Silk Almond Milk Marketing Campaign Leaves a Bad Taste

Silk’s recent marketing campaign had a few missteps. Let’s take a look at different aspects of the campaign and what can be done to make it better.

The story of the milk category is an interesting one. Consumption of dairy milk has been on a steady decline since a peak in the mid 1970s, however, consumption of plant-based milk (eg Almond Milk, Soy Milk, etc) has been growing tremendously year over year.

Almond Milk is a $738mm plant-based milk subcategory that experienced 46% growth from 2013 to 2014. By my estimates, Almond Milk comprises about 6% of the milk category (in contrast, dairy milk makes up about 90%). Within the Almond Milk subcategory is Silk Almond Milk, a strong  competitor that owns half of the  subcategory.

That brings us to Silk Almond Milk’s recent ad campaign.

The insight driving this campaign is that people don’t try Silk because they generally do not try new and unfamiliar things. In a commercial from the campaign, marketers at White Wave Foods (the makers of Silk) chose to show a male consumer in their target trying and liking Silk after being taken to task by the “Silk Almond Man” (mascot) for employing circular logic in his  justification for having not tried Silk. Not only does the guy in the commercial like Silk Almond Milk, he actually finds it to be “A lot better than dairy milk”.

Here’s the commercial – if you would prefer to read rather than watch, there is a transcription of the commercial dialog below the video.

Silk Almond Man: So you won’t taste Silk because you don’t know what it tastes like
Reluctant Consumer: Right
Silk Almond Man: But that’s why you taste it – to find out
Reluctant Consumer: I don’t want to
Silk Almond Man: Why?
Reluctant Consumer: Because I don’t know what it’s gonna taste like
Silk Almond Man: (reserved outrage)That’s insane! It’s Silk Vanilla Almond Milk, it obviously tastes like almonds
Reluctant Consumer: Alright. Fine (picks up container of Silk and pours a glass)
Silk Almond Man: Thank You
Reluctant Consumer: (tastes silk) That’s really good
Silk Almond Man: (sarcasm) No
Reluctant Consumer: A lot better than dairy milk (taste test super on bottom of screen)
Silk Almond Man: (sarcasm) mmhmm
Reluctant Consumer: I didn’t know it tasted like that
Silk Almond Man: (sarcasm) Funny how that works
VO: With delicious taste that’s better than milk, Silk helps you bloom

 There are four things that bother me about this ad:

1. The less-than-stellar spokesperson

Let’s face it, the Silk Almond Man is a jerk. It isn’t that he’s making bad arguments, rather it is how he makes them. No matter how valid the argument, who wants to hear it drenched in condescending sarcasm? After the reluctant consumer tastes the Almond Milk, the Silk Almond Man’s tone conveys “I told you so” without explicitly stating it – no one wants to hear that.

The Silk Almond Man is also frustrated – and his frustration is decidedly unsexy. People take action to please the frustrated when they know and like them. Why would anyone do what the  Silk Almond Man wants them to do (try Silk Almond Milk) when they don’t know him and they aren’t given any reasons to like him? Superior taste, in and of itself, is not a reason to like Silk nor the Almond Man.

Brief Aside: When I listen to the Silk Almond Man, I hear the voice of a marketing/strategy executive who is frustrated with people who neither “get” nor “try” his or her awesome product. Assuming my instincts are correct – this frustration is misplaced. The burden is not and will never be on the consumer to become more open minded or to change their behavior. Rather, the burden is always on the executive to make an excellent product and to then make a compelling case for why consumers should try their product. Given that the product is excellent, the executive should be frustrated with his or her marketing efforts, not with consumers.

How to make it better:

The Silk Almond Man should not be as fueled by frustration as he is.  Alternatively, he could be the kind of spokesperson who rejoices whenever a consumer gets it and is sad when another consumer misses out. Or, for that matter, he could be anything else – any change to his attitude that cuts back on the frustration driven condescension and sarcasm would be a change for the better.

2. Harsh language

I was really taken aback when I heard the Silk Almond Man describe the reluctant consumer’s logic and subsequent behavior as “insane”. I could speak at length on why it was wrong to use the word “insane”, but suffice it to say that its use is “insensitive” and it comes from a place that has been stewing for far to long trying to figure out what is wrong with consumers who don’t get it.

As discussed in the point above, consumers aren’t at fault here.

How to make it better:

Find a less insensitive way to speak to consumers. If the research says that showing the consumer the fault in their logic is the way to drive sales (this is doubtful), then the drawing board and the copywriter’s room must be revisited until a better way to show this error is found. A similar sentiment could have been achieved without using the word “insane”. For example – the Silk Almond Man could repeat the reluctant consumer’s words back to him with an incredulous tone followed by a brief silence (pan camera to Almond Man, pan to consumer, pan back to Almond Man). Cut. print.

3. Not the best Reason to Believe

As I discussed in an article in Biz Tech magazine about Apple Pay, it is difficult to drive trial of something new absent a pain point. From watching this ad, it isn’t apparent to me how Silk Almond Milk solves any problems that the consumers they’re targeting have. Silk almond milk may taste better than regular milk, but I don’t think consumers care enough about a marginal taste difference, by itself, to change their behavior.

Another thing to keep in mind is the fact that milk is a commodity. Price is king in commodity categories. Silk Almond Milk’s price positions it as a premium product (a half gallon of Silk Almond Milk is close to double the price of a half gallon of regular milk – aside: which means that units volume is probably a better measure of market share), but apart from superior taste (a subjective metric – personally, I do not care for Silk Almond Milk’s taste at all), there aren’t any good reasons given in this spot to believe that the product is worth a try let alone the higher price.

How to make it better:

There are three tactics that White Wave marketers can employ to build a stronger reason to believe.

#1 – Speak to other relevant functional benefits of Silk Almond Milk. I know from this Silk Almond Milk spot that it has more Calcium than dairy milk – but I feel like the jig is up when it comes to extra calcium that comes from fortification. The first thing that comes to mind for me (apart from the limiting “lactose intolerance” angle) is healthy fats. Nuts have healthy poly and monounsaturated fats – White Wave marketers can speak to those.

#2 – Speak to things about milk that aren’t great. In the same spot from the above suggestion, dairy milk is unconvincingly painted as being disgusting. I think a better approach may be to riff on the fact that Humans are the only mammals on earth that drink the milk of other mammals. That’s weird – that also lends itself to potentially memorable humor around the Silk brand – this lever has a lot of potential.

#3 – Speak to the experience that surrounds superior taste. If the taste is that great, then consumers need to see someone experiencing the superior taste in a way that is aspirational (“I want to experience what that person is experiencing”), relatable (“I’ve had similar experiences while consuming other things”) and believable (“This product will more likely than not deliver”) – and this needs to be done in a way that makes people more willing to pay a little extra for the promised taste experience.


4. Broken discounting strategy

Even though there is no call to connect with Silk on social media at the end of the commercial, some reluctant consumers may choose to visit them on Facebook or another Silk page after viewing the commercial. If one visits their Facebook page, one of the first things you see is an offer for a coupon.

silk apps


If you follow the “Get a Coupon!” link, you ultimately end up here:

Silk taste challenge landing page

What’s wrong with this? You have to become a member of the Silk community and agree to receive offers, recipes and newsletters(?) to get a coupon. Let that sink in. You can’t drive trial while simultaneously demanding high commitment. For a product like this, those two things are at odds with each other. Also – the coupon is weak, it’s only $0.75.

How to make it better:

Lower the commitment required to get a coupon. It is impossible to use a discounting strategy without subsidizing customers who will always buy you at full price – but this is the cost required to grow a business. Also, the value of the coupon should be raised to $1 – people rarely use them, but the psychological impact of such a deep discount (over and above that of a $0.75 coupon) can’t be understated.

Let me know what you think about the Silk campaign and your suggestions for improvements in the comments.

Until next time.