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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Subliminally Yours

     I had a request from my mother-in-law to write more and as we can see, it has been a long time since I have.  Sadly, life gets busy sometimes and can pull us away from things we enjoy.  However, one of the things keeping me busy was taking a Writing Class at my local college.  Our final paper assignment was to write about gender, and how it is portrayed whether in movies, shows, music.  I chose to discuss how gender is shown in advertising and the possible affects that has on society.  Here, I will share my final paper.  I hope you give it a good grade, Loretta:) 


Subliminally Yours

Advertisements have been around since as long as products have been sold.  While it is a staple of our everyday modern life, it can be said most people have become advertising saturated.  Everywhere you look there are billboards, pop ups, flashing signs, promotions, give-aways.  There are a myriad of clever ways to get a company’s product out there so the consumer will be influenced to the higher quality of one product over another.  Although there have been some products made to lessen the exposure of ads (e.g. DVR’s fast forward through the commercials ability), there is still very little a person can do to get away from them completely.  With that said, it is the effectiveness that should be looked at when it comes to these advertisements.  How do the companies describe their product and what demographic are they targeting to get the most benefit out of their commercial?  From the surface a commercial may appear straight-forward by showing the product being used in a way that seems very beneficial to a problem that needs solved.  However, there is a lot more going on subliminally to reach specific target audiences.  Arguably, one of the main discriminating factors in this subliminal advertising technique is gender-bias depending on the product.  This is a culture that has advanced and blurred the lines between gender-specific roles so this antiquated style should be brought inline with the current century or eliminated in advertising.
This gender-biased advertising starts for the very young consumer as seen in toy commercials.  Take, for instance, the “Barbie 3 Story Dreamhouse” commercial.  It starts with two little girls running happily from the cold and snowy outdoors in anticipation of  meeting up with another overly exuberant girl to play with her new toy.  The colors are pink, the dolls are all female, and it shows any little girl watching that the best time to be had is only with this doll house.  Let us now compare that to the “Avengers Action Figures Spot” geared toward boys.  There are four boys, each with his own action figure, giving hand gestures leading the watcher to believe they are somehow absorbing the supernatural power that each Avenger portrays.  The fact that there are no boys in the girl's commercial and no girls in the boy's commercial is glossed over because consumers are so used to seeing such ads gender specific like this.  It makes one wonder, would there be a difference if each of these commercials added a playmate of the opposite sex?  Would there be a difference in the numbers of boys playing with Barbies and girls playing with Avengers in the real world?  No matter what they are called or who they are targeted to, they are all still dolls and doll accoutrements that are being sold.
This pattern continues no matter what age consumers are.  A recent article states, “Gender inequality persists despite the gains women have made over the past five decades with respect to education, employment and political power” (“The Effects of a Child’s Sex on Support for Traditional Gender Roles”).  One needs to ask themselves, does this persist because we have been conditioned by advertising; being fed that certain genders play certain roles and not even know it?
Moving on to adult products we see no change in gender targeting.  When messes occur in a commercial, more often than not they tend to be caused by children.  The commercial will show a mother, whimsically rolling her eyes as if to say, “Oh, you!” and then she will reach for her perfectly suited and handy for the job, cleaning product.  It is curious why this is always a woman.  Currently we are seeing more often it is a father who is the stay at home dad or the father who takes an active role in housework and raising children because both parents work.  In a recent CNN Money article, Jessica Dickler writes, “Of those with kids under the age of 5, 20% of dads in 2010 were the primary caretaker” (Dickler).  Of course a man is able to overlook this gender bias and clearly can make a decision to use one of these products if it fits the situation but it seems there is a possibility these very commercials are furthering the stereotype that clean-up and kids are “woman’s work”.  This appears demeaning not only to women, but to men as well depending on their role in the household.  It would appear very non-inclusive.
Let’s take a look at a specific Brawny Paper Towel ad, “Supermarket”.  It is the woman who begins the commercial doing the shopping looking for a roll of paper towel.  She has to decide between a myriad of generic, plain wrapper brands and the BOLD product of Brawny filling up her field of vision.  The product is then used in several situations with different families to show how versatile it is.  It is being used for dishes, cleaning up a major liquid spill, a little girl to wipe the mouth of her father, and another mother draining grapes.  One would almost get the idea that men would have no need of paper towels because they don’t do this kind of work.
This gender-bias also seeps into the world of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender) community.  For example, let’s take a scenario of two women who are married/partners and have children as well.  Perhaps they have both take on the cooking, cleaning, and mommy duties but on top of that, one or both of them do home maintenance or construction.  It would probably behoove Black & Decker to build commercials around this type of demographic too.
Though the airwaves are saturated with gender-biased commercials, and have been throughout history, there has been a tiny spark of change.  Recently there have been a couple of commercials that break this role-defining position.  An ad for “Gogurt” shows a father presumably getting his son’s lunch ready for the day.  It is nice to see the father taking on this role however this advertisement is just short of being truly modern.  The father is forced to withstand nagging from the mother and son via sticky notes everywhere to make sure he does not forget to pack the “Gogurt.”  Sadly, this follows the stereotype that men are just big, dumb, oafs who couldn’t determine their ass from a hole in the ground unless a woman is there to save him.  This topic, however, should be granted its own entire article as it occurs too frequently to think a blurb is enough.
Finally, a new commercial just recently released by Tide and Downy seems to get it.  In “The Princess Dress,” A father is talking about trying to keep his daughters favorite princess dress clean.  She has only one favorite so he may only get a chance to wash it once a week.  Tide and Downy are the best for him to get out week old stains.  Not only does this advertisement show a man doing the duty of laundry but shows him playing and having fun with his daughter; a role usually relegated to the mother.  
It is time to look at advertising through new eyes.  Time to recognize the world has advanced, people have evolved, the idea of the standard family or gender roles have changed dramatically.  It is time to quit doing things “because they have always been done that way.” It is time to be more proactive in including everyone.  It may not seem on the surface this is a big deal, but the subliminal message of exclusion affects everyone negatively on one level or another; it impedes the betterment of the human species.  Advertisers, let us promote who we are and who we want to be!  Let us step out of our exclusion of yesterday and instill inclusion for tomorrow!  Let us all evolve!

Works Cited

“Avengers Action Figures Spot.” Juan Carlos Cajiao. Commercial. Youtube. 2012. Web. 7 March  2013. <>

“Barbie 3 Story Dreamhouse.” Commercial. Youtube. 2009. Web. 7 March 2013. <>

Dickler, Jessica. “Stay-at-home dads: More men choosing kids over career.” CNN Money. 30 April 2012. Web. 7 March 2013. 

“The Effects of a Child’s Sex on Support for Traditional Gender Roles.” Gale Opposing Viewpoints. Social Forces, September 2011. Web. 7 March 2013. 
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Gogurt. Commercial. Facebook. 8 March 2013. <>

“The Princess Dress.” Commercial. Youtube. 2013. Web. 8 March 2013.<>

“Supermarket.” Commercial. Youtube. 2010. Web. 7 March 2013. <>