media: marketing

No costume could more perfectly capture this October at SocImages.  From The Ethical Adman’s collection of the worst sexy costumes of the year, this breast cancer-themed, absurdly sexy, looks-nothing-like-a-leopard costume.  Posts collide.

Breast Cancer Leopard Costume

When I clicked on the link, they tried to give me a free pair of panties.  Maybe you’ll get lucky.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Here’s an interesting example of the triumph of ideology over simple fact.  Fia K. sent in a link to a costume sold at Amazon titled “Tiny Boy’s Costume.”  The costume is a green pterodactyl.  There is no equivalent Tiny Girl’s Costume.  When I search for that phrase, the search engine deletes the word “girl” and sends me back to here.

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This is more than just an instance of associating boys with dinosaurs and excluding girls, although that would be problematic enough.  No, the costume is called “Tiny” because it’s associated with a cartoon character with that name from the show Dinosaur Train.

Funny thing is, Tiny is female (note the eyelashes, you can always tell by the eyelashes).

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This is evidence of how powerful gender ideology can be.  Tiny’s actual fictional femaleness is less powerful than the ideological association of boys and dinosaurs.  Hence, a Tiny Boy’s Costume.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

In the midst of the recession a new occupation emerged: the sign spinner.  These individuals stood on sidewalks outside of businesses, dancing with signs or arrows that they threw and twisted in the air and around their bodies.  Some of them were pretty cool, actually.

Yesterday NPR discussed the replacement of some of these spinners with mannequins. Robots that are programmed to spin the sign.  Of course, they aren’t nearly as good as a halfway decent human sign spinner.  But, it was argued, they’re getting the job done.

From human to machine, then.  But no one commented on the bizarre race- and sex-change that accompanied this shift.  In my part of the country, most human sign spinners are black or Latino men.  I suspect that’s true wherever there’s a substantial non-white, non-Asian population.  But the mannequins appear to be overwhelming white women.

The Google image search for each somewhat supports this narrative.  The mannequins are overly white women and the humans are almost all men and, arguably, disproportionately men of color.

Google search for “sign spinners” (click to enlarge):

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Google search for “‘mannequin sign spinners”  (click to enlarge):

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Isn’t. This. Interesting.

When the business owner or manager can make choices about what race and gender they prefer, they choose white females.  Presumably because “sex sells,” the female body (in a bikini) is the universal symbol for sex, and white women are the most valuable commodity in that market.

When we’re hiring low wage human workers, however, business owners and managers have less control over the race and gender composition of their workforce.  It appears most would prefer to hire white women in bikinis for everything but, because of institutionalized racism and the sex segregation of occupations, they get men and, perhaps, men of color.

How amazing that something so simple — the evolution of the sign spinner — can tell us so much about who we value and why.

Here’s a commercial for the new robotic sign spinners, to drive the point home:

Cross-posted at Racialicious and Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the Boston Globe included a discussion of the pink ribbon campaign and cause-related marketing (products marketed with a promise of a donation to a social cause) more generally.  It, like books by sociologists — including Samantha King’s Pink Ribbon Inc. and Gayle Sulik’s Pink Ribbon Blues — paints a pretty depressing picture of cause-related marketing.

As the article discusses, this approach to raising money for a cause is suspect for a number of reasons.  In many instances, the percent of profit that goes to charity is very small.  For example, one woman bought a candy bar being sold door-to-door under the auspices of a breast cancer donation, only to discover that she was invited to spent .42 cents to mail in a coupon (story here).  The company would then donate one cent to breast cancer research!  (And the chocolate was bad, too.)

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In other instances, companies have a cap on how much they’ll donate.  But consumers may or may not know that the cap is exceeded when they are in a position to buy the product.  This is the case with New Balance.

In addition, companies that participate in cause-based marketing may do so without thinking through and altering their own practices that may be contributing to rates of breast cancer.  Yoplait, for example, “pinked” their yogurt for breast cancer, even as it contained milk from cows given recombinant bovine growth hormone, a substance correlated with breast cancer rates.  After pressure from Breast Cancer Action, Yoplait changed its practices (Dannon followed).

This suggests that companies participating in cause-related marketing may not really be behind the cause, but may instead simply be interested in the profits.  However, cause-related marketing does give advocacy organizations a wedge.  If Yoplait hadn’t pinked its product, it’s unclear whether it would have felt compelled to change its ingredients.  In this sense, the hypocrisy was an opportunity.

The article also introduces Jeanne Sather, who blogs about “the most egregious, tasteless examples of pink-ribbon products.”  The winner of her most recent contest for the most tasteless product: Jingle Jugs, “plastic breasts mounted taxidermy-style on wood” that jiggle and bounce in response to music.  They are, as you might imagine, marketed largely to frat boys (and the like) and the breast cancer edition allowed fraternities to merge their philanthropic and misogynistic tendencies seamlessly:

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Jingle Jugs’ slogan: “Partnering with our nation’s youth to save our loved ones.”

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Nice double entendre there.

This type of objectification of women’s bodies in breast cancer awareness advertising is common.  Renée Y. sent in this advertisement for a breast cancer research fundraiser. Again, note that it says “Save a breast,” not “Save a woman’s life.”

Opponents of cause-based marketing argue that it is fraught with ethical problems and, at its worst, is deceiving and offensive.  While it does result in money for the cause, it may also reduce the amount of money people donate directly because they think that by buying the breast cancer cookies, cream cheese, combination locks, cat food, cookware, chewing gum, limo rides, and golf accessories, they’ve already done their part.

Originally posted in 2009; images found here, here, and here.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

This week I had the pleasure of being a part of Take Part Live’s discussion of “pinktober.”  Here’s a really interesting piece of research that I didn’t get a chance to talk about, sent in by Lindsey B.

A paper in the Journal of Marketing Research suggesting that the current approach to raising awareness of breast cancer hurts more than helps.  You might have noticed, just maybe, I mean if you’ve been paying attention, that breast cancer awareness has become associated with the color pink.

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Stefano Puntoni and his colleagues found that when women were exposed to gender cues, like the color pink, they were less likely than women who had not been primed with a gender cue to think that they might someday get breast cancer and to say that they’d be willing to donate to the cause.  Pink, in other words, decreased both their willingness to fund research and the seriousness with which women took the disease.

Puntoni explains this finding with a common psychological tendency. When people are faced with a personal threat, they tend to subconsciously go on the defensive.  In this case, when women are exposed to information about breast cancer at the same time that they are reminded that they, specifically, are vulnerable to it, they subconsciously try to push away the idea that they’re vulnerable and that breast cancer is something that they, or anyone, needs to worry about it.

Originally posted in 2010, with an extended version appearing at Ms.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

If I have one thing to say about Holly Grigg-Spall’s new book, Sweetening the Pill: How We Got Hooked On Hormonal Birth Control, it’s that it brings together ideas in creative ways and comes out with conclusions that are new to me.

The book is an interrogation of the popularity of hormonal birth control in the U.S.  In one argument, Grigg-Spall begins with the fact that women’s bodies are a fraught topic. For hundreds of years, the female body has been offered as proof of women’s inferiority to men.  Feminists have had two options: (1) embrace biological difference and claim equality based on essential femaleness or (2) reject difference and claim equality based on sameness.

Largely, Grigg-Spall argues, the latter has won out as the dominant feminist strategy. Accordingly, all things uniquely female become suspect; they are possible traitors to the cause.  This includes ovulation, menstruation, and the mild mood swings that tend to accompany them (men have equivalent mood swings, by the way, they’re just daily and seasonal instead of monthly-ish).

Hormonal birth control, then, can be seen as a way to eliminate some of the things about us that make us distinctly “female.”  “Science is making us better,” the message goes.  By getting rid of our supposedly feminine frailties, “we are [supposedly] becoming better humans…”  A quick look at birth control pill advertising reveals that this goes far beyond preventing pregnancy.  Commercials frequently claim other benefits that conform to socio-cultural expectations for women: reduced PMS, clearer skin, and bigger breasts.  This Yaz commercial, for example, claims that the pill also cures acne, irritability, moodiness, anxiety, appetite, headaches, fatigue, and bloating.

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To add insult to injury, Grigg-Spall notes, advertising then frames consumption of the pill as liberation.  In this commercial for Seasonique, the pharmaceutical company positions itself as women’s answer to a mysterious oppressor.  “Who says?” is repeated a full eight times.

Others have criticized Grigg-Spall for, among other things, essentializing femaleness: utilizing  that strategy for equality that embraces women’s difference from men and asks others to do so as well.

I’m coming down on the side of “huh!?”  The Pill made an immeasurable difference for women when it was introduced as the first effective, female-controlled birth control method.  There’s no doubt about that.  Her book asks us whether our designation of The Pill as a holy pillar of women’s equality still applies today.  I think it’s worth thinking about.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Lauren McGuire pointed us to a post by Gilligan at Retrospace inspired by a scene in the 1963 Western, McLintock!  The movie included a scene in which George McLintock, played by John Wayne, uses a shovel to spank his estranged wife, played by Maureen O’Hara.

The spanking scene apparent stuck quite the chord, as it was used repeatedly in the promotional materials.

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Gilligan suggests that the spanking of adult women by adult men was a midcentury theme, from Kiss me Kate to comic books:

Here’s an Q&A from the New York Daily Mirror, circa 1950s (thanks to @perstornes):

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Lady spanking is a manifestation of the infantilization of women.  The idea that they are not men’s equals, but are expected to obey them as subordinates and can be punished when they do not behave.  Of course, materials riffing on the spanking adult women today (outside of porn and fetish communities) would probably inspire an outcry, but that leaves open the possibility that the gendered power asymmetry simply manifests in other ways.  Adult women are still infantilized (see posts here, here, and here) and dominance/submission is still sexualized in mainstream materials (consider our post asking what love is supposed to look like).

Originally posted in 2010; re-posted in response to a new example. Images borrowed from here, here, here, here, here.  H/t Retrospace.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Screenshot_1This is the fourth post in a four part series.  Start at the beginning with: Whimsical Branding Obscures Apple’s Troubled Supply Chain.

Despite the recent scandals regarding Apple’s business practices, it has succeeded at cultivating a brand to which we feel positive emotional attachment. In three previous posts, I showed that the company accomplishes this with commercials that associate its products with playfulness, sentimentality, and cool youthfulness.  The most prominent theme, however, and I suspect the most powerful aspect of the company’s emotional branding strategy, is the hope it cultivates in each of us of who we could be by virtue of using the company’s products.

Taken together, the whole of Apple’s advertising campaigns suggest that, if we use their products, we will be our hippest, coolest, most creative, intelligent, adventurous, socially engaged, and admired selves. The idea of Apple users as standouts from the masses was introduced in the company’s first commercial that aired only once, during the 1984 Super Bowl broadcast:

In this commercial Apple attacks the “boring” IBM and its “mindless” users controlled by a televised ruler in an Orwellian dystopia.  It also suggests that there is something special about the company and its products that will allow it, with the help of its customers, to change the course of history. A commodification of the counter-cultural ethos of the 1960s and ‘70s, this theme was prominent in the first few years of the company’s advertising, but went dormant during Steve Jobs’ 12-year hiatus. It was resurrected in 1997 when Jobs returned to the helm of the company. The now iconic and much revered commercial titled “The Crazy Ones” launched the company’s slogan “Think Different” into our vocabulary, and helped reposition the company, then floundering, onto its path to meteoric financial growth:

With ads like these, Apple doesn’t suggest that one will become Mahatma Ghandi, Amelia Earhart, or Pablo Picasso per se, but that daring to be different (by purchasing an Apple product) opens up the possibility for one to do great things.

This trend continues today in commercials that appeal to our desire to be valued and admired as artistically creative, culturally relevant, and intellectually engaging. Apple’s commercial for the iPhone 4S and Siri, titled “Rock God”, aired in 2012 and exemplifies this trend.

Others, like the “iPad is Amazing” commercial that introduced the device in 2010, speak to how iPad users will be intellectually, culturally, and professionally engaged and valuable people for using the device:

Commercials like these emphasize that Apple products are tools for self-development. By providing the opportunity to learn, create, and share, Apple products facilitate the expression of one’s unique, individual, and socially valued identity. In today’s digitally mediated world where social networking is the norm, the promise of such narcissistic pursuits and outcomes is a key part of Apple’s brand strategy. “Be your best 21st century you!”, recent ads seem to shout.

In this sense, Apple products offer consumers the opportunity to increase their cultural capital. Social theorist Pierre Bourdieu defined cultural capital broadly as one’s accumulated knowledge and skills. Commercials like those above for the iPhone and iPad suggest that Apple helps its customers bolster their cultural capital and raise their social standing. In a time when we are all tasked with marketing and selling ourselves to make it in the world, commercials like these amount to a message about personal and financial success. This is a powerfully seductive promise.

Is it any wonder that news of worker abuse, poisoning, and workplace suicide fails to compromise the company’s financial standing? In fact, in the immediate aftermath of negative reports about its Chinese supply chain in early 2012, Apple went on to post record sales of iPhones and iPads. Most recently, a report by China Labor Watch that documents unlawful, unsafe, and abusive work conditions at Pegatron facilities throughout China has been popularly interpreted by the tech community and mainstream journalists as exciting news that a “cheap iPhone” is on its way. As I pointed out in my first post  in this series, Apple’s ability to obscure with its brand promise the environmental degredation and human rights abuses within its supply chain is commodity fetishism at both its best and its worst. Behind that beautiful fetish of aluminum and glass lies the reality of globalization.

Nicki Lisa Cole, Ph.D. is a lecturer in sociology at Pomona College. She studies the connections between consumer culture, labor, and environmental issues in global supply chains. You can follwer her at 21 Century Nomad, visit her website, and learn more about her research into Apple here.