“I Need All the Help I Can Get!”: Gender Roles, Guilt, and Modern Advertising

Since they first began airing on televisions, advertisements selling consumer products—such as children’s toys or breakfast and lunch supplements—typically portray strict gender roles.

As seen in this 1970’s Jif commercial, mothers have historically been presented as responsible for domestic tasks and their quality while fathers are rarely shown in a similar light. In Ads Fads and Consumer Culture author Berger claims that advertisements often command an instructive role in the lives of consumers, teaching broad groups of people specific behaviors and norms (Berger 15). The gender roles portrayed in advertising, then, can become embedded in everyday interactions and have very tangible effects on the culture of a given society. More specifically, advertisements of breakfast foods often imply that mothers are responsible for providing the best possible lifestyles for their children. Such advertisements target mothers who may not be able to spend such effort and attention on their children and attempt to guilt them into buying the product. While universal expectations for motherhood are wavering today more than ever, these advertisements continue to be produced—ultimately reinforcing archaic and artificial gender roles.  

This is an advertisement for Nutella that aired sometime in the last few year. The commercial shows a mother preparing breakfast for her three children during their morning rush. The kids are chaotic in their preparation for the day and calling for their mother. One could argue that at least one of the kids is old enough to help her mother make breakfast, yet no assistance is offered. The mother’s casual dress suggests that it is unlikely that she works outside of the home and there is no mention of a partner in the ad, underscoring the likelihood that she is supposed to depict a stay-at-home mom rather than a single or working mother. Early in the video, she states, “In the morning, I need all the help I can get!”, suggesting that the care she is able to provide for her children is inadequate, but that products like Nutella can assist her. Additionally, it indicates that “morning” childcare responsibilities are held only by her, as she speaks in general terms about her continuous need for help. Later, the mother claims that Nutella allows her to finally give her children what they “want to eat,” further implying she is otherwise incapable of doing so. She recommends putting Nutella on “multi-grain toast and even whole-grain waffles”, labeling Nutella as a healthy food item by associating it with healthy breakfast products.

Overall, the commercial gives the impression that this mother doesn’t just want to give Nutella to her children but that she needs to in order to provide the best available option and therefore uphold her domestic responsibilities. In Food is Love: Food Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America, author Parkin writes that the portrayal of mothers and food in advertising is embedded in narrow conceptions of motherhood (Parkin 1). Parkin describes the processes of commodification and commercialization, explaining that producers began to market their products by depicting strictly divided gender roles—despite evidence that men frequently shared domestic burdens with their wives (Parkin 7).  By carefully placing the mother as the caregiver responsible for household tasks, this advertisement aims to use guilt as a mechanism to persuade women to buy Nutella. A woman who views this commercial might be led to feelings of inadequacy in her devotion to her children and may buy Nutella in order to make up for her flaws, as the main character of the commercial does.

Parodying a Nutella Commercial

We have created an advertisement that is meant to be a reversal of typical gender-roles found in advertising. Our advertisement shows a father making breakfast with his two children, implying that men are also responsible for domestic tasks. The father is alone, allowing the viewer to freely imagine that he is a single father, or that his partner is at work, still asleep, or otherwise engaged with tasks outside of childcare. The father is wearing an apron, a garment normally associated with cooking and domesticity. He does not rely on Nutella for “help,” and instead seems to be calmly making a healthy meal for his children. Furthermore, the father is speaking directly with the children, encouraging their participation in breakfast making. The caption explains that fathers can also create a delicious breakfast and that they don’t need Nutella, highlighting the sexism present in the original ad.

Works Cited

Berger, Arthur Asa. Ads, Fads, and Consumer Culture: Advertising’s Impact on American Character and Society. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Pub., 2004. Print.

Parkin, Katherine J. Food Is Love: Food Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006. Print.


Multimedia Cited

Old Jif Commercial – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LOT78zhA5w

Nutella Commercial – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThIrw_LpuRA

Our Ad – https://chocolateclass.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/blog-3-ad1.jpg

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