AD/JUDICATED: My Little Pony Social Experiment Gone Right




I’ll be honest, I don’t love most “social experiment” commercials. I don’t love them because I often feel like they’re pandering. I don’t love them because, coming from a production background, I know that even “real” people have been cast, directed, edited, etc., and they make my authenticity bells and whistles LIGHT UP. (I’m looking at YOU, Dove “Real Beauty” campaign). And most of all, I don’t love them because besides pushing product, they don’t seem to have a point.

Remember that Heineken commercial, “Open Your World,” where they brought together two people with opposing ideologies for a chat to see if they could find common ground? I didn’t love that because it felt like this beer company was simplifying a social movement of inclusion and acceptance TO SELL BEER.

Maybe it’s my mom-brain talking, but for me, social experiments work when the participants are authentic and viewers LEARN from them. We should come out of a social experiment enlightened — like when Always asked kids what it meant to them to #throwlikeagirl.

And it’s for this reason that I actually really LIKED Hasbro’s My Little Pony “Friendship is Magic” social experiment spot. The crux is that parents (both dads AND moms) went to their kids’ elementary school for parent-teacher conferences, but instead of talking to their kids’ teachers, they talk to their kids’ best friends.

A lot of the time, success as a parent is determined by our kids’ achievements, e.g., the number of languages they speak by the age of five, how early they learned to walk and talk — and you get extra parental points if your kid can pee in the toilet BEFORE he or she can walk or talk. Is that gross? My kid is three and we just finished potty training. It’s tragically top of mind.

I digress.

We live in an age where grades are more important than kindness to most parents, and it’s wildly refreshing to see a toy brand (that used to only target girls, extra points for gender equality!) turn that paradigm inside out by not only removing test scores from the conversation, but replacing them with achievements in empathy and kindness — from the mouths of our babes.

This commercial resonated with me. It made me feel good, and even better, it made me feel like a good PARENT — because kindness and respect are BIG deals in my house. I loved that both dads and moms were represented in the conferences. I loved that the spot cast pairs of boys and girls, girls and girls, and boys and boys all as best friends. I loved the subtle messages of girls telling their parents that they were running for school president (shatter that glass ceiling, girlfriend!) mixed in with the larger message of being a good sport. I loved that a boy was talking about his friend’s empathy. I loved that this was a My Little Pony commercial that included boys at all (my son is pretty obsessed with My Little Ponies and told us he wants a blue-haired unicorn for his birthday and NOT a plastic one, mind you, a REAL ONE).

And I loved that Hasbro didn’t fill the social experiment spot with branding. There’s just an end card featuring the ponies with the caption “Friendship is Magic.” It’s a simple correlation that aligns really well with the message of the spot (friendship IS magic!). And besides making me feel like I just might be doing something right as a parent, it made a great point about what we should be learning in school — and from good advertising.  


AD/JUDICATED: Healthy Kid Food TV Spot Omits a Key Ingredient




Once upon a time, Annie’s Homegrown made a television commercial that looked like it climbed right out of my 3-year-old’s bedtime ritual of reading four books, drinking one hot chocolate, drinking one glass of water, 30 minutes of negotiating for another book, a semi-meltdown involving teeth brushing, more book negotiations, one more book, a song, another song, and finally the sweet sound of toddler snores. The four books (okay, five) is where Annie’s comes in: Super-cute animated illustrations and a bedtime story about happy kid foods.

This TV spot set out to give me all the good feelings of the glass of wine I pour right after putting those books on the shelf and patting myself on the back for another quasi-successful day as a working mom. And I’ll be honest — my kid is made of 50% Annie’s Fruit snacks, so I really wanted to like it.

But … I didn’t. Frankly, this spot ain’t got nothing on my Pinot Noir. In fact, it kind of made me feel, well, bad.

I’ll recap the narrative for you: According to Annie’s Homegrown, 30 years ago kids ate what was “yummy” and all the slacker MOMS out there “didn’t say no.” Dad was working, I presume, so he didn’t have a say — either way, he’s not mentioned in this commercial. Over the course of those 30 years, moms wised up and stopped letting their kids subsist on evil processed foods. All the junk food in all the land was super sad about it. And in a rare plot twist, Annie’s Homegrown pulled a metaphorical macaroni out of a metaphorical dark cave of processed ingredients and into a metaphorical garden that supposedly doesn’t contain red dye No. 1 — not their claim, but that’s my takeaway — and kids now got “kid food” again (of the organic variety).

YAY! A HAPPY ENDING! … almost.

Annie’s has saved the day for lots of tired parents, lots of times (myself included). But there is a key word missing from this commercial — Dad. “Parents” are only mentioned once in this spot, and the rest of the time, it’s on Mom. It’s Mom who is giving her kids bad food. Mom who takes the bad “kid food” away. And Mom who has to turn to Annie’s to solve the problem for her. But why is this exclusively a mom problem? Where is Dad? More often these days than a few decades ago, Dad is there, taking an active role in caring for his children — he might even care that his kiddos are eating organic macaroni. And while Mom is undoubtedly there too, she’s more often working outside the home, full-time, just like Dad.

Recent research from Pew says that parents are sharing their roles at home more often as the number of families with two parents working full-time continues to rise. Working moms (part-time and full-time) represent more than half of two-parent families in the U.S. Half! If you want to catch Mom’s ear and make moms feel supported, be inclusive of dads and encourage them to carry some of the burden of the “second shift”. If Annie’s really wants a happily-ever-after for the parents who buy their products (and the kids who eat them), adding the word “Dad” to the story would go a long way.


AD/JUDICATED: Yoplait's Mom On! TV Campaign


Judgment knows no bounds when it comes to motherhood. It’s piled on by friends, family, other moms and even strangers — because of course the random lady in the grocery line needs to remind mom that “breast milk is healthier” when she sees her cart stacked with formula. It’s a problem that Yoplait attacks head-on with their “Mom On” campaign. And while I can relate to the sentiment of their anthem TV spot “You’ve Got This, Mom On!”, the additional TV executions put my authenticity radar on high alert.

Overall, the campaign employs a heavy dose of sarcasm to give the proverbial middle finger to those who judge moms. Starting with, “You’ve Got This, Mom On!”, moms throw unapologetic shade at the “high and mighty” in scenarios they’ve been shamed for. The mom who breastfeeds in public, the working mom, the stay-at-home mom, the mom who uses formula, on and on — these are scenarios where many moms have felt judged. Even the product tie applies with a nod to moms being food-shamed for giving their kids what they like, regardless of the ingredients.


“You’ve Got This, Mom On!”


In addition to this well-executed TV spot, Yoplait carried the theme that “moms are over mom-shamers and don’t care what you think,” across additional TV spots. Although, these have a more overt product tie-in and lack the real-world insight that the TV campaign grew from.

“Oh Hush, It’s Just Yogurt”


In this commercial, Yoplait pokes fun at the judgment parents receive for letting their kids “run wild,” giving them “too much independence.” The attempt to connect “running wild” and raiding the fridge for yogurt feels like a stretch. If my kid is going to go crazy and raid the fridge, they are not reaching for yogurt. Also, when did giving your kids choices about the food they eat and encouraging independent thinking become something that is frowned upon?

Moms love it when brands stand for something more than just the product they are selling. When done well, it helps build brand preference and affinity. But making this connection can be challenging to do while retaining authenticity — which also matters to moms. This campaign started strong, based on a universal truth, but then fell into the gray as Yoplait tried to connect their product to something it wasn’t naturally tied to.


“Powerful Custard, Indeed”


The next commercial continues down this inauthentic path, with a confusing nod to online-mom-shaming. The scenario suggests that because this girl is eating Yoplait custard for breakfast that she’s set up for a life of high standards and disappointment. Then the mom makes a “wink, wink” comment about this being “powerful custard.” This silly scene is at odds with the powerful stance celebrated in “Mom On.” It trivializes the tough personal choices that moms have to make, like whether to work outside of the home or feed their baby formula, by putting all of these topics into the same conversation. Choosing to give your kids custard for breakfast hardly carries the same weight.

Brands need to be relevant to their audience. They need to resonate with consumers on a deeper level. And to do this, they also have to be consistent. Consistent in tone and authenticity. Yoplait started strong with “You’ve Got This, Mom On!” but the additional TV executions, while build on the same real mom insight: moms don’t want to be judged by other moms for their parenting choices, did not hit the same level of authenticity which watered down an otherwise powerful message.

AD/JUDICATED: Brawny Absorbs Mom Tears, Too


Real-life moments. Shot GoPro style. Kid’s perspective. Messes everywhere.

If you would have described this ad to me, I would have been dismissive, thinking I’d seen it before. But hats off to Brawny for this beautiful, new interpretation and execution of such well-trod territory. All those tiny moments — the sweet, the frenetic, the messy, the calm — they all seemed so real, and made me long for the days of high chairs and solving big problems with a superhero Band-Aid.

Of course, we all want to be giants in our kids’ eyes. Strong. Responsible. Larger than life. Even now, as my 11-year-old is borrowing my shoes and wisely talking me down when I get into stress-cleaning mode, I still want her to see me as her protector. Arms wide open to hold back the messy, hard, tearful things in the world, ready to embrace her when they find their way through.

Yes, this one ad for paper towels — one of the most mundane, overused, underappreciated items in our house — made me feel all these things. So nicely done, Brawny. Even the peephole framing that ties back to the circle on the logo was a nice touch, making the spot that much more ownable. 

My one critique? It lost a little magic in the last, staged shot where the Brawny Mom (obviously replacing the age-old “Brawny Man”) is standing in her iconic red and black button-up waiting for her son to run in. Unlike all the rest of the truly authentic moments, I felt like I was waiting to hear the director shout “Action!” But that’s a little thing. Overall, this ad was beautifully done, beautifully captured and it tapped into the feelings of the awesome responsibility and power that motherhood holds, as well as those tiny little moments that are here and gone like a spilled juice box.

Hold on. There’s something in my eye. I bet a Brawny paper towel would totally dry it up.  

AD/JUDICATED: Lysol Uses Animals to Be More Human

I am a protector. Ever since my twin boys were born a month premature, my husband and I have been doing our best to defend them from harm, both physical and emotional. They are eight now, and I have been constantly shielding them, rerouting them, making sure they get out on the sidewalk side of the car. At some point in the near future, it won’t make sense for a tiny Asian woman to be throwing her body in front of two grown teenage boys, but I’m pretty sure that’s what I’ll be doing.

This spot connected with an instinct in me that I have only known as a mother. Lysol takes a product benefit (killing germs) and elevates it to an emotional one (a parent’s role as fierce protector of our children). This well-crafted, magical commercial is a joy to watch. And using animals conveys a human attribute much more powerfully than a literal depiction. It turns out I can actually relate more to a bear, a vulture, an elephant — than another mom.

Different products connect with different aspects of our identities. Connecting with me simply as a “mom” doesn’t cut it. But as a mama bear rearing up to defend my child from a reckless driver? Hell yeah, that’s me. Lysol isn’t addressing the germaphobe in us, it’s connecting with the protector in us, as parents.

My only hang-up with this spot comes at the end, with the title card “Protect like a mother.” I feel like this idea is strongest when it connects with the universal protector quality in all of us as parents, beyond the mom label. Regardless, I’m giving this ad a 5 — Motivating. It strives for more and achieves it in a unique way that this mama bear finds inspiring.

AD/JUDICATED: Alien Imposter Parents Steal Baby in Buick Commercial



When making this Buick spot, I wonder if a mom involved in the production process said, “Hey, let’s turn that car seat around because babies should be rear facing until they are two years old.” I’m pretty sure one did. Maybe her comment was dismissed because it would be hard to shoot. Maybe it was ignored because nobody’s really that uptight about baby safety. Maybe someone thought it just wasn’t that important.

As an advertising creative, I totally get it. But, as a mom of a toddler, they lost me at forward-facing car seat.

Sure, it’s a small detail. It’s also just one of the nonsensical decisions that made me wonder if these good-looking people are new parents or, instead, alien body-snatcher imposters.

Let me explain with another questionable, alien-imposter parent decision: the 4:30 a.m. drive. Why do Alien Parents think Baby will sleep in this car? It’s their family car — the car seat is installed, they have clearly driven it before.  Don’t they know Baby will go ape sh*t and be too excited to sleep? And, more importantly, what human parent hears their baby cry for two seconds and immediately decides — time to go for a drive at 4:30 a.m.? These alien body snatchers are cray.

The advertisers also lost me in casting and story. They cast Alien MILF Mom as minimalist scenery while mischievous, helpful Alien Dad takes the spotlight. Not even Alien MILF Mom’s perfectly tousled hair reads baby mama to me.

At the end, we see Alien MILF Mom in her sparkling kitchen in front of a stove that looks suspiciously unused. (Did alien technology make those perfectly fluffy eggs?)

Baby and Alien Dad are asleep at the table so Alien MILF Mom gives a laugh. It’s as if she’s saying, “HAHAHA Baby’s naps are totally going to be screwed for the whole day!” Alien MILF Mom finds this hilarious. Because, of course, he’s not really her baby.

If I were to rate this ad, I would give it a 2 — Ignorable. While there is nothing inherently offensive to moms, there isn’t much relatable either. Marketers turned a truth into something that is contrived and, with repeat viewing, irksome.

Someone, please rescue that baby!

AD/JUDICATED: Dove's #RealMoms Campaign

“Dove has done it again,” I thought as I grabbed a box of tissues. With #RealMoms, their inspiring campaign to launch a new line of baby products, Dove pushes the conventional expectations of perfect parenting aside to show moms that no matter how you do it, you’re doing a good job. Sometimes that’s all a mom needs to hear to get through her day.

The 2-minute video serves as a pep talk given by moms with diverse lifestyles. They share the confidence they have in their unique parenting style, and tell you that you should too. No mommy-shaming in sight! Dove uses real insights to support their message, which makes a pat on the back for moms feel less like pandering and more like true empathy. Not once is the product mentioned, nor are they implying that using Dove products makes you a better mom. In fact, their message is in no way about the product itself, which is a strategy they also employed for the Campaign for Real Beauty with great success.

Their message hit home with me on multiple fronts. First, I’m a woman, with interests and aspirations. Being a mom is a part of that, but it’s not my identity. This was perfectly expressed by the woman who lives to breakdance and the woman who says that pursuing her passion as a rock climber makes her a better mom. I couldn’t agree more.

Second, their diverse choice of mothers to feature speaks volumes about what they stand for as a brand. Inclusivity! I was delighted to see a transgender mom sharing her point of view. “There’s no one way to do it all.” She’s right, and there is so much power in seeing more than the media’s cookie-cutter view of motherhood.

As a first-time mom, I can attest to the fact that the pressure to be a “perfect mom” was much greater than I expected, or heck, even just to be a good mom! We’re hard enough on ourselves, we don’t need a corporation pushing an extra slice of doubt cake in our direction. But as the #RealMoms tell us, there are so many ways to be a mom, so just do what you think is best.

AD/JUDICATED: Ariel Detergent’s “Share the Load” Campaign Has a Lesson in It


Laundry detergent is a typically uninspired product category rife with clean freak moms saving the day through stain removal, obsessed with sniffing their laundry. Often paired with feature-touting demonstrations of Brand A vs Brand B, preferably on a sock. Laundry detergent is not something I spend a lot of time thinking about. I’ll admit I don’t even separate my whites from my darks (don’t tell my mom). 

So when I saw Ariel detergent’s “Share the Load” campaign out of India last year, I thought….wow (OKAY, so I also teared up a bit). They took a household product and elevated it to a social issue. This spot connected with women in terms of their relationship to laundry, but also their relationships with their husbands. It wasn’t just helping them do laundry better, it was looking to change the whole laundry dynamic. 

The spot had empathy, and it had a lesson in it that was as much for the husbands as for the wives. Told through a grandfather’s letter to his daughter, it’s a story of regret. But the takeaway was that people can change, and roles are not set in stone. Our actions are daily micro-lessons passed on to our children, and there’s great responsibility in that. 

Ariel detergent also didn’t shame the husbands, it saw their traditional role as the result of a family dynamic going on for generations. It treats everyone with understanding, while laying it out pretty clearly: things need to change.  

Lately I’ve seen a lot of brands trying to tie themselves to a higher cause, or the societal cause du jour. Too often I’m turned off because it feels pandering, or disconnected from what they’re actually selling. It’s eye-rollingly irritating to me when it’s done badly. When it’s done well, even for laundry detergent, well apparently it makes me cry. 

AD/JUDICATED: Putting the “You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me” in “Me Time”


Okay, let’s start with the positives. Cute sweater.

Also, the insight of finding “me time” is valid. Moms often put themselves last, so finding little breaks for yourself is a big deal.

But moms’ lives are not so pathetic, simple or out of control that digging a spoon into a small plastic cup of something creamy is all we need to “escape.” A yogurt does not equal a spa trip, girls weekend or 15 uninterrupted minutes alone on the toilet. Now, THAT is an escape.   

And even if it was an escape, having your toddler Jackson Pollocking all over your ultra-modern, mostly white living room pretty much cancels that out.

Sure, kids will do that stuff. That’s real. But no mom (even one who doesn’t want to squelch her child’s precious creativity) would sit idly by, curled up on her $20,000 Roche Bobois couch and catatonically stir brownie chunks into her yogurt while her child defaces a painting right in front of her.

That’s stress time, not me time. Cause who’s gonna clean up the mess/child when this brownie-flecked reverie is over? Not the bachelor who lives in this house. (Because obviously, no child really lives here.)

I’d give this a 1.5. Somewhere between Old Gross Sandwich and Dirty Sock, right in the middle of insulting and ignorable.

I might try the yogurt, though. That looks kinda good.

AD/JUDICATED: Advertising to Moms: A Handy Rating Guide


Advertising directed at moms has really grown and evolved over the last decade. There’s a lot of great, funny, poignant, powerful stuff out there now. But there’s still a lot of forced, misdirected, insulting, stereotypical stuff, too. So we’ve developed a simple 1-5 rating system which we’ll be using throughout this section we’re calling AD/JUDICATED.


1. Offensive 

2. Ignorable

3. Cute 

4. Share-Worthy  

5. Motivating 


To help illustrate this system, we’ve attached these numbers to items that we, as moms, frequently find laying around the house. We bet you find them too! Unless, you don’t because you’re perfect and your kids probably never hide half-eaten bananas under their beds.

In which case, we probably can’t be friends.



1. OFFENSIVE = Last month’s tuna (?) sandwich in a Ziploc bag.   

Ewww. These ads bring out a deep, sudden disgust or anger. They make assumptions or outdated generalizations about parenthood, talk down to moms, play on guilt, or take themselves too seriously.  


2. IGNORABLE = A child’s single, dirty sock.

Common, run of the mill. Pretty much ignorable. Ads that are basically a waste of the precious time you don’t have, not to mention the marketer’s dollars.


3. CUTE = Kiln-dried thingy holder.  

Thoughtful, sweet, even funny. You take the time to enjoy it, but you have to be reminded what it is, over and over. Is it for keys? Jewelry? OH! Soup? Okay, soup. These ads are the same. Nice, but need many, many repetitions to stick. 


4. SHARE-WORTHY = Inappropriate family portrait, in crayon.

This stuff hits home. It’s a truth you can relate to. Could be anything from parody to punch-you-in-the-gut emotional, this is more than an ad, it’s a mini mantra for your life. You want to share with friends and meet the people who made these things and hug them.


5. MOTIVATING = Permission slip. DUE YESTERDAY.

This is an ad that makes you act. Like, now. Sharing and online buzz are successful, but if an ad resonates in your motherhood regions, (your hearts and brains) AND makes you want to rush right out and buy a mattress/moisture wicking yoga pants/new power washer, then that’s a win all around.  


You’re probably thinking “Oh, the Old Tuna Fish-Permission Slip rating scale? I’ve seen it a thousand times!”  But the truth is, it’s all fairly subjective. One mom’s dirty sock is another mom’s boogers stuck on the headboard (so we’ve heard.) The main thing to consider is, how does an ad make you feel? 1. Offended   2. Nothing   3. Mildly Entertained   4. Understood   5. Motivated. 

The goal for advertisers should be 3's and above. Not always easy, but definitely worth striving for.

Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’ve got some random smells to identify and permissions slips to sign.