Was the 'Got Milk?' 2013 Super Bowl Commercial a Violation Of Free Speech?


Where sports, pageantry, and commercial life all meet, you get something we all know to be the Super Bowl. 

Many Americans, 163 million of them, tuned in to watch the game Sunday night, making it the most expensive advertising companies can buy. Thirty seconds of air time cost $3.8 million. Super Bowl commercials have taken on a following of their own. As my friends and I watched the game we would talk and joke, but as soon as the ads started there was a cacophony of shushing, the exact reversal of watching a regular NFL football game. 

Advertising, although never very informative (who knew GoDaddy hosted web domains?), for me has always been such an incredible expression of the free market and freedom of speech. But not for all companies. The "Got Milk?" commercial from Sunday's Super Bowl, Morning Run, was rather an expression of government coercion. 

The "Got Milk?" ad campaign, with its illustrious milk mustache, has been around for nearly 20 years but since 1990 the Fluid Milk Promotion Act of 1990 has been forcing dairy farmers to pay for milk advertisements they might otherwise not. But shouldn't we be happy that all the milk producers are cooperating to help inform us about the value of milk? No, and for more than a few reasons.

Most importantly, not all the milk producers want to pay for the adverts. Why should they? We do not do this for, say, water, or any other substance that is generally deemed healthy for you. It is one thing to take away free speech but another thing entirely to force people to pay for advertisements. To quote Thomas Jefferson, "“To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical."

Another important point is the questionable health benefits that can be garnered from milk. There are many health advocacy groups and people who believe that milk is actually not healthy for you. There are on both sides of the issue of milk studies of the health effects ranging from lowering the risk of heart attacks to increasing the risk of certain forms of cancer. Notwithstanding the fact that 60% of Americans cannot digest lactose, the main ingredient in milk. Why should the government be helping to spread information that the jury is still out on? The supposed health benefits of milk can also be consumed through a number of different varieties of foods and liquids. This should be left to the free market to decide, and by consumers, like myself who in spite of the evidence are going to continue to drink milk.

The companies who benefit the most from these advertisement campaigns are not little dairy farmers in Montana but big-dairy farmers who need no help with advertising. With all other markets we let individuals and firms decide on what they want to spend their free speech on. To whom they want to advertise and in what way. Maybe a local independent farmer would prefer to market his milk locally rather than nationally. It is not up for the government to decide for them.

We need to leave the marketing of milk products into the hands of those who, produce or sell them, not in the hands of lawmakers or USDA bureaucrats. But in 2003, it was held that since dairy farmers are "heavily regulated" the government has the right to "government speech" which amounts to forcing dairy producers to pay for what the government want to say on their behalf. This in any other industry would be considered a free speech violation as it was ruled by U.S. v. United Foods Inc in 2000.