Great milk comes from happy cows, and great milk commercials come from New Zealand. At least according to the California Milk Advisory Board.
The organization, originator of the "Real California Milk" slogan (but not the more famous "Got Milk?" slogan, which comes from the California Milk Processor Board), became a target of scorn after The Times reported last fall that it was planning to film 10 commercials promoting Golden State milk not here in the world's commercial production capital but in Auckland, New Zealand. Producers have long been stampeding out of California, but if there's one straggler we would have expected Hollywood to rope in, it's a promotional campaign for California dairy products.
In defense of the milk board, no Real California Cows were used in the New Zealand filming. The premise of the spots is that foreign bovines are auditioning to become California bovines in an "American Idol"-style competition. Yet Hollywood labor unions objected, prompting the Assembly on Monday to approve a bill requiring state agencies, commissions or departments that promote California products using public funds to keep their productions in-state.
About the best that can be said about this bill, which is good for certain Hollywood crew members but bad for the taxpayers and dairy farmers who pay for the kind of marketing campaigns it targets, is that it is irrelevant. Despite the odd decision by the milk board, savvy marketers already realize that when the customer is a state or country, it's a good idea to film in that state or country. The milk board says it picked Auckland after soliciting bids from around the world; it was far cheaper to go to New Zealand than to do the work here. Yet it's unlikely that the financial savings were worth the public relations cost. When it comes to branding California cattle, in other words, it's easy to get burned if you're careless.
Runaway production isn't a joke: It costs livelihoods and hurts the local economy, affecting even those who don't work in the advertising or entertainment business. But government attempts to corral the industry seldom succeed. The factors that push producers overseas, such as favorable exchange rates and better labor deals, are hard to counter with tax subsidies or similar incentives. Sacramento's latest effort isn't as objectionable as last year's film tax credit program, which gave away $100 million to a few dozen film and TV projects at a time when teachers are being laid off and child health programs are being slashed. But it's still an overreaction to one dairy board's marketing mistake.