#GotAltMilk? The Oat Milk Wars: Read On for Swedish Milk Scandal—and the Joys of Putting Down Your Brand

Estimated reading time: 11 minute(s)

From grains (oat, rice, hemp) to beans (soy, pea!) to nuts (almond, coconut, cashew), the past decade has seen a slew of non-dairy milks hitting coffee shops—and your kitchens. Products formerly confined to the allergy aisle are now mainstream, as we settle into the so-called “post-milk generation.” The latest craze is oat milk—a category largely attributed to Swedish company Oatly

Since expanding to the U.S. in 2017, Oatly’s sales have skyrocketed, going from 10 locations in New York to more than 1,000 nationwide in just one year. In 2019, it’s expected to double 2018 revenue ($110 million) to $230 million. There’s no question Oatly’s fearless marketing efforts have played a key role in growth and brand awareness. Whether or not the company’s nontraditional approach strikes your fancy, it’s been nothing if not strategic. 

Here are a handful of the marketing insights we’ve gleaned from Oatly’s ads—and our copywriting agency’s takes on why they succeed at being hard to ignore.

Align your approach with your goals

While Oatly may be new to you, the company has been around since the 1990s—and has undergone some significant structural changes. The brand used to have a traditional marketing department. But then they changed things up. 

Oatly’s in-house creative department writes its own briefs—and approves its own work. And, all creative directors come from advertising backgrounds, e.g. there are no marketing directors. 

While this wouldn’t be a great approach for a b2b company, the emphasis on advertising over marketing has helped create exactly the impression that Oatly was aiming for—extremely casual, conversational, right-brain, left-field ads like the one shown here. 

Don’t be afraid to make a splash

Before it hit the U.S. market, Oatly launched a series of ads in Sweden that ended up causing quite the stir. By poking fun at what in many ways remains its main competitor—the dairy industry—the company ended up getting more attention than it bargained for.

The Swedish dairy industry sued Oatly for negative implications behind the above ad. 

The court decision ultimately prohibited Oatly from implying that dairy milk is harmful—and also (one would think damningly) prohibited Oatly from calling itself milk in Sweden. 

But #OatMilkKarma is a strange one. The resulting consumer attention went through the roof—and set Oatly up for a complete market takeover. Luckily, there are plenty of creative ways to get around using the word milk, e.g. “oat drink,” as Oatly’s Swedish cartons read. All in all, Oatly practiced a loud, high risk, high reward approach—and it paid in droves.

Embrace self-deprecation

Many of Oatly’s ads engage in this type of self-deprecating humor. And in this case, it’s even based on real, negative consumer feedback. Hardly everyone is aboard the oat milk train—or even the alt-milk train—and Oatly knows this. 

By being self-deprecating, Oatly does more than just make the reader laugh; they relate. This authenticity gives the company a great shot at winning some new people over—or at least getting them to pay attention. Got Oat Milk? becomes more of a thing.

With Oatly’s self-deprecating humor, you’ve got to laugh. 

Take part in big conversations

Oatly’s instagram bio reads, “Our goal is to deliver products that have maximum nutritional value and minimal environmental impact.” A large part of the company’s mission is grounded in environmental and climate change awareness—promoting oat milk’s function as a sustainable alternative to traditional milk. Oatly is not only participating in, but taking a stance in a pressing global conversation, and it’s something that any consumer can admire.

Part of what underpins the oat milk craze—aside from its particularly creamy and rich flavor—is that it is significantly more environmentally friendly than not only dairy milk, but other alt-milks like almond milk. While Oatly’s ads may not get the average milk-drinker immediately on-board, they could be what sparks an already conscious almond or other alt-milk drinker to make the permanent switch to Oatly’s oat milk. Their environmentally-aware messaging is not only informative and important—it’s smart.

Looking to implement some of these tactics into your own marketing strategy—or develop new ones of your own? Contact MarketSmiths today.

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Hope Rothenberg

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