Are We That Superficial? – Of Course We Are!
Women have been incensed and concerned for years about what the media – advertising in particular although the fashion industry doesn’t help – does to the self-image of young girls, instilling in them the belief that beauty and physical thinness are all-important. In the past few years, soap maker Dove has tried to counter this denigrating message to girls, and women in general, by showing ads that, while not glorifying “fatness”, err, the weight-challenged among us, at least tries to make people feel good about themselves no matter what their weight or lack of physical beauty.
All power to them; the campaign must be successful because it’s been going on for a few years now and seems to be expanding year after year with strong positive messages to kids, men and women alike.
You’d think that people would learn. But we’re talking about the advertising industry so, ha ha, don’t hold your breath.
One series of ads that has me pretty peeved showed up recently at the Super Bowl and has continued playing in different iterations on the Internet, popping up, for example, when I watch The Daily Show with John Stewart.
This one is not selling soap or shampoo but trucks. The 2015 Colorado Chevrolet truck, to be precise.
Now we know how macho the truck industry – GM, Ford, Chrysler, Honda – they’re all the same, likes to get when trying to sell their trucks. Trucks are a big seller in the States and you’ll often see these monsters in television ads traversing all kinds of difficult terrain and saving the day, of course. There’s usually this nasal, gravelly, country twanged voice-over telling you how powerful and strong these trucks are, intimating that you (most probably a male viewer) can be powerful and strong and masculine shelling out tens of thousands for one of these things, instead of continuing to use your loser 5-year-old truck which is still perfectly fine in hauling stuff from here to there.
OK, I can live with these ads (I will turn down the sound, however, because I can’t stand hearing this guy’s voice).
This new series of ads is offensive, however, in a new way. It not-so-subtly goes straight to that poor, weak and delicate thing, the male ego, and attempts to do a judo maneuver on it.
It starts with showing one of three or more groups entering a room to discuss something, either a bunch of kids, a group of women (older and younger) or a troupe of bearded, shaggy men. The voice-over & the wording on the screen insist that these are “real people, not actors”.
The group is then shown two photographs of the identical man, either standing in front of a giant gas-guzzling GM truck or a little compact car and are asked a question:
For the women: “Can a truck make you more handsome, more dependable, more rugged? We came here to find out.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJBRpylC9-Q
What do you think they said?
As I used to say as a kid, “Well, duhhh.”
So when the mature women, young women, men with beards and kids all denigrate the guy who’s standing in front of the compact, it naturally reinforces the idea that to be a ‘real man’ you should own a truck. I also find the man in front of the truck more handsome, so there. But more dependable? Are you kidding me?
The man with the compact helps his wife or girlfriend with the groceries instead of hanging out with his buddies at the bar after work.
How’s that for stereotypical thinking?
(Oh, I see where they’re going with this: the guy with the truck is more dependable when your house is on fire and he arrives in the nick of time to help you. The guy with the compact has trouble finding a screwdriver.)
Thanks to the fact that I possess a nice balance between male and female energy, I also don’t think that the guy in front of the compact is less “rugged” than the guy in front of the truck. To me, a guy who has to buy a truck, especially when he doesn’t really need one, is not only less rugged, he’s an immature kid looking for a means to “up” his masculine cred, making him ultimately less believable in the manly-man category. (More stereotypical thinking, I admit.)
I don’t know if this campaign is going to sell more trucks. I certainly hope not, but there’s no downplaying the superficial tendencies of the ego, be it male or female, when it comes to a self-image in need of a simplistic and, in this case, a fairly expensive makeover.