The messages inherent in the ads that speak to women have changed over the years. While we do still have plenty of housewifely cleaning product ads, recent years have seen more modern interpretations of the female experience. Some have been spectacular, but others could use some help.
Let's start with Verizon's current "Rule the Air" ad:
What bothers me about this ad is the overall impression that Verizon is trying to ride the Third-Wave Feminist train to Shangri-La. Every young female in this ad is picture-perfect, and all but one has long dark hair. These girls all look the same, and they're from/in wealthy environments with the world at their feet. Platitudes abound, and the weight of thousands of years of Western culture is absent. The only two females of color are the ones who speak about "prejudice" and whether or not she is "white," and that bothers me.
Classism is ignored for sexism, and in this world simply having an above-average IQ and a Verizon cell will allow you to shirk the bonds of femininity. As an anthropologist friend of mine said, "The air is free as long as you can pay for it." Verizon's motto here, "Rule the Air", is, more accurately in my mind, "Rule, my ass."
Compare the Verizon ad above to this classic Nike advertisement from the mid-'90s:
This ad has quite a bit to say, and it effectively says it. Girls are important, and girls sports are important -- just as important as boys and boys sports. At a time when challenges to, and increased enforcement of, Title IX (regarding unsubstantial or nonexistent female sports programs) were both vying for the soul of the nation, this ad was instrumental in changing public sentiment. Even if you didn't buy these shoes, the message stayed with you and helped change our culture. While a friend of mine has argued that Nike has since lost whatever soul it once had, this video was, in its time, a paragon of social conscience.
In the next post we move from substantive social commentary in media marketing to the programming of impossible beauty ideals.