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.

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.