

In 2016, MilkPEP signed a five-year sponsorship deal with the US Olympic Committee, and when the sponsorship ended after Tokyo 2020 (the games that took place in 2021 due to the pandemic), the group wanted to find a way to continue showcasing “the natural connection of milk and athletes,” Rani said. Enter the “Gonna Need Milk” campaign, which began with a focus on flag football and women’s tackle football, including a partnership with Adrienne Smith of the Boston Renegades.

The campaign with women football players, which started in January 2022, “really gave us insight into the amazing athletic abilities of these female athletes, and frankly, how under-supported they are from a sponsorship standpoint [and] from a media coverage standpoint,” Rani said. Women’s sports receive only about 5% of total TV coverage and sports highlight shows, according to a USC/Purdue University study published in 2021, a fact that many brands and networks have been working to change.

From there, MilkPEP went all in on women in its advertising, athletes included. Last year, instead of sponsoring the New York City Marathon itself, MilkPEP started a sponsorship program that any woman training to run a marathon can sign up for called “Team Milk,” a term it also used with other sponsorship initiatives prior to its marathon work.

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MilkPEP supports team members on race days with a recovery lounge that gives athletes free chocolate milk and massages, Rani said, and the group matches its runners’ registration fees with donations to the nonprofit Girls on the Run. In its first year, Team Milk had about 3,500 women participate, according to Rani.

The organization also made a commitment this year to only use women in its ads, even outside of sports. In a less formal push, Rani said MilkPEP is working to extend that commitment behind the camera as well, moving toward 100% women directors and photographers.


MilkPEP will have a “bigger and better” presence at the upcoming Chicago and New York marathons this fall, Rani said, in addition to about a dozen regional races. It has “something big” in the works related to running for next year, she said, but declined to share further details.

The expansion comes following success with previous marathon activations, like an initiative called 26.2, a nod to the 26.2 miles marathoners run. That activation includes a content series highlighting the stories of runners in 26.2 seconds each, primarily on Instagram and TikTok, Rani said.

After the first activation, MilkPEP saw about a 7% increase in its Instagram following, according to figures shared by Gale, MilkPEP’s agency of record. The series has generated over 47,000 engagements and 325,000 impressions, and it has accounted for four of MilkPEP’s top 10 performing posts of the year. The average engagement rate for the series is 3.3%, slightly higher than MilkPEP’s organic social benchmark.

“We got incredible response from the women on the ground, we got incredible response from a social media standpoint, and we got tremendous earned coverage that also helped,” Rani said. “So we’re continuing that effort now with a series of other marathons…Women and women athletes are just so insanely grateful that a brand is paying attention to them.”

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