Satirical Wood Milk Commercial with Aubrey Plaza Fuels Dairy Versus Plant-Based Milk Debate

Satirical Wood Milk Commercial with Aubrey Plaza Fuels Dairy Versus Plant-Based Milk Debate

Wood Milk, a fictitious product advertised in a commercial from America’s Milk Companies, has agitated a non-profit organization. Photo courtesy of Wood Milk.

A recent milk commercial starring actress Aubrey Plaza has rapidly emerged as a symbol of the ongoing clash between dairy and plant-based milk producers. The ad has caused such a stir that a faction is demanding its withdrawal, suggesting that its distribution might have been unlawful.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a non-profit organization focusing on public health advocacy, has taken their concerns to the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Office of Inspector General. The group’s complaint addresses the satirical milk commercial for a fictional product — Wood Milk — that debuted in April, featuring Aubrey Plaza. The committee suggests that the advertisement might have been improperly sanctioned by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

To understand why a nonprofit is so agitated about a milk commercial featuring Aubrey Plaza sipping a tall glass of Wood Milk, we need to delve into the embittered conflict between plant-based milk and traditional dairy producers.

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The Milk Wars: A Retrospective

There has been a long-standing rivalry between Team Dairy and Team Plant-Based, but the major events of 2023 have only added fuel to the fire. Before dairy producers recruited Aubrey Plaza’s star power, a plant-based brand, Silk, enlisted an array of celebrities for its own counter-campaign.

Inspired by the iconic “Got Milk?” advertisements of the past, Silk created its own milk mustache campaign targeting the upcoming generation of milk consumers. The commercials showcased celebrity children who had previously been involved in dairy ads, suggesting that the cool, young crowd prefers Silk over animal-based products.

The retaliation arrived in April, when America’s Milk Companies launched a satirical milk commercial in which Aubrey Plaza introduces a novel milk product, Wood Milk, an imaginary beverage purportedly derived from tree trunks. To make her point clear, Aubrey Plaza asserts, “Is Wood Milk real? Absolutely not. Only real milk is real.”

Reacting to this prominent swipe at plant-based beverages, Oatly, a top oat milk brand, took a stand against the dairy industry by highlighting its adverse environmental effects. Its “Climate Footprint Challenge” offered to fund dairy industry advertising space, provided they disclosed the environmental impact of their operations. This initiative was promoted through full-page ads in leading media outlets and billboards in prominent locations like Times Square and Hollywood Boulevard.

Additionally, dairy producers have striven to prevent plant-based milk from being officially recognized as “milk.” Some factions have previously requested the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibit non-dairy products from using the term “milk,” suggesting they should be labeled as “beverages” or “nut juice” to avoid confusion with dairy milk.

The Controversy Surrounding the Wood Milk Campaign

The recent complaint by the Physicians Committee claims that the use of the made-up product, “Wood Milk,” to represent plant-based milk is clearly an attempt to deride plant-based options — a move prohibited for the dairy industry.

The Committee’s complaint suggests that the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service’s approval of the controversial milk commercial breaches the prohibition against misleading or disparaging advertising, as well as the ban on deceptive practices concerning the quality or use of any competitive product.

Additionally, the complaint posits that the Wood Milk commercial contravenes a federal law that prohibits USDA milk advertising funds from influencing legislation or governmental action or policy. Therefore, the Physicians Committee demands the discontinuation of the “Wood Milk” ads and the release of corrective ads elucidating the benefits of plant-based milk.

However, it is important to note that the Physician’s Committee, while appearing to be a public health advocacy group, is primarily an animal rights organization with an extreme agenda. The Committee seeks the total elimination of eggs, milk, meat and seafood from the American diet and a cessation of all animal use in scientific research.

The crux of the complaint seems to be that the Wood Milk ad, despite being a fictitious product, is aimed at belittling actual products on the market, even though none are directly referenced in the commercial. In their defense, dairy proponents might argue that the ad only mocks a nonexistent product, without invoking any real competition. 

Supporters of plant-based milk could counter that the Wood Milk punchline is effective if it’s understood which actual products are being satirized. This debate is shaping up to be a long-standing dispute, giving both sides more than enough to argue about in the foreseeable future.