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California Herds Its Happy Cows Online

The California Milk Advisory Board, a marketing body for 2,200 dairy farmers in the Golden State, has driven its “Happy Cows” theme to the Internet as part of the 5-month-old Real California Cheese campaign.

A new site at www.realcaliforniacheese.com continues the board's multimedia crusade to push California cheese to pizza places, cheese makers and consumers in California, with a spillover in Arizona, Utah, Nevada and Colorado.

“The Web site, along with all of our advertising, is all designed to create some acceptance for California cheese because it's news to a lot of people that California makes great cheese,” said Michael Freeman, director of advertising services at the Modesto, CA-based milk board.

“People think of Wisconsin when they think of cheese,” Freeman said, “and so we're out to create some acceptance and awareness that California makes great cheese.”

RealCaliforniaCheese.com's creative look plays off television spots that have California dairy cows demonstrating how living in California makes for great cheese. It cobbles together the California milk board's disparate sites geared to export, import, new dairy products and the pizza business.

“The challenge [now] is to build awareness and create preference for Real California Cheese,” said George Penner, senior vice president and director of iDeutsch LA, Los Angeles, which handles the account along with sibling Deutsch LA.

The Internet is expected to play a key role in achieving that objective. Updated each month in the manner of a magazine, the RealCaliforniaCheese.com site is targeted to both consumers and trade.

Features include suggestions to pair appropriate wines with California cheeses and a section for browsing or storing recipes. Add to that a list and Web links of California cheese makers, a cheese-making virtual tour and the ability to view the “Happy Cow” television spots.

A kids section this month allows visitors to paint a Happy Cow coloring book, download images and create a three-dimensional Happy Cow paper puppet.

For those in search of business information, iDeutsch has created a special category for industry news and pizza place locations. Plus, there are separate sections on new dairy products and the import or export of California cheese.

E-commerce is reflected in online offers of a wine.com sweepstakes and a Happy Cow T-shirt that borrows from the advertising campaign and says, “Great cheese comes from happy cows. Happy cows come from California.”

There is in-store sampling as well. Consumers can also present printed versions of online coupons for products that carry the board's “It's the Cheese” official seal.

“With all of these things we're trying to make a real tactile experience from the Web site,” Penner said. “For instance, you can print the coloring book, the paper shaper you can make it into a three-dimensional object, the T-shirt is something you can purchase.”

“A lot of Internet [trade] sites neglect to have that tactile feature onboard,” he said.

Efforts are on to attract offers from companies to cross-promote their products with Real California Cheese. Wine.com and Diageo plc's Pillsbury Co. are the charter online partners.

Freeman said the milk board this year will observe public response to the site and take advantage of parts that work well.

“This is our first venture into a real consumer Web site and we'll see how high is up,” Freeman said.

The site gets media support from radio, magazine and, in June, billboard ads that will spring up in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Radio, in fact, has already yielded results.

“The number of online requests [for Real California Cheese brochures] went from a few a day to 1,200 requests in the first week the radio ran,” Penner said.

California currently produces 1.4 billion pounds of cheese a year, or one out of every six pounds in the United States.

Traditional flavors like cheddar, mozzarella and Monterey Jack account for more than 89 percent of all cheese produced in California. Specialty cheeses make up for the rest.

“California is the No. 1 dairy state; we produce more milk than any other state,” Freeman said. “We're No. 2 in cheese production, but in the next couple of years we're expected to surpass Wisconsin as the No. 1 cheese producing state.”

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