Advertising, at its heart, is a sneaky beast, meant to trick us into wanting things we don’t need. I know this. At the same time, I’m a sucker for 30 seconds of emotional pandering full of inspirational human beings, so I don’t normally mind watching commercials during the Olympics. In fact, I sort of live for some of them. Give me a well-crafted spot from Visa or Coke with a good soundtrack (Sia! Ray Charles!) and that ever-reassuring voice of Morgan Freeman (never die!), and I am a weepy but happy mess.
Due to the timing of the Summer Olympics, however, here in the US we have also been inundated with a lot of back-to-school commercials mixed in with the heart-wrenching sports stories. And these are the worst. Because 1) Who wants to think about going back to school? (Okay. I was a nerd. I was always excited about it. But still.) and 2) Apparently, when it comes to addressing children, advertising is still stuck in the idea that boys like blue and girls like pink and that’s all you need to know.
Here are a few ads I’ve seen that top my Really Annoying list for the season. Due to advertising varying in different geographic regions, you might not have seen them, and unfortunately some are difficult to find online. So I will paint you a short, approximate picture of each one.
The scene: Late-elementary-ish aged girl stands in the middle of a school hallway. All the boys stand in a row and shove pens at her face. Because this is what all the kids do these days, right? Pens as a sign of affection? Alas, she is indifferent to their efforts, because they are offering plain ol’ black and blue ones. (What are you thinking, boys? Foolish!) Until — hallelujah! — an adult standing off screen comes to her rescue and bestows on her the pen that is made for her! It is pink! The girl looks up with a look of joy and relief! Finally, somebody understands her needs!
The idea of there being a pen made specifically for women is so ridiculously needless that it’s truly laughable. But beyond a laugh, its pure stupidity makes me mad, too. Look, I like an odd-colored pen every now and then. They can be fun. There’s nothing wrong with a pink pen. It’s the marketing of the pink pen to girls — to the point of putting “FOR HER” on the label — that’s offensive. A pen isn’t a tampon, people. It’s not for exclusive female usage. It’s a PEN.
Even beyond the factor of shaming girls who may happen to hate the color pink, what’s most upsetting to me is thinking of the young boys who may in fact love pink, and who may want a pink pen. And who may, when they go to pick up the package in their local Walgreens that says FOR HER on it, believe there’s something wrong with them for wanting those pens, and decide they can’t buy them. I also think of the kids who may not know exactly if they’re a boy OR a girl, but who certainly don’t need their pen color preference to decide that for them.
The scene: A mom stands with a shoebox in her hands. Her daughter is just going to love what she bought for her! She brings the box into a room that is dazzlingly pink. Pink covers every square inch of the place. Her daughter opens the box to reveal a glittering, pink, pink, pink sneaker! Girl squeals! Mom wears smug grin, says, “Nailed it!”
This one is not as bad as Bic for Her. Again, there is nothing wrong with a pink sneaker. There is nothing wrong with liking pink. But when I see a commercial like this, I just feel tired and bored and want to sigh, “Really?” I hear that you advertising people make good money. Can you really think of nothing better than this? Or how about, if you want to market a good pink shoe, why don’t you put it on the feet of a girl as she runs in a soccer tournament? Or as she’s about to kick ass in a debate meet? Or anything that gives her a little more depth than sitting on her bed and screaming? Or, why don’t you put it on the foot of a boy? That’s a good shoe! I know some boys who would want it! Just a suggestion, Famous Footwear, just a suggestion.
These are just the current ads at the top of my list, but I’ve learned a bunch of other things while watching the Olympics. For instance, moms are the only ones who apparently do back-to-school shopping for their kids. Moms are also still the only ones who prepare any meal ever, shaking their heads at their foolish husband and/or children. Did you know that choosy moms STILL choose Jiff, and make peanut butter toast for their husbands when they’re 80? Now I do! Also, did you know that every single schoolteacher is a woman? The only commercial I saw with a male teacher was a kooky one from Target. Actually, hats off to Target overall, since their other commercial, showing students from a variety of backgrounds finding out they were accepted to college, is one of the best ads I’ve ever seen. It’s empowering to everyone involved. See? You can do it right.
So my question is, why are so many companies still doing it wrong? It may just be that, due to the glory of the DVR and the convenience of limited-commercial online viewings, I never normally watch as many commercials as I have over the last two weeks, so I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed with it all. But I keep wanting to say, “Really? Wait, this commercial was made this year, right? They know it’s 2012?”
Is it just me? What other commercials have irked you during this otherwise fabulous time for TV?