Mom Leaves an Indelible Mark in This Emotional Mother’s Day Ad for American Greetings

Brand's latest work from MullenLowe

MullenLowe U.S.’s heartfelt American Greetings ad for Mother’s Day is more than skin deep.

Our story follows a young woman who gets two words inked on her wrist as a voiceover reads from a birthday card. “You are the sunshine of our lives,” the narration begins. “You’ve brought us love, joy, laughter. Your inner beauty radiates from you.”

In the end, the tattoo reads, simply, “Keep shining,” the closing words of the birthday message, rendered in her own mom’s handwriting.

Aww … the throbbing infection in her wrist was worth it! Kidding, of course. Tattoos, like our relationships with our mothers, never hurt a bit.

Actually, the ad derives considerable power by showing quick cuts of our heroine’s discomfort. She gasps and taps her foot in little spasms as the needle hits home. This reminds us of the deep, complex connections we have with our parents—the mingling of comfort and pain that makes bonds that much stronger—and serves as an effective counterpoint to the spot’s unavoidable sentimentality.

“Consumers told us historical greeting card advertising was a bit unrealistic and predictable,” American Greetings chief marketer Alex Ho tells AdFreak. “So, we are choosing not to manufacture moments for our advertising, but to reflect what we see in real life.”

Here’s the story behind this particular ad:

“Our agency came back with this idea, which was inspired by a true story of a friend [of creative director Allison Rude] who memorialized her father in the same way,” Ho says. The friend “found an ordinary card he had written her for no particular reason, and tattooed an element of it on her hand so that every time she looked down, it felt like he was checking in. The story was poignant, but it led to an even more powerful insight about cards. When you hand-write a message in a card and send it to someone you care about, you send a little bit of yourself along with it. It’s a piece of your voice, handwriting and all, that they can keep forever.”

In recent years, the client-agency team has produced some notable, often surprising work that has managed to transcend Mother’s and Father’s Day mawkishness, while still plucking heartstrings to deliver the message that greeting cards remain relevant.

According to Ho, the new spot, the first element of a campaign themed “Give Meaning,” seeks to follow in that tradition.

“‘World’s Toughest Job’ was about highlighting the true meaning behind the holiday that people were seeing as obligatory,” he says. “‘Thanklist’ was about demonstrating our brand purpose. ‘Give Meaning’ is a way to shine a light on the true value of sending a card: recognizing those day-to-day life moments that become bigger than the card itself.”

Putting a twist on the time-honored “Mom” tattoo meme gives the spot more gravitas than a typical Mother’s Day commercial. To boost the ad’s realism, the team filmed in an Oakland, Calif., body-art parlor, and cast a non-actor in the central role.

“We really wanted people to feel something when they watched it, and it’s hard to get that reaction with actors, no matter how good,” says Rude. “So, we brought on Daniel and Katina Mercadante as the directors, because of their approach to emotional filmmaking that involves using real people for scripted scenarios.”

As it turned out, the lead performer’s personal history led MullenLowe to change the storyline from a father-daughter relationship to focus on mom instead.

“She had lost her mother a few years ago and also happened to cherish a message that her mother wrote her when she was younger,” Rude says. “She was also in the process of trying to figure out a way to memorialize her mother in some meaningful way. She could relate to what we were trying to accomplish on a deeply personal level—and when you watch the film, it shows.”

Her anxiety in the tattooist’s chair was equally genuine.

“The little vignette when she squeals—that was real,” recalls creative director Brian Leech. “Our artist fired up the tattoo gun for the first time and she didn’t know he’d removed the needle, so I think, for a brief moment, she was convinced he was just going to tattoo her right then and there.”

American Greetings:
President and Chief Operating Officer: John Beeder
Group Vice President, Marketing, Innovation and Business Development; President, Papyrus-Recycled Greetings, Inc.: Christy Kaprosy
Chief Marketing Officer: Alex Ho
Director, Consumer Marketing Communications: Janet Dye
Director, Engagement Marketing: Christine Rich
Director, Corporate Communications: Patrice Sadd
Senior Manager, Engagement Marketing: Meghan Olmstead
Manager, Engagement Marketing: Danielle Krouse
Social Media Manager: Leah Lange
Associate Manager, Marketing Communications: Megan Baucco

Creative Credits:
Brand: American Greetings
Agency: MullenLowe
Managing Partner Chief Creative Officer: Mark Wenneker
Executive Creative Directors: Tim Vaccarino, Dave Weist
Creative Director: Andrea Mileskiewicz
Creative Director: Blake Winfree
Creative Director/Copywriter: Allison Rude
Creative Director/Art Director: Brian Leech
Executive Director of Integrated Production: Lisa Setten
Director of Broadcast Production: Zeke Bowman
Senior Broadcast Producer: Vera Everson
Assistant Broadcast Producer: Kimberly Reid
Business Affairs Manager: Felicia Simmons
Group Account Director: Rebekah Pagis
Account Director: Jessica Zdenek
Production Company: Park Pictures
Director: The Mercadantes
Executive Producer: Scott Howard
Line Producer: Timory King
DP: Daniel Mercadante
Editorial: PS260 West
Editor: JJ Lask
Junior Editor: Colin Reilly
Junior Producer: Marlinda Walcott
Executive Producer: Carol Dunn
Lead VFX Artist: Cynthia Lee
Producer: Sarah Laborde
Executive Producer: Elexis Stearn
Licensed Music Track: “Traveling”
Composer: Goldmund
Audio Post: Eleven Sound
Sound Design/Mixer: Jeff Payne
Assistant Mixer: Jordan Meltzer
Executive Producer: Melissa Elston

@DaveGian David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.