On Messages in Advertising

This is an essay prompted by the incessant social media sharing of A Certain Soap Company’s various campaigns featuring “real” women and sappy self esteem messages. The problem with these ads is that they are still utilizing the same negative messages, insecurities, and cruel tone advertising for women has used since the 1920’s.


(Serious side-eye to the concept of men as our only goal. “Daintiness” uuugh…)

When women started being viewed as a lucrative market company’s began finding new ways to use their customers’ inner dialogue and worries to prompt them to buy things.  Unfortunately they chose the lowest option- making you feel like crap so you buy things to “fix” that feeling- rather than advertising to you like you are a real person.

What is at first read in these ads as this Company trying to praise and uplift it’s audience, is on closer inspection just another reinforcement of the same insecurities the media has used to sell women crap we don’t need for almost a century and the same tired “beauty is everything” concept. They’ve cleverly inverted the message to seem as though they are somehow not part of the problem (“WE think you’re fine as you are, here buy some soap”), using buzzwords and cuddly language, while still ultimately trying to sell you some soap just by being “different”. Every cuddly video just boils down to a focus on beauty-above-all yet again (conveniently portrayed by a pretty limited range of women over all their ads), which does not challenge the core societal problems (example- people who are conventionally “beautiful” earn more etc). And yet people are eagerly sharing these videos across social media, and writing endless essays about how great they are…..

I’m all for positive messages in advertising but these ads are a big sweaty wolf in some shabby shearling, and not at all positive.

This sappy trend in advertising so reminds me of all the 1990s commercials with “raps” about products, it’s the same attempt to leap onto a counter-culture (in this case body positive/self acceptance movements) without truly understanding or respecting it.

What’s important to remember is that you DO NOT NEED the media’s permission to feel worthwhile, their decision to represent more bodies/types in their ads is an avenue to get more people to feel a part of their message and thus buy their product. People call for more representation and companies provide it. It’s not kindness- it’s money. That Soap Company does’t give a hoot about you, their parent brand (Unilever) also manages a Man Spray with some of the most misogynistic crap advertising out there right now, and also sells skin whitening products outside of North America. They aren’t on your side.

I am a big advertising nerd. It’s a fascinating industry and one I’ve loved to watch evolve and change over the years. So I get really excited when I see a company do something non-insulting with their advertising tone! It’s something I try to be aware of with my own marketing for Gloomth. And it IS possible to advertise a product or service and connect with people without insulting, degrading, or yelling-at them.

The new “Teen Mall Brand” print ads are a great example of advertising without mean tones. Not only are they nodding to their gothy audience but they’re also displaying lots of their non-spooky wares on hip looking young people (albeit a very limited body spectrum). Their products are front and center. It conveys an in-joke to the dark scene, who are cursing summer’s sun/heat, all without making anyone feel like crap! Yay! (No, I am not promoting HT here- they have done loads of sketchy things- these ads were the first recent examples I grabbed.)

hot topic spring fever 2015

hot topic spring fever 2015

Cultural in-jokes that make your audience feel included and understood is a great way to connect with them. Other options for non-hateful advertising themes include things like itemizing why your product is good without insulting the competition, solving an existing problem (not relying on self-esteem reactions as a trigger-to-buy), or prestige of ownership.

It’s important to be aware of what the ads and media we consume and share are actually saying, and to remember advertisers aren’t in this to make you feel “whole”. 😉


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