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24 California towns ponder life as Got Milk?

Sunday, November 3, 2002

BIGGS, Calif. -- In a nation where Minute Maid spends $100 million to name a Houston ballpark, NASCAR hosts a Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 and people seeking $1 million willingly expose their inner flaws on TV's "Survivor," what's so wrong about becoming Got Milk? Calif.?

That's the question bedeviling 24 tiny California towns swept up in the milk industry's newest promotional stunt.

All are being offered cash, fame and possible hordes of tourists to change names like Sand City, Dorris, Etna or Biggs to Got Milk? Calif.

Credit the California Milk Processor Board. As it struggles to stabilize declining and flat milk sales in the nation's leading dairy state, it hopes one brave town will dare to be different for the sake of a possible Got Milk? museum, free school computers, a library expansion or new playground.

The first town to accept the invitation to change its name will become Got Milk? Calif., the centerpiece for a national publicity campaign celebrating 10 years of "Got Milk?" advertising.

The campaign, which opened in 1993 and went national in 1995, features TV commercials of comical human dilemmas without milk, and milk mustaches on celebrities from President Clinton to Spike Lee.

The aim is to counter a national 21 percent decline in per capita milk drinking since the 1970s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Jeff Manning, the milk board's director and ad man, said all he wants is to "pick up a newly printed California map and run my finger down a road and see Got Milk? California.

In Biggs, a Central Valley hamlet of 1,793, merely considering becoming Got Milk? has turned the town into a carnival of visiting reporters and a sense of what it's like to be Michael Jackson or Cher.

"We've been unplugging my phone," complained Mayor Sharleta B. Callaway, who said she has received media calls from as far as London, New York, and Washington, D.C.

The City Council scheduled Nov. 18 to present the idea to townspeople.

Many in Biggs -- situated an hour's drive north of Sacramento and near a road sign that asks, "Got Tractors?" -- believe becoming Got Milk? will make them a laughingstock.

"We'll get made fun of all the time," said high school student Laura Rodriguez. "Where you from? We're from Got Milk? They'll say, 'Here come the cows.'"

City officials in Maricopa, San Juan Bautista and Sand City -- all invited to become Got Milk? -- can't imagine a town changing its name for less than millions of dollars.

"We're on the Monterey Peninsula and it would surely cause us to come in for some ridicule," said Sand City Administrator Kelly Morgan.

"It's not worth it. We already have what we need to bring in the tourists," echoed G. Dan Reed, city council member in San Juan Bautista, home of a 1797 California mission.

It wouldn't be the first time a town has changed its name for profit.

In 2000, Halfway, Ore., renamed itself for one year to Half.com to promote an e-commerce Internet startup later absorbed into ebay.com. Halfway, population 360, got $73,000 and several computers, and another $20,000 in 2001, says Steve Backstrom, publisher of the weekly Hells Canyon Journal.


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