The virtue of selling imperfections instead of fantasies

—This new ad from J&J brand Babyganics foregoes rainbows and unicorns for real life depictions of parenthood. And it’s wonderful, says Craig Redmond—

“This is advertising. We create fantasy here.” That was the cynical retort I was served early in my career, after questioning the legitimacy of a product claim in a creative brief.

“The sooner you figure that out, Master Redmond, the better off you’ll be,” spat the bitterly grizzled British creative director in exile.

Of course, he was mostly right.

Ever since Uncle Leo Burnett set out the first bowl of free apples, his Lordship David Ogilvy penned the first eye-patched Hathaway ad, and Buffalo Bill Bernbach first told us to think small, our industry has been painting a pretty rosy picture of the consumptive world.

Where else would the colour of menstrual hemoglobin be a clinically pristine, aqua marine blue? Or domestic beer happily imbibed by beautiful, interracially diverse, gender-inclusive 20-somethings instead of a bloated, middle-aged, redneck couch tater washing down his Cheetos with a Bud Light chaser?

And there’s no place where we’ve applied our sanguine brush more liberally than in the children’s consumer goods aisle.

For a hundred years, it’s been all baby wipes wonderland, pablum paradise, and nappy nirvana, with nary a dirty diaper oozing molten green lava in sight.

I believe that’s what made the inaugural “Unapologetically Human” work from Broken Heart Love Affair so appealing. No, it wasn’t an ad for kids’ products, but the little humans played a starring role in that anthemic embrace of all things snot, poo, blood, and chunky vomit. And it was real, for reals.

I think that’s also what I loved so much watching this new salute to the struggles of “perfectly imperfect parenting.”

It comes from a company called Babyganics, which produces baby skin sensitive products like soaps and moisturizers. The brand was acquired in 2016 by Johnson & Johnson, which is—ironically enough—better known for the aforementioned idyllic portrayals of family life.

It features some very funny and familiar moments we’ve all endured in the endless training session we call parenthood. But best of all is the serenading accompaniment from a kids chorus singing a hilarious rendition of a song most of us parents have heard in a mind-melting, never-ending-loop with every road trip: “The Wheels on the Bus.”

Who knows? Maybe the harsh realities of Covid and the deep self-reflection it demanded is ushering in a new era of children’s CPG advertising that is less about unicorns, rainbows, and fluffy fairy tales, and more about our commercial art imitating life in all its infamy.

Regardless. Wait for the child’s response to the parent’s hopeful “good night” at the 1:49 mark. It’s perfect.