A trend has emerged over the last little while in television advertising. More and more I have noticed that commercials rely on showing a person who doesn’t use the product or service to be a loser, an idiot or pathetic. The trend is to make the male actor the one to be on the receiving end. Everything about the depicted person is undesirable, from receding hairline, to sloppy clothing to lack of respect from friends or family. Why do advertisers find it necessary to resort to this type of marketing? What prompted the shift from benefit driven education of a customer to belittling? Is is a symptom of society’s self image or the cause of it? How will it change now that web 2.0, 2.5 or even 3.0 are on the horizon?
At some point over the last 30 years men went from the bread winner and supposed decision maker within a family unit to the butt of jokes. Call it the Simpsonification of the family unit or some other term, either way, advertisers realized that women were the real purchase drivers. Women were the ones who needed to be convinced that the product or service was for them. I find it interesting that when you look at the differences in psychology between men and women, that they would have chosen to do their ads in such a way. I can see men liking the three stooges low brow comedy used today to sell a product, but not women. So why, if women are the ones being advertised to, are these base parodies used?
Both with men or women as the protagonist, we see this trend. Also interesting is that for the most part, the products or services are those which a man would be the most likely to initiate conversation about purchasing. Seldom do we see this type of tactic when the product is something a man would purchase on their own. Think sports cars, shampoo or ‘just for men’ products. This is not to say that it doesn’t occur. Take the Gillette mach 3 commercials where some one’s decision to use or purchase a product is affected by a famous athlete. Here we see the hero being physically pushed into purchasing the product. Or the Just for Men beard and moustache colour. Three famous football stars one of which is old and grey with no game.
We do occasionally see this intellectual simplifying in representations of women in commercials. Usually though, the simple personality is the one to pass information or educate someone else to the product benefits. Take for instance the commercial where a woman has a secret about the three cheese mix she uses. She asks her, simple, friend if she can keep it secret. She says yes and before even turning around passes along the information, breaking her promise. Intellectually we relate to the hero in the commercial, we can be her if we buy the product. But, even if we put ourselves in the shoes of the simple woman we don’t feel offended as she becomes an educator, a teacher of the product and therefore a secondary-hero if you will.
Is it a symptom of the society we live in, or are the products or services so lacking in quality, truth and ability to deliver that advertisers have to avoid mentioning these things? Do people really relate to these persona’s in commercials, or is there a subconscious sence of power over someone less than you? Is it all the result of the people coming up with the ideas having grown up in a Simpsons world with art directors too afraid to question the ‘new’ wisdom? What will happen in the future with web 2.x on? I can’t answer these questions but I can make decisions about what I will do to move forward, differentiate my self and reflect society and so can you.
[update 15 Jan 2009 from information published in Fast Company]
“Here’s one good reason: Women buy 57% of consumer electronics (to the tune of about $80B), but influence 90% of all CE purchases. Yes, fellas. If you really want that cool new 60 inch flat screen, you’ll have to get it by your house’s electronic major domo first.
But here’s a far more dispiriting number: the number of women who said they thought manufacturers had them in mind when developing products: 1%”