Everyday people are exposed to a tremendous amount of advertising. Yet so few people realize that they are being bombarded again and again, not so much to do what is best for their well-being, but to do what these companies want. We have become pawns in this capitalist chess game. “News, sitcoms, or ads are not reflections of the world. They are very careful, deliberate constructions.1” Advertisers market towards us in three ways: by exploiting racial stereotypes, sexist stereotypes, and power hierarchies or patriarchies.
Racism has been used in advertising for hundreds of years, getting more subtle and politically correct over the years. The 60’s brought us some controversial gems from the food industry. They were and still are some pretty racially charged marketing icons.
Frito Bandito was the cartoon mascot for Fritos chips in the late 60’s. He was a standard caricature of a Mexican, wearing a sombrero, long moustache, and exaggerated accent2. Of course if this ran today the entire Chicano community would be up in arms. But why do we find Frito Bandito to be so offensive yet we let icons like Uncle Ben of Uncle Ben’s Rice, “Larry” the Quaker oatmeal guy, or Rastus, the Cream of Wheat guy just slide by?
It’s important to note that these icons are not recognized to be based on actual people according to their respective companies. I could argue that people have tolerated these icons for so long because they are not exactly shouting “I’m racist” at you. As long as the consumer tolerates these character’s we won’t see any changes. It’s important to recognize that advertiser represents the white man and they use other minorities to market their product. “The habits that uphold and maintain institutionalized white supremacy linger.3” Advertisers not only use race in the creation process but they also exploit and capitalize on it. Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits exploits the stereotype that black people enjoy fried chicken by instituting a black spokesperson. Racial marketing can have the negative fallout of reinforcing negative stereotypes and having people believe that they should do what the ad is depicting
When it comes to gender the media is slanted towards women in two very different ways. Women or shall I say women’s bodies are being used to market many products. In essence a woman becomes objectified in mass media. And it’s not only because men enjoy looking at women but because of that notion women compare themselves and are destined to look like these fictitious models.
TV’s Al Bundy once said “Pretty women make us buy beer, ugly women make us DRINK beer4.” And to a certain degree it’s true. Many advertisers use women to make us want to buy their product. “The Price is Right” has “Barkers Beauties” or as they are known today “Carey’s Cuties”, which are models that showcase every item that is to be bid on to make it more appealing. What is it about seeing a beautiful woman next to or using a product that makes us want to buy it?
Jerry Seinfeld had a bit in his routine “Have you ever been standing there and you’re watching TV and you’re drinking the exact same product that they’re advertising right there on TV, and it’s like, you know, they’re spiking volleyballs, jetskiing, girls in bikinis and I’m standing there – Maybe I’m putting too much ice in mine.5” Advertisers exploit our insecurities and convince us if you want x,y,or z you have to buy our product or you won’t amount to jack squat. The anxiety on which publicity plays is the fear that if you have nothing you will be nothing6. This leads to another point, women being used to market other women. When women see these models that are unachievable in real life, they want to do whatever it takes to look like them. The cosmetic, diet, and cosmetic surgery industries rack in over $320 billion a year7. Its disgusting the lengths advertisers have gone to corrupt today’s woman. Woman today are obsessed with being thin and looking as beautiful as a magazine model. There’s a big problem with that idea that either women don’t see or refuse to believe: 99% of images that are put out have been doctored and/or retouched. It’s virtually impossible to look like “the perfect woman.” This has led to an epidemic of eating disorders and dieting beyond belief. Women need to feel confident in their own skin and realize most men don’t expect them to look like these so-called supermodels. They can find beauty in what is natural.
Mr. Rogers said it best “It’s you I like, It’s not the things you wear. It’s not the way you do your hair– But it’s you I like. The way you are right now, The way down deep inside you…” If not only women but all people could embrace this idea the advertising industry, mainly cosmetics might back off a bit.
Power hierarchies can also be found in advertising. One aspect of this is patriarchy, or the political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything9. Men are depicted as muscular, strong, in charge, and superior to women, whereas women are shown as housekeeping, always cleaning, weak and inferior, pretty and quiet; always depend on a man figure.
Old Spice recently used the macho man approach in their marketing which proved to be successful. I can argue that women have a harder time dealing with it, in the sense that advertisers are trying to manipulate women more than men. By looking at the majority of advertisements its apparent that women are supposed to worrying about their weight, how to look good, and how to take care of the house.
Ultimately the advertising market needs to change. We need to see more of what is attainable and believable and less of what is a fabrication. But more importantly we need equality amongst races, classes, and genders. I applaud Dove with their “Real Beauty” campaign. They’ve brought the common woman to the mainstream and plus-size models are on the rise. I do want to point out, I disagree with the term “plus-size”, when really they are regular size. Advertisers need to quit living in the 50’s and put everyone on the same ground. Show some men in the kitchen instead of the living room or show women performing home improvements instead of self-improvements. If other companies follow suit, the world might be a better place.
1. Susan Douglas, Where The Girls Are, (New York: Random House, 1995), 16.
2. Deezen, Eddie. “The Forgotten Mascot: The Frito Bandito.”Today I Found Out, August 12, 2013. http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/08/the-fogotten-mascot-the-frito-bandito/ (accessed March 12, 2014).
3. Bell Hooks, Black looks : Race and Representation, (Boston: South End Press, 1992), 168.
4. O’neill, Ed, “Married… With Children,” Web, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spIrhYfwi5c.
5. Seinfeld, Jerry, “Seinfeld,” Soda Commercials, Web, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLSXjYKyGgU.
6. John Berger , Ways Of Seeing, (London: Penguin Books, 1973), 143.
7. Anthony Cortese, Provocateur : Images of Women and Minorities in Advertising, (Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1999), 56.
8. Rogers, Fred, “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood,” It’s You I Like, Web, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-DsZMKYXzI.
9. Bell Hooks, The Will to Change, (New York: Atria Books, 2004), 18.