Mott’s Upsets the Applecart

On the face of it, Marcia Cross is a perfect endorser for Mott’s apple products. After all, she stars as Bree Van De Kamp Hodge, noted cookbook author, on Desperate Housewives, a hit show (or at least, former hit show) known for its animated opening featuring an apple. And as one blogger has pointed out, Cross even looks like an apple, with her flaming red hair and extremely white skin.

All true. And I like the fact that this campaign from Laird & Partners — which includes print, a cool Web site at and two TV spots, one selling juice, the other applesauce — breaks from the tried-and-true approach of showing a cute kid talking about juice. These spots are fast-moving, featuring a barrage of primary colors and a hip song. But something about all that collective redness gets a bit eerie.

“I want to let you in on a delicious secret,” Cross says at the opening of the juice spot. She speaks from the confines of an old [red] barn, and maybe that’s where the trouble starts. As it does with Pepperidge Farm, the barn is supposed to connote old-fashioned goodness, with an obvious connection to the land, the harvest and Mott’s history.

But with its frenetic music and the “secret” at its core, the spot seems to take place in some sort of compound where Bree is forming a secret toddler militia. Inside, where the Little Redheaded People are bred, she trains them to hang on tire swings and push heavy red wagons full of red apples, in preparation for taking over the world.

Oh, come on, give me a break, you say. This is a cute way to express apple-ness, and we have these cute redheaded kids because Cross didn’t want her own kids to appear in the commercial, and these days, who could blame her for protecting them? Yeah, yeah.

But the hired mini-me’s present a layer of fakeness no matter how happenin’ the campaign tries to be. (This is an annoying device in the professional-mom spots with Kelly Ripa for Electrolux and Brooke Shields for Crest, too.) Just to reduce the creepiness factor, while the creators were assembling a fake brood, why not make it a rainbow coalition, and perhaps throw in some neighbors’ kids who aren’t redheaded?

As for the Bree character, Housewives creator Marc Cherry based her on his own mother, who stopped to make the bed before taking her husband to the hospital while he was having a heart attack. A hard-hearted perfectionist, she tends to kill her husbands and alienate her children — the classic “refrigerator mom” with a work ethic as inflexible as her forehead.

Like Martha Stewart at her most poignant, do-it-yourself extreme, Ms. Van De Kamp Hodge would think nothing of putting chores like “retile the roof” or “repave the road” on her monthly calendar — all skills that would certainly help in running a disciplined factory for the Little Redheaded People. Bree also happens to be an expert in firearms and has four guns.

What’s more, the show’s visual connection to the apple is through a classic painting (by Lucas Cranach the Elder) of Adam and Eve about to get expelled from the garden for eating “the forbidden fruit.” In the clever animated sequence, a snake lobs an apple at Eve before another, giant apple with the words “Desperate Housewives” written on it, falls on poor Adam.

The “delicious secret” that Ms. Cross alludes to? It’s that “every glass of Mott’s apple juice has two servings of real fruit inside.” In the applesauce spot, the two servings of real fruit is a “saucy secret.”

Still, Cross looks great here, and seems to be operating with a looser face and hairstyle. Of course, this is all to get our guard down. Strengthened by their tire-and-red-wagon training, not to mention all that real fruit, the Little Redheaded People are coming. I do find the spots memorable, if terrifying.