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 & 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.

3 thoughts on “Undemocratic Desire: 21st Century Yogurt Commercials in the United States

  1. Pingback: Food Advertising is Gender Biased… Need Proof? | Food for Thought

  2. Hello! I am a journalism student at Mizzou writing an article on the gendering of food. I especially want to include some background information on the gendering of yogurt as a female food and would love to include your insight. Would you be willing to speak with me briefly about your findings in this article?

    • Hi Kelsie, Thanks for reading the post–I’m glad that you found it helpful. The student who wrote that post graduate in 2014; so, unfortunately, i’s unlikely that you will be able to speak with her directly. I’ll send you an email off-line and perhaps I may be of help.

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