The Controversial Aubrey Plaza Commercial That Almost Landed Her In Legal Trouble

Aubrey Plaza, a Hollywood star known for her distinctive deadpan humor, often polarizes audiences into either loving or loathing her characters. Rising to prominence as the sarcastic intern April Ludgate in NBC's "Parks and Recreation," Plaza further captivated audiences with her performance in Season 2 of HBO mega-hit "The White Lotus" alongside various other film and TV roles. However, not everyone appreciates Plaza's style, including the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). 

In 2023, the actor stirred up controversy by starring in a commercial for "wood milk," a fictitious product intended to mock plant-based milk, which the PCRM deemed legally wrong. While her satirical delivery was impeccable as always, the commercial almost landed Plaza in serious legal trouble as the Milk Processor Education Program, also known as MilkPEP, who commissioned the project, might've broken federal laws around advertising agricultural products with the idea.

In the video (via YouTube), Plaza poses as the co-founder of Wood Milk, a fake company making milk out of wood. "Our Wood Milk is bottled right here in the forest where the trees hit the dirt, which locks in the flavors like cherry, maple, and, of course, mahogany," she says in the commercial as a way to mock various flavors of plant-based milk. Following its debut, the PCRM filed a complaint with the US Department of Agriculture, which can be read in its entirety here.

PCRM took issue with the derogatory portrayal of plant-based milk

In the complaint, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine alleges that the Milk Processor Education Program violated "laws forbidding federal agricultural promotions from depicting products in a negative light." MilkPEP is administered by the US Department of Agriculture, as the complaint highlights, making the "Wood Milk" commercial federal government matter rather than simply a humorous video we can all laugh about. 

MilkPEP has previously enjoyed success with campaigns like the iconic "Got Milk?" ads, which featured some of the world's biggest stars throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, but the plant-based community wasn't having any of their or Aubrey Plaza's humor. PCRM's complaint argues that MilkPEP's satirical commercial was too subjective not to be seen as derogatory. Furthermore, in addition to openly mocking plant-based milk, the PCRM claims MilkPEP further breached federal law by trying to influence government decisions about how plant-based milk is labeled. 

They contended that MilkPEP asserting cow-derived milk as the only "real" milk further worsens the issue (at the end of the commercial, Plaza notably intones, "Is wood milk real? Absolutely not. Only real milk is real"). While the legal case remains ongoing at the time of writing Plaza, though likely not legally liable as she wasn't the mastermind behind the wood milk project in the first place, has already felt the consequences of online backlash.

Plaza faced harsh criticism for her decision to endorse MilkPEP

Aubrey Plaza's character in "Parks and Recreation" was celebrated for her sardonic wit, but when she employed a similar mocking tone to poke fun at plant-based milk alternatives, the online response was far from positive. In a Reddit thread discussing "The White Lotus," one user expressed disappointment in the actor's decision to take part, writing, "I thought it was a funny sketch until I realized it was an ad for the dairy industry," along with a sick emoji. 

Another commenter took it to the next level, arguing, "Bit of a weird hill to die on. [It] feels almost like trying to piggyback on the Ron Swanson hype stuff, but she comes across as [a] wannabe. As someone who is lactose intolerant, it's actually really great to have options." Ouch. Criticism of Plaza's dairy milk endorsement extended to other social media platforms, with one user on X, formerly Twitter, admitting, "I'm so heartbroken, y'all. Aubrey, how could you?" 

Over on Instagram, despite the actor's attempts to remove any traces of her endorsement, disappointed fans still found ways to voice their opinions through unrelated posts. "Got morals?" one person wrote under one of Plaza's photos, referring to the "Got Milk?" campaign. Another penned, "Imagine me actually thinking you were unique and cool. And [it] turns out you are just the same, equally for sale. #boycottdairy." Legalities aside, it's clear Plaza disappointed many.