Below is a remarkable commercial in which a white woman is told that if she buys Pampers, the company will donate vaccines to children in other countries. Thanks to Kenjus W. for the submission.
It is an example of “activism by purchase,” which we have discussed at length on this blog. Apparently Pampers will only help keep babies alive if you buy their product. How nice of them.
It’s also a fascinating example of the way in which white Westerners are seen as rescuing the rest of the world. This white mother with her white baby represent the West (erasing the diversity of people who live there). And she and her baby are counterposed to all the other mothers and their babies representing different racial groups (which are assumed to be coherent categories, even continents).
In the narrative of this commercial, all women are bonded by virtue of being natural nurturers of babies (and I could take issue with that, too), but the white Western woman is the ultra-mother. They may be sisters, but there are big and little sisters in this narrative. The babies run to her as if drawn to her ultra-motherhood and she treats them all, just for a moment, as if they were her very own.
Pampers wants you to think, of course, that when you buy a pack of Pampers, you are “helping” Other mothers and can save those Other babies.
This is just another manfestation of an old colonial belief, the white man’s burden, or the belief that white men had to take care of the rest of the world’s people because they were incapable of taking care of themselves.
Great find, Kenjus!
This post originally appeared in 2008.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
73man — July 11, 2008
How about this: http://www.volvic1for10.co.uk/
Dangger — July 11, 2008
Its really absurd the way they depict people from other places, specially when pampers is probably sold in all of those countries.
bobbem — July 11, 2008
Wow! I'm not sure what's worse about this ad: the determinist portrayal of mothering (notice, no fathers are present) or the ethnocentric picture of social relations.
And is that Salma Hayek doing the narration? For some reason, I've always thought of her as more sensitive to the complexity of gender and ethnic relations than your average actors and producers, but I guess I was wrong.
Tamara — July 11, 2008
I told my husband how horrible this commercial is, but he came in at the end of it. Yes, no fathers apparent, the white woman to the rescue, the "foreign" babies hugging her while their mothers looked on gratefully, gah!
Thank you for posting this; I love this site.
Anonymous — July 11, 2008
I was also impressed with the way that the not-white mothers and babies were Othered. "Traditional" clothing for everyone! That way, we can tell where these poor, helpless brown children are from. Sure, the point is to emphasize the diversity of the children that will be helped by this campaign, but damn. Now they're not just diverse, but also "traditional" and markedly different. (For further contrast with the helped mothers and babies, the couple of extras shown at the beginning of the ad are also white.)
The second thing that popped into my head is how we're supposed to deal with the contrast between the good and bad of the product -- buying Pampers means some poor brown child will get vaccinated, but, for example, what about the landfill waste created by the diapers themselves? Or the conditions under which they are made? What effect does it have on these children's health?
Louisa — July 13, 2008
Did they really just show the Asian woman with a STRAW HAT. Embarrassing.
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Heather — April 7, 2009
Yes. The racist overtones of this particular ad drive me crazy.
Another thing that's always bugged me about those ads is this: it would be better for the environment to just buy cloth diapers once, and wash them. And just think of all the money you could donate to direct care programs like Doctors Without Borders if you weren't buying disposable diapers.
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Cherie — August 2, 2009
Did I read the fine print in the commercial correctly? Is Procter & Gamble only donating five cents ($.05 USD) per purchase? Wow. They probably spent more on the media campaign than on the actual donations towards the vaccines.
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Katsuryi — December 1, 2009
Just so you guys know, they have a similar commercial from Pampers here in China, but it has a (most likely) Han Chinese Child and talks about helping poor Chinese kids. (No other nations/groups are mentioned)
Ki — March 30, 2010
The first time I saw this commercial, I couldn't get over how cute all the babies were, haha.
I'm curious, though. What would a less ethnocentric/sexist commercial look like? Would there be fathers included as well? Wouldn't it be worse if instead of traditional clothes, they were all wearing jeans? Maybe the parents of the children in other countries would be giving something back, so it was less patronizing? I'm not sure.
While I definitely see where everyone is coming from with this, I can't help but wonder if there's a "right" way to portray such a situation.
Because the vaccines are helping people. (Let's not get into the fact that colonialism created/contributed to so much of that poverty and spread of disease in the first place...) So I think there is at least some effort here. How would you make the commercial "better"?
Lindy — March 7, 2011
OMG I practice what is known as "attachment parenting" and this is just an insanely irritating commercial!!! Let's see beyond the overt racism, I love that the "civilized" and "independent" white/Western baby doesn't need to be held, unlike the "ethnic" and "needy" babies whose poor mothers can't afford strollers to distance them from their child. (I wear my baby much like the African mother shown in the beginning- I have a stroller and have never used it!) Also if we are so concerned about others, what about pollution from disposable diapers? Maybe those other babies would be even healthier if they had clean water instead of toxic waste from all the chemical additives used in the manufacturing of Pampers. Why can't we Westerners cloth diaper or heaven forbid NOT diaper our babies at all? (Many non-West babies never have diapers and instead their mothers use a practice known as elimination communication where just as one senses when a child is hungry, so too do you sense when they need to go the bathroom and they hold them over the toilet.) Oh and don't even get me started on the issue of vacines!!! I know how about we encourage more breastfeeding worldwide to naturally boost immunity instead of glamourizing Western commercialized baby products like formula and disposable diapers (which came about around the same time)??? Ugh!
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Andrew — June 13, 2014
One of the strangest things about the ad (among many), is that the supposed families in need all consist of mothers in impeccably tailored traditional costumes (these aren't cheap anywhere!) and perfectly-scrubbed model babies. These don't look to me like families that can't afford vaccines (or diapers, for that matter), but we're asked to understand that they're poor purely on the basis of being nonwhite and having clothes that aren't from Macy's.
For parents who actually want to donate to UNICEF or other charities, here's an idea: ignore this commercial, switch to cloth diapers, and send some of the cash that you saved to the charity. It will be a lot more than $0.05
Bill R — June 14, 2014
The commercial and music were a little annoying but I don't read into this all the negative connotations thrown at it.
Seems to me UNICEF and Proctor and Gamble teamed up to collect some money for the poor and they pulled on the heartstrings of relatively wealthy mothers to do so. So what?
mograph — June 23, 2014
The comments below are all interesting, and I mean that in a good way. They made me think.
I'm trying to imagine the meetings that led to this spot, and what the core message is that led to everything else (the models, costumes, props, shots). I think that the core message was "we must combine positive corporate action with increased sales." This, to me, is why the thing was doomed from the start: the positive action (vaccines) is necessary and life-giving, while buying pampers is optional. Third-world survival is equated with first-world privilege.
Now, if P&G wanted to really do good, their policy would be to donate to the cause (do the positive corporate action) without having it attached to sales at all. "Because we feel this is important, we are doing this." … no diaper shots, no well-off urban Mom … just show the mothers and children in need and end with a small pampers logo. (But there would have to be some careful direction to help viewers realize it's a Pampers spot and not another children's charity spot.)
"Pay it forward," in other words. I'd bet it would help sales, too, but P&G needs to take that risk.
Kit Kimberly — June 23, 2014
And of course, the single largest non-decomposable waste product in land fills is disposable diapers.
That's certainly a bonus for the developing world /s.
dbrent47 — June 23, 2014
This wonderful discussion validated yet again why we must not only bring every American troop home from abroad Now, but why we must also keep all our so-called "good works" out of the rest of the world until our own issues are resolved. None of our deeds goes uncriticized, picked apart,or just plain hated. We must stay out of their historical dialectic from this point forward.
We have done enough destabilizing damage in 200 years.
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MyselfandI — July 23, 2014
Do we not? Does that mean I can stop paying into welfare since my money isn't needed to help others?