Molding Americans: How Jell-O Advertising has Shaped (and Constrained) the Citizenry

Whether it is jiggling to hip hop music (JELLO) or soaking up alcohol before being devoured by college students (Jon), it would seem that Jell-O is a medium that simply absorbs and echoes the cultural fixations of its time. But upon closer examination, it becomes apparent that this unassuming substance has had a restrictive, even conforming effect on its consumers. There’s more than water and horse hooves in that colorful dessert alternative. Jell-O has informed the public’s understanding of what it means to be properly gendered and American.

A recurring theme in Jell-O’s advertising campaign can be termed, at best, aggressive patriotism, and at worst, ethnocentrism and xenophobia. In one of its early advertisements in 1925, the company fabricated nostalgia by associating their product with George Washington and the slogan “America’s Most Favorite Dessert.” The illustration also functions to class the gelatin by presenting Jell-O in dainty glass dishes on a silver tray, framed by toile wallpaper and dignified candlesticks. This innocuous reference to United States history would be taken to an extreme in years to come.

"Jell-O: America's Most Famous Dessert" c. 1925

“Jell-O: America’s Most Famous Dessert” c. 1925

Looking at a commercial released in 1958, the notion that a Chinese baby cannot consume Jell-O with chopsticks is loaded with cultural implications.

According to Inness, when the Korean War broke out in 1950, “…the anti-Chinese feelings that had been submerged during World War II reemerged”(Secret Ingredients 44). Assimilation, symbolized by the use of the spoon (“great Western invention”(horrorsnark)), is the necessary pre-cursor to eating the product. Jell-O has rendered itself literally inaccessible and inedible to foreigners clinging to their own traditions. If you want a piece of America, you have to play by their rules. One could easily reject this commercial as a reflection of the political climate of that historical moment, but a commercial released in December of 2012 would suggest otherwise.

Mayans are comfortably distant enough, and the tone is just playful enough, for the total invalidation of their culture (e.g. “Those are some pretty lame gifts. No wonder the gods decided to end the world.”(Adpressive)) to sit with American viewers. Note that the entire expedition is male, with the only white man serving as the leader and his racially ambiguous crew functioning as sherpas for the Jell-O. This humorous ad may not register as troubling compared to its 1958 predecessor, but the practices of a non-Western civilization are nonetheless being disavowed.

But all whites are not created equal in the eyes of Jell-O advertisers. According to Inness,

When picking a food, a girl was taught that aesthetics was more important than taste… Women were supposed to be concerned about appearance in all areas of their lives…Thus, cookbooks were not just teaching readers how to concoct a Jell-O salad; they were also subtly demonstrating how femininity was constituted. (Kitchen Culture in America 123-124)

"Now's the time for Jell-O" c. 1950

“Now’s the time for Jell-O” c. 1950

The Jell-O Company made this demonstration considerably less “subtle” in their 1950’s advertisement of a woman attempting (and failing) to emulate a thinner, more flexible female on her TV screen. The tagline “Now’s the time for Jell-O” makes the advertisers’ dissatisfaction with her body explicit.

"Now's the time for Jell-O" c. 1952

“Now’s the time for Jell-O” c. 1952

In a stylistically similar 1950’s advertisement, Jell-O promises to make a scrawny young boy a weightlifting champion. Thus, according to these images, the convenience gelatin has the magical, impossible power to both aid women in losing weight and help men gain muscle. By juxtaposing these visual texts, one exposes Jell-O’s commitment to gender ideals above the actual capabilities of its product.

According to Manton, “Each American can choose to make ‘kitchen-counter reforms,’… Each citizen individually can choose to “vote with your fork” each time she or he goes food shopping or eats out”(Manton 9). But what if individuals are being subliminally told that they are not full citizens because of their body, race, culture, or gender? It may only take moments to assemble and serve gelatin, but according to advertisers, one must prepare and mold oneself– an endeavor which takes considerably more effort. Jell-O’s advertisers have infused the seemingly limpid substance with exclusion and ethnocentrism. Deceit in the name of marketing is to be expected, but disenfranchisement cannot be tolerated, no matter how “convenient” it may be.

Work Cited

Adpressive. “JELL-O Funpocalypse : December 21st, 2012 TV Commercial.” YouTube. YouTube, 18 Dec 2012. Web. 19 July 2013.

horrorsnark. “Jello Commercial- Chinese Baby.” YouTube. YouTube, 28 Jun 2010. Web. 18 July 2013.

Inness, Sherrie. Secret Ingredients: Race, Gender, and Class at the Dinner Table. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Inness, Sherrie. Kitchen Culture in America: Popular Representations of Food, Gender, and Race. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.

Jell-O Company Inc.. “30533590: Jell-O Magazine Advert.” Illustration. 1952. The Advertising Archives. Web. 18 July 2013.

Jell-O Company Inc.. “Jell-O: America’s Most Famous Dessert.” Illustration. 1925. Emergence of Advertising in America: 1850-1920. Library of Congress. Web. 18 July 2013

Jell-O Company Inc.. Jell-O Advertisement. Illustration. n.d. Vintage Ad Browser. Web. 18 July 2013.

JELLO. “JELL-O Jiggle-It App.” YouTube. YouTube, 13 Sep 2011. Web. 18 July 2013.

Jon. “21 Jello Shot Recipes for College Students.” The Campus Companion. 19 November 2011. Web. 18 July 2013. <http://www.thecampuscompanion.com/party-lab/2011/11/19/21-jello-shot-recipes-college-students>

Manton, Catherine. Fed Up: Women and Food in America. Westport: Bergin & Garvey, 1999.

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From Celebration to Procrastination: Cakes and Creativity in the 1950s

Traditionally, cakes are emblematic of significant celebration. From first birthday cakes to wedding cakes and anniversary cakes, our lives are punctuated by celebratory baked goods. Part of this is due to the communal nature of cakes; they are intended to be divided and shared between those partaking in the event. Cakes also remain a central feature of celebrations because of the perceived time and effort involved in their preparation and decoration.

Cakes are a treat steeped in frosted tradition. Even focusing solely on American culture, there are rituals surrounding cakes which are upheld with startling continuity. In many celebrations, for example, the first cut into the cake is symbolic. For birthdays, it is the opportunity to make a wish, for married couples, the communal first slice symbolizes unity (as John and Jackie exhibited below on their wedding day in 1953). And both, of course, make for significant photo opportunities.

John F. Kennedy and his new bride, Jackie, cut their wedding cake. 1953.

John F. Kennedy and his new bride, Jackie, cut their wedding cake. 1953.

Despite the symbolism and tradition associated with baking and eating cakes, however, the post-war years of the 1950s heralded an era in which cakes became every day staples for the American housewife. Thanks in large part to the entry of ready-made cake mix to the public, brands like Betty Crocker and Pillsbury began marketing their products as both celebratory and every day treats.

Cake mixes had been in development in America since the 1920s, and were almost ready for public distribution when World War II broke out. Flour manufacturers then turned their focus to developing bread mixes to feed the troops (Byrn 20). By 1948, however, men were back to work, and women who had been employed during the war were back in the kitchen. The metaphorical oven was preheated and ready-made cake mix rolled out into American stores.

The convenience that packet cake mixes provided, in combination with the availability of new-fangled appliances, made extravagant-looking cakes something that was expected of the American housewife. The promise of fail-safe cakes must have been appealing for families living in the image-conscious post-war period which followed two decades of poverty, joblessness, and war. Advertisements like the below from Betty Crocker shows seven beautiful cakes – one for each day of the week – which, it is assumed, the good housewife could whip up with ease.

"Seven days of Betty Crocker creations," ca.1953

“Seven days of Betty Crocker creations,” ca.1953

Problems arose for women (and advertisers), however, following the post-war boom in convenience products. In the case of pre-made cake mixes, the simpler baking became, the more genius had to be attributed to the housewife’s creation. Parkin notes that, during this time, advertisers capitalized on women’s feelings of guilt and inadequacies with messages of false praise in which their intelligence was heralded (51). The below advertisement for Pillsbury ready-made frosting is a good example of attempts at a forced link between convenience products and housewives’ acumen.

Source: YouTube

To a modern viewer, perhaps college-professor-turned-disc-jockey Erwin Johnson seems an odd choice to spruik frosting. To the 1950s housewife, however, the words of an educated older white gentleman would have given the product credence; if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for your family. The fact that he repeats his words in French is further proof that he is not only educated, but cultured – contrasted again by the female host who can’t ‘talk French like that’.

Page proof of Betty Crocker advertisement, 1958

Page proof of Betty Crocker advertisement, 1958

According to Ericka Endrijonas in ‘Cooking for a Family in the 1950s’, the emergence of convenience foods in the 1950s allowed opportunity for ‘women’s personal development’ (157). In the absence of any real opportunity for ‘personal development’, however, the time saved by convenience products left a void to be filled by the housewife. This is a sentiment echoed by Betty Friedan in chapter 10 of The Feminine Mystique. Speaking in depth about ‘housework expanding to fill the available time’, Friedan wrote that many women of ‘intelligence and ability’ were frantically busy during the day, filling the time with meritless busywork (333, 336). Cooking was, of course, a significant part of this, with new and elaborate recipes delivered to housewives and retitled as a creative outlet. In terms of cake-baking, ready-mix brands were active in advertising the possibilities for their cakes. The two brochures, above and below, are representative of a string of advertisements from Betty Crocker at this time. Both detail possible creations housewives could make with a couple of boxes of ready-made cake mix.

Excerpt from Betty Crocker cake advertisement, ca.1956

Partial cover of Betty Crocker pamphlet of recipes for cake mixes, ca.1956

As with all types of food, no matter how beautifully prepared or presented, the cakes advertised to American housewives were, of course, transient. Regardless of how many hours were poured into creating ‘snowballs’ or ‘merry-go-round cakes’, the work of the housewife remained ‘largely invisible’ and the cakes were eaten and, presumably, forgotten just as quickly (Endrijonas 169). Fast forward to 2013, and Betty Crocker continues to encourage the strange combination of convenience and busywork. The Betty Crocker Pinterest site is laden with recipes for extravagant mix-based cakes. It is interesting that what was once developed as a product to save housewives time has since become a base for a thousand different types of culinary time-filling. Since the 1950s, the producers of ready-made cake mixes have attempted to reassure housewives that their work is creative, and, most importantly, valuable. In the very fitting words of Betty Friedan, this culinary busywork is, however, ‘decorated with meaningless details to conceal its emptiness’ (340).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Anne Byrn, The Cake Mix Doctor (1993) Philadelphia: Rodale Publishing.

Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (1963) New York: W.W Norton & Co.

Ericka Endrijonas, ‘Processed Foods from Scratch: Cooking for a Family in the 1950s’, in Sherrie A. Inness (ed) Kitchen Culture in America (2006) Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 140-174.

Katherine J. Parkin, Food Is Love: Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America (2006) Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

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A Warm Convenience: How McDonald’s Sells Fast Food as Family Food

Food is never just food in our society, especially when it comes to our families. As consumers, we think about food selection, preparation, and serving as a physical representation of the love we feel for our family, a way to give tangible proof of that love, and a measurable expression of that love. As a culture, we value food that requires time: “from scratch” and homemade goods, elaborate meals that carry the weight of tradition, planning, and careful preparation (generally, Parkin, Food is Love). This leaves quite the challenge for companies determined to sell us on foods of convenience — how do they ease the minds of consumers who believe that food is an act of love and appeal to both their efficiency minded lifestyles and desire for emotional connection? How to reconcile these two seemingly disparate interests?

One way that McDonald’s, perhaps the name most commonly associated with fast food in the world, tackled this conundrum with a subtle narrative focused on the time saved for busy families eating at their restaurants translating into “together time” that is all the more enjoyable for being able to have good food without the work. By focusing on the “treat” aspect of a meal from McDonald’s and emphasizing family time and conversation, these ads seek to alleviate the anxiety parents might feel about using convenience food and shifting the focus instead to what convenience “savings” means as a reward.

In this 1980 ad we see an early example of this mindset, where a breakfast prepared by McDonalds means a leisurely morning for the family, who get to hang out in bed, get dressed up for their meal, then take a bike trip together to McDonald’s and “take a well-earned break” from cooking and food preparation for the weekend. The first images presented in this ad are images of family — father being woken by his children, mother braiding her daughter’s hair, children playing and laughing together. The images of food follow this feel-good set-up, creating first the longing for a family morning like this and then how to achieve it: “fresh and hot” eggs, pancakes, and sausage from McDonald’s! And in case there was any lingering anxiety about a fast food breakfast, well McDonald’s assures the parents that they deserve a break today, and no one can provide one like McDonald’s can.

In another ad from the same era, we see a very different narrative of a father who isn’t getting the leisurely time with his daughter that he desires because of their fast-paced lives. He doesn’t get home from work until she’s asleep, and when he’s home she has schoolwork and dance classes that take up all her attention. In this ad, rather than acknowledging the reality that it is more than likely a consequence of a convenience-based lifestyle, McDonald’s positions itself as the solution for that lifestyle. Like the first family, dad and daughter deserve a break from their hectic schedules, and that break is a meal they get to share of burgers and fries. We know this is a special meal for them because the father make sure his daughter gets a sundae as a treat. The idea that McDonald’s provides a “break” from life has moved from a lyric in the previous jingle to the tagline of this commercial, further emphasizing their position as the outpost of family time in an otherwise crazy life.

Furthering on this “shelter from the schedule” narrative, in 1985 McDonald’s produced this ad featuring a father working third-shift who, because of McDonald’s, was able to meet his wife and daughter for breakfast before going home to bed. Because of the wife’s professional clothes and the daughter’s school outfits (which suggest that they are on their way to work and school after breakfast), there is a strong suggestion in this ad that because McDonald’s is close and convenient to his work, they are providing the only meaningful family time the father will have that day. Once again the convenience is the selling point because is enables family time to happen — the mother would be too busy to make breakfast for everyone in time to meet the father, and the father is tired from his long night of work and couldn’t make it home in time for a meal. Because of McDonald’s they are able to see one another and enjoy delicious food. Once again McDonald’s is the savior for hard working, busy families.

Obviously this narrative must have been working for the company, since we can see it used again almost thirty years later in this 2009 Australian ad. Echoing the 1980 Saturday morning setting, this modern version features a busy family on their way to soccer practice for their two sons, who stop at “Macca’s” afterward for a meal together. In contrast to the earlier family, this one is certainly together on this weekend morning but seems to be lacking in quality time, each so busy with practice, other parents, and their teammates to give each other meaningful attention. Once again, McDonald’s is the solution to this craziness — it isn’t until they sit down together to eat that they’re able to interact with one another, and are even rewarded with sibling bonding and alone time as adults while the kids are playing. The tagline here is another promise — because of the convenience of McDonald’s, you will be able to love your Saturday mornings instead of just getting through all the things you need to do in your busy lives together.

Finally in this 2011 McDonald’s Arabia ad, the message has gone global. Now instead of just taking a break, we see the children demanding it of their parents, pulling them away from work, meetings, and their Blackberries to spend time with them, completing the circle of McDonald’s as a quick way to enhance a free moment to an active facilitator of those moments. The convenience of a ready-made meal isn’t just a treat but a way to have “family time forever,” something that is always ready when we need it to be. Interestingly, in this ad the McDonald’s logo doesn’t appear until the very end, and there is no McDonald’s food seen at all. The focus is now totally on the family, the benefit of being together, and it’s a given that McDonald’s is the place that facilitates it. Showing fluffy eggs and sizzling sausage (or even just the cartons as in the previous ad) isn’t necessary because the food is familiar enough that it can be evoked without visuals. What’s important is the time spent together, and it’s obvious where the parents are headed once the kids get them out the office door.

Works Cited

classiccommercial. “1980 COMMERCIALS MCDONALDS FAMILY TIME.” YouTube. YouTube, 17 Nov 2011. Web. 22 July 2013.

FamilyQuarter. “McDonald’s Family Brand Ad- Australia May 2009 (45secs).” YouTube. YouTube, 21 May 2009. Web. 22 July 2013.

McDonaldsArabia. “McDonald’s Family Time Forever.” YouTube. YouTube, 21 May 2009. Web. 25 Sep 2011.

Parkin, Katherine. Food is Love: Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.

TotallyToonz. “1985 McDonalds Breakfast Commercial – Night Shift Dad.” YouTube. YouTube, 28 Jun 2011. Web. 22 July 2013.

tracy80sgirl. “VINTAGE 80′S MCDONALD’S COMMERCIAL DADDY’S GIRL WITH FATHER AND DAUGHTER.” YouTube. YouTube, 25 Nov 2009. Web. 22 July 2013.

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Sealed with a ‘Like’: Tupperware and Social Media

More than 60 years after its inception, Tupperware marketers are working hard to dispel what it says are dated perceptions of the brand (Cortese). Despite the fact that Tupperware products are still extremely successful – with a Tupperware party in progress every 2.5 seconds across the globe – the brand has, over the past five years, altered its communication strategy in an attempt to keep up with the next generation of consumers (Bax 171). Through the use of social media channels, Tupperware Brands is looking to expand its customer base while shunning traditional forms of advertising. But despite concerted efforts to update its image and to shake off its title as an ‘icon of suburbia’, Tupperware continues to target the same demographic it did in the 1950s: women caring for families (Clarke 133).

For several years, brands have been capitalising on the opportunities offered to them by social media. Primary channels include Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, but – in the very nature of the medium – new players (Instagram, for example) are constantly entering the race. These channels allow brands to gather fans and promote their products for free. In addition, brands can use advertising opportunities to promote their activity further on a cost-per-click or cost-per-impression basis (Facebook). Compared to traditional print and television advertising, this is a very low-cost opportunity for brands to exploit. Using paid activity, brands can broaden reach to capitalise on an environment where every new ‘follower’ is a potential new customer.

For a brand like Tupperware, which is seeking to revamp its image, social media encourages direct engagement in a way that traditional forms of marketing never could. Tupperware and other brands can directly appeal for feedback, gauge the popularity of products and ideas, and work to cultivate their own image. With more than 107,000 fans on the Tupperware US and Canada Facebook page alone, it is a platform ripe for the brand’s growth in the 21st century.

For more than 60 years, Tupperware has been an immensely successful, not to mention iconic, American brand. This is despite the fact that Tupperware Brands continue to avoid traditional advertising, relying instead on direct marketing, word of mouth, public relations, and celebrity endorsements (the brand, for example, sponsored Tori Spelling’s baby shower (see below)). The brand’s chief executive, Rick Goings, explained the aversion to traditional advertising, telling The New York Times that word-of-mouth endorsements “from someone you have confidence in is the absolutely best form” of marketing (Elliot).

Tori Spelling's baby shower, 2011. www.people.com

Tori Spelling’s baby shower, 2011. People Magazine

Though Tupperware’s traditional method of non-advertising still brought the brand profits of $2.2 billion in 2008, social media is helping the brand reach the daughters and granddaughters of existing customers (Bax 171). As part of the ‘cool-ification’ of the brand, Tupperware Brands is capitalising on their reputation for quality, while shying away from links to ‘your mother’s Tupperware’ (Elliot). But although Tupperware is making a concerted effort to modernise perceptions of the brand, it is sticking with a tried and true target market. The brand heavily markets its products – the vast majority of which are cooking or food preparation items – to women caring for families.

In 1843, Catherine Beecher wrote that women are ‘the responsible guardian of the health of a whole family’ (Beecher 68). More than 150 years later, Tupperware continues to spruik this persisting idea on all its social media channels. Indeed, the use of airtight containers to keep raw, healthy produce fresh is one of the brand’s primary marketing messages. This plays into the idea that women – as the purchasers and preparers of food – will invest in products which promise to maintain the healthfulness of their husbands and children.

Source: Facebook

Source: Facebook

The above Facebook post is indicative of the persistent implication that women are invested in the health of those they care for. Tupperware plastics are shown sitting on a rustic wooden table, side by side with woven baskets filled with presumably freshly-picked berries. Vibrant colouring suggests freshness, while the baskets imply a level of homemade authenticity. A post from the same day on Twitter (below) spruiks the same series of containers, while linking their use to National Fruits and Vegie Month. By mentioning National Fruits and Vegie Month, Tupperware succeeds in making this Twitter post seem less like advertising. This is important for the brand’s image because it means Tupperware can advertise its products, while leading followers to believe the brand is invested in their ongoing good health.

Source: Twitter

Source: Twitter

Similar to its efforts on Facebook and Twitter, Tupperware actively seeks engagement with female customers on its YouTube channel. From the pink logo to the persistent Sex-and-the-City-esque music, the brand’s videos cater to a female audience.

Source: YouTube

Although almost of none of the videos feature narration or text (making them perfect for global distribution), the imagery is highly gendered. This particular video is sleek and unfussy, suggesting cleanliness and hygiene. The action of packing and unpacking the cake is very repetitive, indicating the durability of the product, which is contrasted with the daintiness of the cakes (which, we assume, have been baked and decorated by the white woman in the video). And, indeed, daintiness is a theme which is carried across many of the Tupperware videos, with the invariably female actors preparing small portions of colourful, visually-appealing food in Tupperware containers – without mess, of course. These factors, in combination, solidify Tupperware’s portrayal of woman in the home: she is clean, she is healthy, she cares about her family, and she cooks with Tupperware.

Tupperware’s foray into the territory of social media is, by its own admission, an attempt to revamp the image of the brand. Despite sticking its plastic toe in the waters of social media, however, the brand continues to target the same demographic that it did 60 years ago: women with families. Capitalising on long-held ideas of females as primary food and food-product purchasers, Tupperware stays latched onto the perception of females as domestic carers in an attempt to gain a new generation of customers.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Christina E. Bax, ‘Entrepreneur Brownie Wise: Selling Tupperware to America’s Women in the 1950s’, in Journal of Women’s History (2010) 22:2, 171-180.

Catherine Beecher, A Treatise on Domestic Economy for the use of Young Ladies at Home and at School (1843), Boston: Thomas H. Webb & Co.

‘Campaign Cost & Budgeting’, Facebook, accessed 19 July 2013, https://www.facebook.com/help/318171828273417/

Allison J. Clarke, ‘Tupperware: Suburbia, Sociality and Mass Consumption’ in Roger Silverstone (ed), Visions of Suburbia (1997) New York: Routledge.

Amy Cortese, ‘Tupperware Freshens Up the Party’, July 7 2007, The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/07/business/07interview.html?_r=1& .

Stuart Elliot, ‘The Tupperware Party Moves to Social Media’, May 4 2011, The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/05/business/media/05adco.html?_r=0 .

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Fear and loathing in women’s advertising

It did what all ads are supposed to do: create an anxiety relievable by purchase. – David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

If you ask the average person to name one truth about advertising, odds are they will repeat that well-worn idiom: sex sells. Sex is used in advertising like a blunt instrument, beating the consumer over the head with sensory information designed to capture and hold their attention long enough to sell them a product. Perhaps this is why it springs to mind so quickly when the topic is ads — we’re more apt as consumers to notice the bright and the loud, and miss the more fine-edged tools that are used to sell. Perhaps the most commonly employed tool in the advertiser’s box, especially in media targeted at women, is fear. Throughout the decades, ads have built narratives based around creating and exploiting insecurities and then promising the cure for the low, low cost of $9.99.

This fear-based marketing most often focuses on creating insecurity about women’s role as caretaker by creating competition between the target consumer and other women, either real or imaginary, and creates fear focused on loss of love, position, or respect.

Frigidaire Frozen Delights, 1927 (Duke University Library Digital Collection)

Frigidaire Frozen Delights, 1927 (Duke University Library Digital Collection)

In this Frigidaire booklet, we see a classic example of this subtle technique. While on its surface the image appears to be a pleasant but innocuous story about a good hostess, it actually contains two important themes common to fear-based advertising. The woman in question is held up as an example of the ideal hostess, who serves as the public face of her household (and an extension of her husband), intent on impressing her guests with her good food and modern techniques. What this ad demonstrates is that it is not enough just to cook well, but to be on the cutting edge — modern sanitation and more importantly, modern appliances are necessary to fit this ideal of household ambassador. The consumer is left wondering what role she would play in this scenario, the cutting-edge, lauded hostess or the impressed (and probably behind-the-times) guest? If the latter, the solution is right at hand — Frigidaire appliances to bring her up to date!

Heinz Soup, Punch Magazine, November 23, 1949 (Flickr)

Heinz Soup, Punch Magazine, November 23, 1949 (Flickr)

Here we see another example of advertising pitting modern women versus the dreaded “old-fashioned” ways. Perhaps borrowing a page from Campbell’s playbook (Parkin in Kitchen Culture in America, p. 59) Heinz chose to subvert the notion that home cooking is a sign of love by pitting the laborious process of the (fantastical) from-scratch process to the modern, processed version that’s just as good. From a can is just as “rich-and-rare” and will earn the same smiles, and no camels need be involved. By making the kind of cooking that women likely grew up with seem both laborious and silly, Heinz attempted to pit “modern” women consumers against the past and by extension, their own mothers to sell them on the idea that can was best.

Folgers Instant commercial, c. 1950s (YouTube)

Folgers Instant commercial, c. 1950s (YouTube)

Of course, women had more to fear than just their friends and loved-ones judging and outperforming them. In this Folger’s ad from the 1950s, this housewife’s sub-par morning coffee is stacked up — and loses — to the “girls down at the office” who make better brews on their hot plates. Her failure to satisfactorily provide for her husband (and his refusal to reward her with physical affection after explicitly comparing her unfavorably to the unseen and therefore more ominous “girls” at his office) is a prime example of the message that the chief duty of food preparation is to provide for others, as “ads rarely portrayed women finding gratification in eating… just procuring the [correct] food was evidence of women’s love” (Parkin, Food is Love, p. 37). There is no evidence in this ad that the thought of how she likes her coffee has even crossed her mind, and it is only after she takes the advice of her wiser friend (and adequately demonstrates her love through the right product) that she is rewarded with the chaste kiss she was denied earlier.

Ivory Snow ad, c. 1950s (YouTube)

Ivory Snow ad, c. 1950s (YouTube)

Though the housewife of the Folger’s ad was happy to receive wise counsel from her friend, there’s little doubt that the average woman viewing the ad would wish to identify with the in-the-know friend and not the housewife with burnt coffee. Other ads also played with this theme of inter-neighborhood rivalry, but chose to feature the “in-the-know” woman as the center of the narrative. In an Ivory Snow ad from the same decade, we see the pretty blonde housewife first show off her treasured trousseau to her friends who are full of admiration, then later see her stop a friend from using generic detergent for a job that clearly calls for Ivory Snow!

Pan American Coffee Bureau, Life Magazine, August 6, 1945 (Google Books)

Pan American Coffee Bureau, Life Magazine, August 6, 1945 (Google Books)

Perhaps our protagonist is friends with the hard-working housewife from a Life magazine ad for the Pan-American Coffee Bureau, who knows that iced coffee is the secret to cool and collected summertime chores that eludes her disheveled neighbors. Again, the competent woman is front and center in the image and clearly dominating the narrative. Like the Ivory Snow ad, she not only knows what she’s doing but even enjoys her chores, helped along by the products that give her the edge over other women. The target consumer is meant to aspire to be that competent woman, to imagine herself the envy of the neighborhood housewives, and rather than having to discover the tools and techniques to assist her in this herself, the advertisements are selling her the products that will get her there in no time. They embody the ideal of seamless perfection, “offering a smooth surface of cleanliness and harmony that covered up any trace of flurry, mishap, or sweat” (Shapiro, Perfection Salad, p. 13), and through their modern techniques and polished demeanor thereby conquer the old and outdated.

By constantly weighing images of good, efficient, modern, and “together” women against images of outmoded, old-fashioned, uninformed women engaged in visible labor, advertising sought to create and exploit a fear in their target audience of falling into the latter category, and offering easy solutions to avoid these pitfalls. It was not enough to keep house, entertain, and provide love for your family, but it must look effortless and it must inspire envy in your peers or risk being the envying party. And just like sex has not stopped selling, this fear and competition narrative has not gone out of style either — although now with the wonders of computer editing, the women we’re competing against in advertising now? Ourselves, minus a Swiffer.

Swiffer WetJet commercial, 2013 (YouTube)

Swiffer WetJet commercial, 2013 (YouTube)

Bibliography

Parkin, Katherine, “Campbell’s Soup and the Long Shelf Life of Traditional Gender Roles.” In Kitchen Culture in America: Popular Representations of Food, Gender, and Race, edited by Sherrie A. Inness, 51-67. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.

Parkin, Katherine. Food is Love: Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.

Shapiro, Laura. Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1986.

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Undemocratic Desire: 21st Century Yogurt Commercials in the United States

In the last decade, yogurt commercials in the U.S. have been embedded with messages about gender, consumption, and love. Much like salad, chocolate, and low-fat cereal, the popular dairy product has been marketed specifically to women. According to Bell and Valentine, “… food has long ceased to be merely about sustenance and nutrition… Every mouthful, every meal, can tell us something about ourselves, and about our place in the world” (Bell and Valentine 3). I argue that yogurt commercials subliminally communicate messages used by advertisers nearly a century ago. These antiquated notions about women, food, and desire are perhaps most alarming because they have been skillfully hidden under the guise of contemporary female empowerment.

Looking first at this Yoplait advertisement from 2008, the scene indicates that eating yogurt is an acceptable form of consumption for females, in contrast to messages from decades past that “rarely portrayed women finding gratification in eating”(Parkin 37). However, this minor, 140 calorie-gain is inextricably intertwined with weight loss, thus undermining the notion that she is truly indulging. Furthermore, the fact that the befuddled husband cannot even see the yogurt intensifies the association between the product and women. How could a man be interested in something that is invisible to him? According to this advertisement, Yoplait is a woman’s secret.

Dannon Oikos took a slightly different approach in their marketing technique, by suggesting that yogurt is the manner in which women receive love and sexual gratification. According to Parkin, “…food advertisers created and reflected strong cultural associations between sex and food, including women’s use of it as an aphrodisiac”(Parkin 10) many years before Oikos conceived of their commercial. But the Greek yogurt company takes this association a step further by suggesting that not only can women substitute food for sex—they prefer it. The seductive John Stamos is promptly exchanged for a cup of Dannon Oikos, and with glee. Thus, the ad suggests a societal discomfort with female sexual desire, just as Yoplait depicted a disapproval of raw female hunger. Nineteenth century women would have considered “… any knowledge or display of appetite” to be “a sign of unbridled sexuality”(Inness 18). In this ad, I argue that her appetite is only acceptable because she rejects the sexual stimulus (Stamos), thus distinguishing her snack from sex.

In this 2012 Super Bowl commercial, the manner in which Oikos spokesperson, John Stamos, is head-butted indicates that the female has agency, but the reality is she has gravitated towards a product that he introduced to her. Thinking about the tactic from a meta-perspective, advertisements do much the same work, by introducing the product to consumers, but fooling them into thinking the purchase was their idea. There is also a common thread here with the Yoplait ad—yogurt is a woman’s territory, which she will defend when threatened. One must also consider the context of this commercial—the super bowl, an event in which men do the head butting. Therefore, Oikos advertisers are suggesting that when women are denied their yogurt, they are no longer properly feminine.

Dannon Light n’ Fit advertisers chose to draw attention to the fact that the American mother isn’t receiving the care and attention she deserves—and yogurt can fill that void. The Italian fairy yogurt-mother of sorts is flamboyant and comical enough that the ad seems self-aware of her silliness, and yet the viewer still receives the same take-home message: eating yogurt will make a woman more physically appealing (be it in the form of a haircut or otherwise), and without it she is a sub-par female.

Finally, much like Campbell’s soup commercials that “co-opted suffrage messages, diluting the power and significance of women’s political goals to further their own profit margin”(Parkin 69), Yoplait conflates their product with freedom. It is vital to note the specific comparisons the bridesmaids make to their low-calorie dairy cups. They are “not-catching-the-bouquet-good” and “burning-this-dress-good.” And yet, the pair simultaneously praise “cute” best men and wish for ushers who aren’t shorter than them. These may be single women, but they are still long for heteronormative interactions with stereotypically masculine men. Ironically, eating their yogurt with their feet on the table renders them immobile from actively pursuing their desires.

With these visual texts in mind, how can women in the United States move forward? According to Manton, “Together women must re-establish a more positive, constructive relationship with both food and their bodies, and an environment that makes positive constructive living possible”(Manton 7). It is not simply a matter of boycotting yogurt or confronting manipulative advertisers. American women must be able to discern, and believe, that yogurt cannot love them back, and furthermore that food is an inadequate and inappropriate substitute for the actual object(s) of their sexual or emotional longing.

Work Cited

Bell, David, and Gill Valentine. Consuming Geographies: We Are Where We Eat. New York: Routeledge, 1985.

Commercialsadverts. “Warm Coat—Dannon Light ‘n Fit TV Commercial Ad.” YouTube. YouTube, 18 Apr 2013. Web. 3 July 2013.

Inness, Sherrie. Kitchen Culture in America: Popular Representations of Food, Gender, and Race. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.

Manton, Catherine. Fed Up: Women and Food in America. Westport: Bergin &amp; Garvey, 1999.

OikosYogurt. “Oikos Greek Yogurt ‘Plane Kiss’ TV Commercial.”Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 9 Jan 2013. Web. 3 July 2013.

Palrip. “Andrea Rosen Yoplait Commercial.”Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 11 Jan 2008. Web. 3 July 2013.

Parkin, Katherine. Food is Love: Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.

Thecrazyitalian717. “Dannon Oikos Greek Yogurt Super Bowl 2012 Commercial!” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 10 Feb 2012. Web. 3 July 2013.

Xglp. “Leisha Hailey Yoplait Commercial.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 5 Nov 2008. Web. 3 July 2013.

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Get Some Nuts: How Snickers Bars are Marketed as ‘Man-Candy’

Over the course of the past century, women have been the primary target for all types of food advertising (Parkin 151). This is particularly evident when looking at candy advertising, which has attempted to appeal to a seemingly special, supposed ‘biologically predetermined’ relationship between women and chocolate (Inness 14) Despite the obvious weighting towards women in the candy market, however, there remains a specific place in candy advertising for men.

As noted by Jane Dusselier in “Candy and the Construction of Gender,” the 1920s saw advertisements directed at men begin ‘characterizing candy as a valuable fuel rather than a feminine indulgence’ (Inness, 15). While women’s candy was seen as a dainty, sensual treat, men’s candy was marketed as having more of a purpose to its consumption. This trend remains true in the new millennium, as exemplified in advertisements for Snickers bars.

According to parent brand Mars, Snickers bars ‘Curb your hunger before your hunger curbs you’. The product page of the Mars website shows a thick log of chocolate, ‘packed’ with almonds, caramel and nougat being gripped, vice-like, by a huge male fist. In order to distance itself from any sort of flippant feminine indulgence, Snickers is explicitly marketed by Mars as not a sweet treat, but a realistic antidote to hunger. The ‘You’re Not You When You’re Hungry’ series of advertisements attempts to cement Snickers as a source of sustenance and useful energy.

Snickers television commercial, 2011

The above television commercial features veteran actress Betty White playing football with a group of burly young men. Once she’s fed a Snickers bar by his girlfriend (who does not eat, but merely serves the candy), he transforms into a man again, capable of carrying out his duties – that is, playing dirty, masculine ball sports.

The link between Snickers and manliness is one that is continually spruiked by Mars’s advertisers. The commercial below is from the ‘Get Some Nuts’ series of advertisements featuring The A Team character Mr T.

Snickers television commercial, 2008

This particularly television commercial features a man in brief yellow shorts speedwalking down a suburban street. From atop a military vehicle, Mr T yells that the man is ‘a disgrace to the man race’ and shoots Snickers bar from a bazooka gun until he begins to ‘run like a real man’. The contrast between Mr T and the object of his temper is stark. Mr T is a large, black man with an authoritative voice and presence, while the speedwalker – that is, the one who needs to ‘Get Some Nuts’ – is slim, white and effeminate.

The contrast between Mr T and his presumably less-masculine counterpart was certainly not a coincidence. Such a comparison draws distinctions about what constitutes a ‘real man’, and what doesn’t. Ultimately, the advertisement was pulled by Mars after the Human Rights Campaign accused the band of perpetuating ‘the notion that the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community is a group of second class citizens and that violence against GLBT people is not only acceptable, but humorous’ (Sweeney). The fact that the speedwalker was seen to be effeminate was both a critique of his masculinity and sexuality.

Compare Snickers to a contemporary candy bar that’s marketed specifically to women, such as the Fling bar, also by Mars. The Fling bar, a ‘shimmering, indulgent…treat with under 85 calories per stick’, is marketed with the tagline ‘Naughty… but not that naughty’.

Fling Facebook post, 2009

Fling Facebook post, 2009

The name suggests an illicit affair, addressing but then disregarding feelings of remorse, claiming ‘you can indulge without feeling guilty’. In comparison, the Fling bar and the Snickers bar respectively exemplify the relationship women and men are supposed to have with chocolate. While men are encouraged to eat – ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry’ – and, indeed, they are shown ravenously taking open-mouthed bites of huge Snickers bars, self-denial and guilt are used as drawcards for candy marketed towards women.

As exhibited by the marketing of Snickers bars, ’men’s’ candy is about self-satisfaction with wild abandon, with no second thought to denial or restraint. For Snickers-eaters, chocolate is supposed to be about satiation – the satisfaction of hunger. A 2011 study by Anschutz et al found that men are less likely to be concerned about their snack food intake, and more likely than women to respond to exposure to food advertising (Anschutz et al, 256). This is potentially because food advertising that targets men doesn’t reference guilt, shame or indulgence the way ‘women’s’ candy does. For men, the devouring of chocolate is not about indulging in a wicked treat, one so illicit that it can be compared to an extra-marital affair. For advertisers targeting men, such as Mars Snickers bars, this perceived lack of restraint works in the brand’s favour.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Anschutz, Doeschka, Rutger, Engels, van der Zwaluw, Carmen, van Strien, Tatjana. Sex differences in young adults’ snack food intake after food commercial exposure, Appetite, 56 (2011) 255-260.

Dusselier, Jane. Bonbons, Lemon Drops, and Oh Henry! Bars: Candy, Consumer Culture, and the Construction of Gender, 1895 – 1920 (13-50), in Sherrie A. Inness (ed.) Kitchen Culture in America (2001) Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Parkin, Katherine J. Food is Love: Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America (2006) Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Sweeney, Mark. Mr T ad pulled for being offensive to gay people, The Guardian, 2008, web, July 1 2013.

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