Stagnation and Expectation: Gender Roles in Advertisements

Chocolate advertisements have failed to capture modern gender roles and family structures, especially in the continued representation of stereotypical portrayals of females as mothers and housewives. Research has shown social roles inhabited by both men and women have changed significantly over the past decades, but the portrayal of these roles has not kept pace with the change (Infanger, et al., 219). By offering a close reading and critique of a modern-day Nutella commercial in comparison with a historical Rowntree Chocolates and Cocoa advertisement, I hope to illustrate the similarities between both representations of women. As will be evident, little has changed. Additionally, I will offer an alternative advertisement to challenge these stereotypes. In both the distant and recent past, food advertisements have relied on traditional representations of the female role as mother and housewife. However, I suggest advertisements reflecting more modern trends can fight these gender stereotypes and work to increase the acceptance of these new female roles in society.

This Rowntree ad conveys a clear message about the expectations of women.  In addition to taking care of the children, mothers were typically expected to make the purchasing decisions for the food products in the home.
This Rowntree ad conveys a clear message about the expectations of women. In addition to taking care of the children, mothers were typically expected to make the purchasing decisions for the food products in the home.

This Rowntree ad from the late 20th to early 21st century was part of a larger marketing movement geared towards the female housewife who was expected to provide quality products, such as chocolate, for her family (Robertson, 21). Specifically, Rowntree employed the “Special Mothers Campaign” of the 1930s to target this consumer group (Robertson, 21). Fast forward nearly one hundred years, and females are still being portrayed in communal roles and embody stereotypically feminine traits (Infanger et al., 219). Commercials such as the recent Nutella commercial (see below) attempt to persuade mothers to select certain products for the well-being and happiness of her children. By depicting a bustling morning routine with children running, calling “Mom!” and rushing to get dressed, most housewives could arguably relate to this scenario. The marketing strategy is clearly targeting mothers who feel time-pressed, but also want to provide a nutritional and tasty breakfast for their children.

Interestingly enough, marketing studies have shown that women are highly underrepresented in agentic role portrayals as well, such as that of the career woman (Infanger et al., 219). As expected, the mother in the Nutella ad appears in casual clothing, clearly not on her way to the office and likely staying at home to care for the children. The ad also presents persuasive indicators of health and nutrition to assure any critics that Nutella is a wholesome food. Thus, the “quality” ingredients of cocoa, skim milk, and hazelnuts are artfully portrayed along with the banner “no artificial ingredients or preservatives.”  Mentions of “multi-grain toast and whole wheat waffles” suggest this mother is health-conscious and would only serve her children the best and most nutritious foods. Additionally, fruit on the table and the lack of reference to the high concentration of sugar and unhealthy oil in Nutella suggest its suitability for children. This characterization of Nutella as a healthy breakfast option also parallels the goals of the 1930s Rowntree campaign, which emphasized the “wholesome” quality of chocolate (Robertson, 30). In both ads, the mother is expected to provide and serve breakfast, with no mention or representation of the fatherly figure at all. The child is being served and takes no part in the preparation process. Side by side, the depiction of the female role as the provider of food within the home is conceptually similar in both the Nutella and Rowntree ads. After presenting an understanding of the cultural similarities in representation between two chronologically different ads, I argue this is a clear example of how these stereotypical roles have become entrenched in history and pervasive in society.

Why are companies and brands so wary of changing the way women are represented?  Interesting examples of market research have demonstrated that although societal roles for women are changing, the reception of these new roles has yet to produce more positive results when perpetuated in advertisements (Infanger et al., 225). Products that depict women in communal roles as compared to agentic ones are still proving to be more favorable, at least according to one study conducted in 2012 in Europe (Infanger et al., 225). However, a few forward thinking and innovative campaigns have attempted to align themselves with more contemporary views of family structure and gender roles, perhaps to break the molds that have captured marketing strategies for years. For example, Always’ “Like a Girl” campaign brings female stereotypes into the open in an effort to shed light on how these representations fail to develop confidence in young girls. The Verizon campaign entitled, “Inspire Her Mind” also presents females in a new light, tinkering with power tools and interested in careers in science and engineering. Both of these contemporary campaigns suggest females can be capable of more than a typical “housewife and mother” role. I suggest these types of cultural initiatives could help drive social change rather than continue to force consumers to be passive consumers of cultural stereotypes.

My peers and I also developed a hypothetical advertisement that pushes back against the focus of the female as the sole provider of food within the home. We created an advertisement that highlighted the often-neglected father figure. Rather than being an absent breadwinner, the father dons an apron and engages the children in a hands-on domestic experience. Rather than using Mom’s convenience ingredient, Dad actually cooks. I suggest this ad, like the Dove and Verizon campaigns are models of what future successful marketing campaigns will look like. In an era in which every ounce of technology and print media is embedded with advertising initiatives, brands must be original in order to stand out. By pushing back against cultural norms and stereotypes, companies can create a more realistic portrait reflective of a contemporary evolving society.

This ad (created by my peers and I) is intended to challenge stereotypical representations of females as the sole meal providers.  The often neglected father is shown here taking an active role and engaging his children in the experience as well.
This ad (created by my peers and I) is intended to challenge stereotypical representations of females as the sole meal providers. The often neglected father is shown here taking an active role and engaging his children in the experience as well. Dad can indeed wear the pants, but the apron also fits!

Through my comparative analysis and critiques of these chocolate commercials, I have presented a specific example of a larger trend observed in advertising. Though marketing platforms have changed (e.g. social media, internet, search engine optimization), companies rarely present ideas that do not rely on already existing stereotypes. In the case of gender roles and food production, the woman is always responsible for putting meals on the table. However, by actually changing the content of the ads rather than just the delivery, companies can tap into a new movement that will make their product stand out against the landscape of stagnation as evidenced by the comparison of the Rowntree ad and the recent Nutella commercial. Ads such as the one created by my peers and I represent a new sector with which I suggest many consumers would relate and find refreshing and inspiring.

Bibliography

 Multimedia Sources

(1) Rowntree Cocoa Advertisement

[http://www.historyworld.co.uk/retroimage.php?opt=retro&pic=123]

(2) Nutella Commercial

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThIrw_LpuRA]

(3) Always’ “Like a Girl” Campaign Video

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjJQBjWYDTs]

(4) Verizon “Inspire Her Mind” Video

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XP3cyRRAfX0]

(5) Stock photo for peer-generated advertisement:

[http://fatherhood.about.com/od/activities/a/weekend_bkfst.htm]

Scholarly Sources

Robertson, Emma. 2009. Chocolate, women and empire: a social and cultural history. Manchester University Press: Manchester; New York.

Infanger, Martina; Janine Bosak; and Sabine Sczesny. 2012. “Communality sells: The impact of perceivers’ sexism on the evaluation of women’s portral in advertisements.” European Jouranl of Social Psychology. 42, 219-226. url: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/doi/10.1002/ejsp.868/epdf

Infanger, Martina; Janine Bosak; and Sabine Sczesny. 2012. “Communality sells: The impact of perceivers’ sexism on the evaluation of women’s portral in advertisements.” European Jouranl of Social Psychology. 42, 219-226. url: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/doi/10.1002/ejsp.868/epdf

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