Guest Editorial
Thursday | 07 December, 2017 | 1:25 pm


By Aviva Leebow Wolmer

MM 1217 guest leadDecember 2017 - In 1993, future blockbuster director Michael Bay directed a television commercial for what would become one of the most classic ad campaigns of all time. In it, a man enjoys a peanut butter sandwich—that is, until he can’t quite enunciate his answer a $10,000 radio question, “Who shot Alexander Hamilton?” Turns out, some dairy would have made all the difference.

No one could have guessed the cultural relevance both Michael Bay and Alexander Hamilton would enjoy, in separate entertainment categories, nearly 25 years later. But it’s not nearly as surprising as the fact that milk, which AdWeek called “the most boring product imaginable,” could garner such attention. In the mid-1990s the “Got Milk” campaign boasted 91 percent recognition among American viewers, and the punchy slogan is still memorable today.

The original commercial, titled “Aaron Burr” for the answer our protagonist needed milk to fuel, was followed by even more iconic ads featuring such celebrities as Britney Spears, Jessica Alba and Elton John sporting milk mustaches. It spawned partnerships with other advertisers and numerous parodies.

Boring, but useful products rarely get their due. As CEO of a flat-rolled steel distribution company, I know a thing or two about products people think are boring. Steel is such a critical component in almost every form of transportation, infrastructure and construction project imaginable, but manufacturing falls short of sexy. Hold your yawns for a moment, though, because it doesn’t have to be this way.

Perhaps it was because I grew up in the industry, I have never thought of steel as boring. As a kid, I’d point out everything with steel in it—from ice machines at hotels to air conditioning units—and wonder if it was our steel. I was fascinated by the steelmaking process, watching intently as the molten bright-orange metal was rolled and spun into a coil. The sheer size of the mill itself was a source of wonder.

In a world where steel is associated with antiquity (something so foreign from the wonder I felt when I spotted its applications as a child) and in which manufacturing is viewed as dwindling, a similar rebranding effort could be extraordinarily beneficial.

Challenging perceptions

The “Got Milk” campaign succeeded on several accounts, and though milk sales didn’t skyrocket, it’s worth noting what the campaign did right (and wrong). At a time when newer, “cooler” beverages were on the rise, milk captured cultural real estate and kept it for two decades. It also brought the dairy industry together on a national level. And while Big Milk could not keep Big Soda at bay, “Got Milk” preserved the beverage’s timelessness in a, well, timely way.

Ultimately “Got Milk” failed because it did not realize what it was up against: sugary drinks. Americans today drink well over twice as much soda as milk. As the Huffington Post reported, “Milk marketing needed to attack other beverages by providing competitive reasons for consumers to drink more milk, but it never did so effectively.”

In the same way sodas challenged dairy, materials like plastics and carbon fiber threaten to nibble away at steel’s supremacy. And like sugary drinks to the human body, plastics have proven toxic to the environment.

Obviously I’m a steel proponent, so don’t just take my word for it. To keep on the drink train, let’s use bottles as an example. Research shows that stainless steel bottles last longer, are safer, stronger, and have much higher recycling rates than plastic bottles, which have short lifecycles and can take centuries to decompose. The same goes for most steel-containing products, which are incredibly strong, long-lasting and 100 percent recyclable.

Whether by focusing on its day-to-day necessity or confronting the competition, there is much that can be done if we work together.

It’s time those of us in the steel industry advocate for our product instead of resting on our laurels. Because at the end of the day, if you don’t “got steel,” whatever you’re resting on could fall through pretty quickly. 

Aviva Leebow Wolmer is the CEO of Pacesetter, based in Kennesaw, Georgia, which performs slitting, blanking, cut to length, fabricating and finishing services on flat-rolled steel coils.

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