Butt of the Joke or Belle of the Ball: Mature Women in Advertising

Since 2012, Snickers has waged their “You’re not you when you’re hungry” ad campaign. This campaign positions Snickers as a solution to hunger and it’s personality altering effects. In Snickers’ 2010 Super Bowl Ad, we see a group of 20-something men playing tackle football- with Betty White. After one man tackles her and she falls into the mud, they huddle and one man says, “Mike, you’re acting like Betty White.” One snickers bar later, and Betty White transforms into a young man. Another player then morphs into an elderly man.

Snickers Betty White Commercial- Mars- 2012

This ad uses age as it positions Snickers for a distinction purpose of consumption. As Emily Robertson describes in “Women, Chocolate and Empire,”  “Advertising has created- and enforced- particular uses and identities for each type of product: so, whilst a chocolate bar may be consumed as a source of concentrated energy… a box of chocolates may be bought as a gift” (19). Snickers depiction in this ad fits neatly into the first category. Mike eats the candy bar analagously to how he would eat a power bar. In turn, the chocolate offers the transformative effect as Mike goes from something you don’t want  to be: old, frail, unfit to a societal ideal: young, tough and fit.

While the trope of the weak elderly citizen often serves as the butt of jokes, we question if this is the only depiction of age that depicts Snickers as a satisfying, wholesome supplement to an active lifestyle. Drawing on alternative descriptions of the elderly as wise, capable and skilled, we constructed an ad where the grandmother figure excels due to her age, experience, and Snickers. Instead of the one-time effects of Snickers, our hero has relied on the candy for many years to develop her competitive position.

Original drawing- 2015
Original drawing- 2015

Although poking fun at the elderly seems like an attractive way to woo millenials, people of a certain age are increasingly being seen in the spotlight. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg of the supreme court has spawned a popular following as the “Notorious R.B.G”, a play on a popular rapper from the 1990’s. Meanwhile, high-fashion ad campaigns have embraced older popular figures: 80-year old author Joan Didion became the face of Céline, while Saint Laurent featured 71-year old singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell.

The increase in diversity and representation of the elderly largely owes to their increasing economic power as consumers. According to AdWeek, “the average wealth of households including people over the age of 50 is $765,000, baby boomers reign supreme, controlling more than 80 percent of all financial assets and accounting for 60 percent of consumer spending.” As any marginalized group gains power, the benefits of advertising to them grow and the costs of alienating them increase.

Joan Didion in an ad for Céline, a high-end fashion brand
Photo by Juergen Teller of Joan Didion in an ad for Céline, a high-end fashion brand

Even in light of the economic situation of baby boomers, the allure of these older women stems, in large part, from their accomplishments. In a departure from normal advertising, these women are not chosen for their youthful “fresh faces” (they are also likely not the most attractive older women out their). Instead, the history of their work creates their image. To those in the know, the face of Joni Mitchell cannot be removed from her music. Joan Didion’s Céline images play off the history of her memoirs in which style and life cannot be extricated.

Although Snickers Super Bowl ad makes a jab at Betty White due to her age, it also benefits from White’s considerable experience and personality. Were she a non-celebrity, the ad would not be funny, only cruel. Even as Snickers uses a familiar, derogatory trope it still relies on the considerable persona of its protagonist- a persona that only comes with age.

Works Cited

Bazilian, Emma. “Why Older Women Are the New It-Girls of Fashion.” AdWeek. N.p., 06 Apr. 2015. Web. 09 Apr. 2015.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.

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