Let’s start this one with an attempt-to-inoculate-self-from-vitriol caveat: the institution of motherhood is, in most instances not involving kiddie beauty pageants or Courtney Love, something pure and beautiful. Moms sacrifice. Moms shelter. Moms shield and support. They stretch themselves thin in the interest of the happiness and security of their families. Just as rocks are hard and rivers are wet, moms are awesome. This is indisputable.
Take my own mom as an example. She remains a marvel of good cheer. She fostered my creativity, built my confidence and taught me most of what’s served me well in life, from the necessity of owning my screw-ups to the mega-essential importance of hanging wet towels to dry before they transmogrify into a simmering heap of mold. What was dad’s role, you ask? He snuck me into a showing of The Blues Brothers when I was, like, six. Dads are pretty okay, too.
All this said: It is time for brands to pull back - waaaaaay back, judging by this year’s crop of interchangeable thanks-mom piffle - on their attempts to burnish themselves by association with attentive mothering. This isn’t just low-hanging fruit at this point; it’s a stray banana on the linoleum. Genuine feeling - or the attempt to convey genuine feeling, anyway - can’t atone for a complete abdication of the process that generates creative thought.
At least in this instance we know where to point the finger: at Procter & Gamble, which seized the “Thank You, Mom” marketing mantle more than three years ago and has judiciously built on that positioning ever since. What all the copycat marketers since then have missed is that the genius of P&G’s approach lay in its intimacy. It shunned mawkish mother-and-child pronouncements of love in favor of small moments of sacrifice, like pre-dawn rides to the hockey rink and endless loads of laundry.
Unfortunately, the me-too crowd interpreted the campaign’s success as a sign to go all-in on moms. The new thinking: moms are amazing and, by the transitive property, brands that salute them are as well. As a result, Mother’s Day now doubles as a contest to see which brand can prompt the most explosive, emotive mom-gasm.
The essential elements of any such video: a first-person testimonial (“she always made holidays really special for me, so I wanted to do something to make her feel special”), a “surprise” on-camera reunion (“what are you doing here? I had it on good authority that you were stationed at one of our country’s freedom-preserving military bases!”) and enough tasteful minor-key piano music to tranquilize a classroom of toddlers. A Mother’s Day-centric campaign that skimps on any of those elements is a sure sign that the creative minds behind it were raised by televisions - the boxy, circa-1973 kind, which radiated asbestos waves.
This year’s runners-up include Verizon Wireless, which suggests that the best way to “Show Mom How Much She Matters” is to buy her “a gift like the brand new Samsung Galaxy S 6 smartphone on Verizon’s 4G LTE network,” per the YouTube blurb. Does the clip conclude with a mother/daughter selfie? Of course it does. Nothing says “I care” like an act of such profound permanence.
Nivea UK, however, makes Verizon Wireless look like a bathrobe-and-curlers hag who never once prepared a warm cup of cocoa on a cold winter day. In “Nivea’s Mother’s Day 2015 - I Love You Mum,” we see the mother/child relationship through the eyes of a young child. The mother in this clip qualifies for instant enshrinement into the Motherhood Hall of Fame because she takes great pains to make sure her child is properly dressed for the cold weather. Can you imagine the discipline and firmament of character this act of self-abnegation demands? I cannot. From here on out, please replace all references to Mother Teresa with Mother Nivea.
Ashton Kutcher did a love-ya-ma vid, too. I lost patience 165 seconds in, but it apparently concludes with the surprise reveal of a newly constructed “area for [his mom] to house her beloved homemade salsa.” That description comes to us courtesy of the journalistic lions at CNN.
You’re probably thinking that it’d be tough to trump any of the aforementioned venerations o’ momness, but you’d be as wrong and awful as the self-esteem-vacuum of a mother in the Verizon Wireless clip. No, this year’s champion by a wide margin is Teleflora, whose series of “Unforgettable Mother’s Day Delivery to Mom” clips (not to be confused with the “Unforgettable Mother’s Day Delivery to Dad” ones) don’t hit every note on the mom-worship scale so much as pound them with a titanium mallet.
Take the most-viewed clip of the bunch, in which “a father, a husband, a Navy commander” recites a 2.5-minute testimonial to his mother before surprising her with flowers and an actual in-person appearance. The clip has it all: hugs, tears, coma-inducing music, a spelled-out appeal on the screen (“when was the last time you told Mom how much you love her?”) in case you somehow can’t discern the central premise of the clip, a Teleflora delivery person who is roughly 3,200 times more attractive than the average flower-delivery person, etc.
Everything about the “Unforgettable Mother’s Day” series is generic, obvious and overwrought. It does nothing for the Teleflora brand or for humanity at large. My advice to you: send this to your mom. If her response is anything other than “you’re kidding, right?,” immediately apply for legal emancipation. Don’t let the terrorists win.
You know what would be fun - and, if done smartly, more viral than Jimmy Fallon’s latest bit and lymphotic choriomeningitis combined? A parody of the genre. Have the testimonial relate less to mom’s generosity and goodness than it does to specific acts of awesomeness that may double as neglect (“mom used the butter the living crap out of my bacon”). When the grateful child goes to knock on Mom’s door - armed with a bouquet of flowers or digitized photos of the family dog or whatever - have him or her struggle to remember the right address. Turn this thing on its ear. The luv-mom genre is practically begging for it.
Moms are noble and self-sacrificing. Moms are also a lot of other things. Maybe let’s not forget that next time out, okay?