In the 2010 Super Bowl, Mars Chocolate Company released a Snickers advertisement depicting Betty White, an elderly celebrity, playing football with a group of young men.
The reception for this ad was overwhelmingly positive and played a major role in the launch of Snickers’ “You Are Not You When You are Hungry” ad campaign. Close observation a commercial advertisement that was recently released as a part of this campaign reveals that Mars uses ads to highlight their chocolate as the ideal impulse purchase item for hungry individuals. However, this analysis also reveals that, in order to portray a Snickers bar as a quick and easy solution to problems that arise when one is hungry, Mars company often creates ads that perpetuate stereotypical gender norms. Because many of their ads involve a rectifying the ways in which men and women express emotion, Mars Company sends out a message that individuals must conform to what Ekman and Freisen (1969) call “display rules”, or socialized and gendered rules on the way that men and women should display emotion.
Following the launch of its “You Are Not You When You Are Hungry Campaign”, Mars released numerous commercial advertisements. For instance, in the 2015 Super Bowl, Snickers released the following ad.
One can see that within this commercial Mars attempts to depict Snickers bars as a quick and easy solution to the emotional outbursts that occur when a person is hungry in order to portray the good as a great impulsive buy. In this ad, Marsha (played by Danny Teljo) is clearly having an emotional outburst over her appearance until her parents fix the situation by offering her a Snickers bar. At first, this commercial seems harmless and funny. However, closer analysis reveals that, in their attempt to make Snickers seem more appealing and useful, Mars falls short by playing into the gendered stereotypes on the way that men and women should express emotion. By making Danny Teljo, a large masculine actor, have a near-violent temper tantrum on screen as he acts as an overly dramatic teenage girl, Mars highlights a gendered stereotype that men are much more belligerent than women. This stereotype in amplified after Teljo eats the Snickers and turns into the sweet and docile Marsha. Through this commercial, Mars attempts to humorously illustrate what happens when a man attempts to express a young teenage girl’s frustrations: mayhem and violence (in the form of an ax being thrown into a table) ensues. In addition, by adding the tag line “you are not you when you are hungry”, the makers of this ad further restrict male and female forms of emotive expression by prescribing a judgment on which form of self-expression is “normal” or most appropriate for a woman.
It is also very important to notice how the ending of the ad also serves to perpetuate these gendered emotional “display rules”. At the end of the ad, Jan (played by Steve Buschemi) runs off upset because the lack of attention that she receives from her parents. One cannot help but notice that there is a significant difference in the way that Jan expresses her frustrations in comparison to Marsha-most notably the lack of violence or physical aggression. The fact that no one in the Brady family interpreted this form of emotional expression as abnormal for a woman could also serve as a perpetuation of socially acceptable gendered emotional displays. Perhaps if Jan had also started throwing things aggressively, the characters in the ad would have offered her a Snickers bar as well.
According too Coltrane and Messineo in “The Perpetuation of Subtle Prejudice: Race and Gender Imagery in 1990s Television Advertising”, media ads often “provide a diffuse confirmation of one’s world view” and “promote acceptance of current social arrangements” (364). Based on the overwhelming praise that this commercial received, one can see that this statement seems to be strongly supported. Therefore, in order to combat the perpetuation of gendered norms witnessed within this Snickers ad, I would create an ad that challenges the very gendered restrictions on emotional expression that the original ad highlights.
For example, in the above ad, one can see that (the late) Joan Rivers would be casted due to her reputation for being extremely dramatic and over-the-top. However, by failing to change her appearance into a male character (as seen in many Snickers commercials), I believe that this ad would challenge the notion that men and women must express emotions according to their gender. At the beginning of the ad, Joan’s friends note that she is behaving dramatically and offer her a Snickers to remedy the situation. However, the fact that her emotive response is still dramatic in spite of the fact that she is a male after eating the Snickers challenges the idea that men and women must relegate their emotional responses to certain rules based on gendered norms. In addition, I believe that the bewilderment of the male friends would help highlight the ridiculous fact that they were even expecting some sort of change in behavior simply because their friend was now male.
All in all, it seems that Mars falls a bit short in its attempt to make its product more appealing by playing into gender norms on emotional responses for men and women. I truly believe that through an ad that satirizes this tendency, more awareness to the prevalence of this issue in our society could be cultivated and could bring out the changes needed to eradicate some of these beliefs.
Coltrane, S., & Messineo, M. (2000). The perpetuation of subtle prejudice: Race and gender imagery in 1990s television advertising. Sex roles, 42(5-6), 363-389.
Ekman, P., Sorenson, E. R., & Friesen, W. V. (1969). Pan-cultural elements in facial displays of emotion. Science, 164(3875), 86-88.
Brady Bunch ad: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqbomTIWCZ8
Betty White ad: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60c9Rc0pw2c
Praise for Brady Bunch ad: http://www.billboard.com/articles/events/super-bowl-2015/6458193/super-bowl-2015-best-worst-commercials