I am often critical of advertisements on this blog because commercials are so often horrible: they reinforce rigid gender roles; they attempt to instill dissatisfaction in the viewer to urge purchases; they use emotional manipulation to get us to buy products that have little to do with the emotion; and they are increasingly turning up in places disguised as part of the show or the video game one is playing.
But, I believe that it is also important to notice when commercials get something right. I saw a commercial for ACT mouthwash for kids last night (Edit: um, I mean on August 28) that I think does a lot of things right. [Edit: I have actually been sitting on this post since August and periodically searching the internet for the commercial. The commercial has never appeared. Rather than just keep waiting, I have decided to now publish this post. Perhaps whomever is in control of marketing at ACT will have an alert set for posts that mention their product and will then realize the importance of putting your shit out there for comment. Sure, some of the comments will be bad. But others will be good. If they ever get around to posting their commercial–free airtime, ahem–then I will update this post with an embedded video, or at least a link. Until then, I hope the description is enough to allow you to get the gist of why the commercial is good. Since they don’t have this ad on the internet, I suppose it is also an example of advertising done wrong]
First, mom is the authority in this commercial even though she does not appear in the commercial. That is not so unusual for commercials about products to be used within the home. But this mom’s authority is based on the fact that she is “the dentist.” Her authority is based on her education and achievement outside of the home rather than on her role as homemaker. Now, there is nothing wrong with being a homemaker, and I do believe that one gains a great deal of knowledge and expertise through performing that role. But, while some women are homemakers, other women work outside the home. In most commercials you don’t see this. What you see is mom in the home. I am not arguing that there is something “better” about being a dentist than being a homemaker. The argument is about what commercials represent and fail to represent; this commercial is good in my opinion because it represents women in a way that is rare for commercials. I think broadening representations of groups of people is good, and this commercial achieves that.
Second, the father and the children in the commercial seem to really respect mom (even though we never see mom on screen). A second problem for the way that many commercials represent gender is that they tend to make men look like idiots when they are doing anything related to childcare, cleaning, or homemaking. In this commercial dad is taking care of the kids, and everything seems to be going fine. There are no disastrous messes for mom to clean up when she gets home; the kids seem happy and well-cared for; dad has just bought groceries and he managed to get the product his wife asked him to buy and this is portrayed respectfully. The commercial does not call his manhood into question because he listens to his wife (there is no hint of the “pussy whipped” trope, which I hate). In short, the commercial manages to show the dad respecting the mom without also making the dad seem like an incompetent idiot. Sarah Haskins has a great spoof from her Target Women series on the “Doofy Husbands” theme from commercials:Vodpod videos no longer available.
I think this ACT commercial [that I cannot show you, ahem] is better than most at diversifying the representations of gender in the media. It portrays a mom with authority and competence in non-domestic spheres and a dad with authority and competence in domestic spheres. There are still some things in this commercial that are not very diverse; for example, it remains heteronormative by representing a heterosexual couple (though perhaps “mom” is a guy since we never see mom). But all in all, I think it succeeds at broadening the normally stereotypical gender representation in advertisements.
[Update: My Brother and Sister in law actually know something about marketing and advertising and they answered my question at the top about why a company would not put their ad on YouTube. Apparently there are sometimes copyright or distribution agreements that forbid it, other times there are royalties negotiated between the company and the advertising agency and/or the actors. These negotiations might also forbid putting the commercial on YouTube because then the agency or actors won’t get paid the royalties for those views. My brother in law writes, “It might also just be simple oversight.” Thanks for the info!]