A new ad campaign marketing Wood Milk has received backlash for its portrayal of plant-based milk products. The new brand of “wood pulp” milk was invented by Got Milk? creators MilkPEP as part of an official marketing campaign for cows’ milk. The spot concluded with the tagline: “Is your milk real?” An official complaint placed with the USDA on 25 May says that the ad violates a law prohibiting federal agricultural promotions from depicting products in a negative light.
Campaigning for the fake drink brand began in April with a spot featuring Aubrey Plaza, the “co-founder of Wood Milk”. It showed Aubrey taking audiences through the making of the “artisanal” product in Wood Milk Orchards. One scene explains how Wood Milk isn’t born but is instead “squished into a slime that’s legal to sell”. The spot closes with a spin on the familiar Got Milk? tagline, before Aubrey confirms that Wood Milk is absolutely not real. “Only real milk is real,” she says.
One non-profit, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), has gone further. The health and animal liberation organisation placed an official complaint with the USDA Office of Inspector General on 25 May, calling for the campaign to be halted. PCRM says that the problem is not the promotion of cows’ milk but the alleged use of Wood Milk as a stand-in for other plant-based milks.
According to PCRM, the campaign violates multiple laws. The first one the organisation points to is the statutory prohibition against ads that are “false or misleading or disparaging to another agricultural commodity”. The spot also allegedly violates a prohibition against “unfair or deceptive acts or practices with respect to the quality, value or use of any competing product”.
Considering that the FDA only allowed plant-based milks to be labelled using the word “milk” in February 2023, PCRM also claims Wood Milk breaches federal law saying USDA milk advertising dollars can’t be used to influence government policy. The campaign launched during a period in which the FDA was accepting comments for the final guidelines on the issue.
Prior to the PCRM’s complaint, MilkPEP’s CEO Yin Woon Rani spoke to Today about the ad. “In a world where dairy milk is one of many choices, our fictitious Wood Milk brand is designed to encourage consumers to educate themselves on their beverage options and the differences in the nutritional profiles within. While you may be able to make milk out of anything these days, not everything is created equal. We welcome the conversation and response.”
MilkPEP: Wood Milk (Copyright © Wood Milk / MilkPEP, 2023)
About the Author
Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating from the University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, Indie magazine and design studio Evermade.