Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sizing Up “Sexist” Ads

Cracked.com has relatively interesting lists and articles. While I can't help but be dubious of many of the more serious ones, the less serious ones can still irk me from time to time. Case in point, this list: http://www.cracked.com/article_17036_8-tv-ads-that-hate-women.html

It isn't like I've never seen lists or ads like this before, a quick YouTube search will come up with dozens of "misogynist" vintage ads. What I wonder about is what the point is of making lists like these.

Firstly, concentrating specifically on the eight ads chosen by Cracked, it seems absurd that an inanimate TV ad can maintain the mental state of hate

As for the ads themselves (specifically the old ads), while I won't try to deny that the producers of these ads didn't harbor some less than egalitarian sentiments toward women, the best approach is to look at the ads in one of two ways: They're outdated, so they serve as kitsch, or, they are an appropriate summation of their particular consumer zeitgeist – at least as examined by the company or researchers in question.

The kitsch part is easy. Speaking for myself, I've always had an affinity for these types of ads because they personify an era that I was not a part of, but that I've been able to marginally experience through the aid of Nick at Nite shows. False Nostalgia Syndrome, if you will. So, I enjoy them: the phony parochial nature of them all, the style, the transatlantic announcer voice. They're fun to watch because they're subdued, or if they're camp, they don't get near a flicker on the barometer of trash that most modern commercials easily hit.

When critiquing older ads, is the point to highlight how absurd the copy sounds when pitted against our more "enlightened" commercials of today (are there any?)

With new ads, what is the goal? What would complaining about a diamond commercial accomplish? Instead of complaining that the commercial portrays women as naïve little animals distracted by shiny stuff, why doesn't an endorser of "equality" complain about how the commercials generally show men proposing to women? Why not women proposing to men? What about couples who say, screw the expensive rings and let's instead go for something else – maybe ring tattoos? Diamonds might be forever, but so is ink, and there's no need for layaway plans with the latter.

A yogurt commercial might show two chatty women conversing about shoe shopping and noshing on sweets, but is it accurate to say this portrayal reveals a "hatred" of women? Should we instead assume that all women talk about at a spa is Shakespeare and Milton? Remember, the medium is television and the point of advertising is to move products, not show viewers how interesting some actors on a set can be.

Even though lists like these may be harmless fun, despite their flinging of derogatory labels like sexist, misogynist, etc, I have seen enough of them to ask: Why bother bringing them up?

Probably because it makes for cheap entertainment, much like most of television.


  1. An intereseting take, and valid that most commercials, despite any stereotyped societal leanings present, are effective for the intended target audiences. I do think, though, that taking a closer look at how and what we advertise is just as valuable to understand. Its not about whining over specific details, but more so how those details can help shape very deep rooted values into people exposed to them. Consumerism is nice for the economy, but when you have people who value coach bags and baby shower budgets over other human beings, the economy becomes the only entity, albeit souless, that benefits from the abundant sustenance. Men and women who splurge on rims and handbags before feeding their kids are falling in line with advertising, and that's worth pondering to me.

  2. "The ads reinforced sexist images of petulant husbands incapable of making their own coffee and frantic wives whose worth was measured out in coffee spoons. Within Proctor & Gamble it was known as the 'There, There' campaign. The company conducted research to determine 'how ugly and aggressive we could get,' as one adman put it. They discovered that housewives would accept 'all sorts of abuse' as reasonable, since they actually experienced it much of the time in their daily lives."

    Mark Pendergrast on coffee ads from the 60's, from "Uncommon Grounds," pg 282.

  3. That's pretty interesting. If it's true, it's awful - but it fits in with what I said about the zeitgeist. Not a gleaming piece of history, and I by no means want to say that some wives don't still experience this abuse today, but maybe it isn't as pervasive?