Sandy speaks on matters of life and mirth.
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Friday, April 16, 2010

If You Buy This Toothpaste, Your Life Will Be Better

So Alex over at Galactic Teabag recently wrote a post about presentation of women in adverts. I won't quote the whole article here, but the cut and thrust of it was that there should be more honest and positive presentation of women and girls, which is an idea that we can all get behind. However, it got me thinking about a number of other issues that I was going to leave as a gigantacomment, but I thought worked better as a blog post in its own right.

Advertising as a whole is endemic to our society. It's not going away, no matter what the recession does, and so it is something that must be coped with, rather than ignored. There are a million different forms of advertising, but for the purposes of this post, I'm going to look at TV ads.

As far as I can tell there are 3 main types of ads aimed at adults:

Tangential - These are adverts that don't necessarily talk about the product in the slightest, but make us feel good about the advert, and thus fell good about the product. They can do this either through taking our breath away (the bouncing balls Sony Bravia advert almost single-handedly kick-started this trend) or making us laugh (Compare the Meerkat, anyone?)

Blinding Us With Science - These are adverts that throw enough fancy sounding words 'nutrients', 'polypeptides' etc, mixed with bizarre three animations of things bouncing off other things to convince us that our continued survival on earth depends on these products. Toothpaste, make-up and dishwasher tablets are the most common producers of these adverts.

Lifestyle - Oh, look at that B-List movie star/former soap star/glamour model/wife of a pop star! She shops at that supermarket and she and her Equity-carded children are so happy! I want to be happy, and therefore I shall shop at that supermarket!

My point is this - there are very few ads out there that do anything other than these three techniques, and it's been this way for a long time. So why do advertisers continue to use these same techniques? As a species, I'd like to think that we're pretty smart, so why don't we see through these shallow templates that ad-makers hang their products on?

The answer is simple - because they work. The most popular ads usually fall into the tangential category, and the most successful usually fall into the latter two. Every time it comes on, I deride the Febreeze 'Have you smelt this chair' ad, and yet if I want to buy an odour remover, I buy Febreeze. How do I know it's the best? Why, because it's the most advertised.

In this environment, is it any surprise that sexualisation of women is one of the major methods of selling products? Sex sells, and in such a lazy world, why ignore that? This is not to condone this behaviour, or justify it, but merely to realise that, sadly, a woman wearing very little draped over a product tends to be the easiest way to get people's attention.

This is not to say that this cannot be subverted. A mouthwash company recently used an image of a naked woman walking through a field, tastefully panning up her ludicrously toned and tanned body until it reached her mouth, where the image of beauty was shattered by her horrific gum disease. These adverts, however, are very much the exception rather than the rule. Advertising is, by definition, interested in finding the easiest possible route to the buy centres of the brain.


Sesquepadalia said...

I was originally talking about models in fashion magazines, which aren't necessarily trying to sell you anything but an idea of beauty (or possibly the magazine itself) - which does beg the question why does sex (by which I mean objectified women's bodies) sell to women? And what does it say about our participation in our own objectification?

I understand that when something works it's a lot harder to turn away from it, even if that something is morally dubious, but I do wish that advertisers would at least try. I love the rising trend in what you call "tangenital" adverts, partly because they don't adhere to the tired old formulae and thus - to my mind - actually stand out more, but also because it represents a shift away from the "sex sells" mindset, which can only be a good thing.

Anonymous said...

*snerk* - tangenital sounds rude

On the other hand, many of these tangential adverts DO use objectification - for instance the Kinder Bueno advert which involves two woman stealing a man's clothes and forcing him to streak through a crowded spa... to advertise a chocolate bar.

Sesquepadalia said...

I'm not sure how the Kinder Bueno ad is objectification of the sort we are talking about - in that I don't think it a) promotes or idealises a narrow standard of beauty or b) perpetuates the idea that one gender is "entitled" to the bodies of the other.

I'm prepared to argue the point though, since I haven't seen that ad for a while, and might have missed something.

I thought that by "tangenital" ads you meant ones that used humour rather than sex to sell things, which I think is great, and generally less harmful, culturally.

I don't agree with objectification in ads (or anywhere else) point blank, but I don't think that the objectification of men is anywhere near as harmful or ubiquitous as that of women. I don't think it's a good thing either, but I think to put them both on the same level is being a bit disengenuous.