So why does the advertising industry insist on telling us it doesn’t or try to convince us that we don’t even s***? We are tired of ad allusions to topiary, monthly gifts, and various other bodily function euphemisms aimed at 10-year-olds. Grow up Madison Ae. We have.
If you’re a woman looking to buy a razor, a tampon, or a new form of birth control, you too might be bombarded by campy, over-the-top metaphors for your own body. One cannot view a single Tampax commercial without encountering the fairy-godmother-inspired Mother Nature. She usually appears in a green tweed suit and presents a young and hip female with a red present – a visual euphemism for her period. Mother Nature eerily stalks these young girls on vacations and romantic dates, hiding behind trees and buildings before confronting them with their “monthly gift.”
Schick uses a similar technique when selling their Quattro Trimstyle Razor & Bikini Trimmer. The American commercial depicts stylish women in bikini bottoms and dresses walking by various “bushes” that magically shrink in size as the women walk by. The result is an array of trim and aesthetically pleasing bushes that appear in all shapes and sizes. Yeah.
A British commercial for the same product features an elaborate garden musical number in which ecstatic women mow lawns, trim unruly plants, and shape bushes with large shears. One woman even clutches a hairless cat to her chest, stroking the animal affectionately as she smiles into the camera.
Advertisements for the NuvaRing open with a synchronized swimming routine. Twenty-eight women in old-fashioned hats and conservative one-pieces perform on aquatic ballet with days of the week emblazoned on their abdomens. A very bold “Monday” groans with boredom before “breaking from the pack,” leaving the pool, and sauntering over to a jacuzzi. She rips her day of the week from her torso turning her one-piece swimsuit into a yellow bikini. She eventually joins the other contemporary women in the jacuzzi, where they delight in one another’s modernity.
These patent metaphors for the female anatomy and its functions, although humorous, seem too kitschy for the products they are intended to sell. Advertising as an artful seduction of the mind and eyes, as an intrigue, is rapidly deteriorating into farcical, near waggishly stupid attempts at attracting and retaining attention. Most ads geared towards women reflect this trend; the featured women are whimsical to the point of mindlessness, entranced by the bouncing of their own hair or the softness of their own skin. Yet, considering that most bachelor and graduate degrees are now obtained by women (58%), and that women make up about half the workforce (46%), I often wonder, to whom are they advertising?
At present in the United States, female consumers buy, or influence the buying of, 80% of all products, making women the primary target for the sale of automobiles, hygiene products, and home improvement items. Many companies therefore endeavor to successfully sell products to women, experimenting with different approaches and techniques to make lasting impressions on female audiences. And since the onset of the recession, many large companies, such as McDonalds and Citibank, have taken the upset to their sales as an opportunity to refocus on women.
Marti Barletta, author of Marketing to Women asserts that in the long run, women are better customers than men. She states that women’s loyalty to the products they enjoy is stronger than that of men, as is their tendency to discuss products that they prefer with others.
David Ogilvy, notorious advertising mogul and shaper of commercial creativity since the 1920s, was reported as saying, “The consumer is not an idiot. She is your wife.” Such logic seems startlingly absent in this recent parade of overly precious puns and suggestive winks and nods. If I’m a high-powered executive with a Masters degree, am I going to be sold on a shrinking bush as a metaphor for my own lady parts? Or a bunch of singing swimmers as indication that my birth control pack is outdated? Are these products selling?
Apparently so. Tampax is the largest seller of tampons in the world, with 44% of the market share. Since NuvaRing first appeared on the market in 2001, this new form of birth control has secured distribution in over 32 countries and is currently being used by more than 1.5 million women all over the world. Schick is one of the top-selling razor brands in North America and Australia, second only to Gillette.
Some commercials that target men similarly employ ridiculous metaphors intended to resonate with his desire to appear overwhelmingly sexy and irresistible to women. Perhaps the best example would be the notorious AXE commercials, which consistently depict women turning feral upon smelling AXE products. These savage women claw at the featured male with animalistic desire, resulting in his obvious pleasure and a trite gimmick of a commercial. Although these types of commercials rely on similar devices to make a product appealing to men, it is important to note that the age demographic is tight and relatively young: 16 to 24. (In contrast, the Tampax, Schick, and NuvaRing commercials target the broader 16-to-34 demographic.) The featured male in these commercials is always sporting the latest “dude-bro” attire of board shorts and a t-shirt, and he has a slightly affected way of speaking. Clearly, a man in his early to mid-fifties (with the exception of one in the midst of a mid-life crisis, perhaps) is not expected to buy AXE. The intended consumer is his college-bound son.
Men’s commercials that target a slightly older demographic use a more sophisticated tone, appealing to the suave man, the sexy lady killer who, we can assume, would have no interest in feral women. The women in these ads are always quiet and reserved, sipping cocktails and eyeing a man flirtatiously from across the mahogany bar. They are all body language, but nevertheless modest as they take his hand at the end of the commercial, mirroring his poise with a satisfied smile.
In visiting the other half of the Gillette website, there are sleek Adonises who appear shirtless, yet incredibly business-like in manner. They touch their freshly shaved faces, pleased with the results, but their self-satisfaction hardly reaches the delirious heights so frequently depicted in the women’s commercials. They are composed and are thus marketing to the composed, collected man.
Another noteworthy difference is the lack of metaphor in men’s ads. The male advertisements are more direct, showing the product and its function. Some female razor commercials are as bold as to depict an actual razor running along a woman’s leg, but as products become more intimate, metaphors for function and body parts become startlingly more common, and annoying.
Even in male-orientated commercials that deal with more intimate subjects, metaphors are absent. A memorable Viagra commercial, for instance, displays the ever-happy Bob. The audience is asked the question, “Why is Bob smiling?” With his coffee mug in hand, we learn that Bob is happy because he uses Viagra. Yet there are no conveniently placed bananas or other metaphoric phalluses that mimic the effects of this product. Bob is simply happy, and the camp ends there.
Although I am not the only woman to have noticed these trends, or to have been bothered by them, most women seem to be resigned to these modes of advertisement rather than resentful of them. When remarking on these obvious differences between commercials to other women, I notice a momentary second of interest, usually followed by dismissive nods.
“Well, what am I supposed to do?” one woman asked. “Boycott tampons because some old CEO guy thinks that I’m stupid enough to fall for all this pink and pony-tail swinging? They’re kind of necessities. I don’t care how they are marketed. At the end of the day, these are products I need.”
In cornering the market on products like birth control, razors, and tampons, high demand results from everyday use and necessity. Although this does not explain why Tampax sells more than Always, or Gillette more than Schick, I suppose there are no “poor-selling” brands of tampons or birth control, just variations in sales. And given that these are necessities, or at least deemed necessities by many women, I guess it doesn’t really matter how absurdly they are advertised. We’re not really listening.