Saturday, March 27, 2010

Reading Old Navy and Verizon Commercials

I don’t generally talk much about advertising because it’s not really my area, but in my recent run of catching up on TIVO, I noticed two commercials that really got under my skin as a critic for very different reasons.

The first was actually brought to my attention by a feminist media critic, who in passing asked if I’d seen the latest Old Navy commercial (I hadn't seen it at the time, and just now caught it). They’ve been doing these commercials with “modelquins” which have bothered me on and off.

Not that Old Navy’s advertising has ever been a model of ethical responsibility, but this particular ad is REALLY disturbing. I understand it’s a spoof on America’s Next Top Model or whatever. I get it. But what is really being represented here? A “real” girl wants to be judged and accepted by the “fake” modelquins? And told she’s not good enough? Given the barrage of images shown to women advocating that they look like supermodels, is it any wonder we went one step further to say, “we really don’t want you to look real at all – please figure out how to pose and stand like a mannequin.” The biggest “secret” among most tween and teen girls is that they are all on diets of some sort, many of which lead to full blown eating disorders as a result of the way media continually makes women feel as if their bodies are unworthy of occupying social space. So, Old Navy. Not funny.

The second commercial that’s really irking me is this Verizon commercial. The point of the commercial is to highlight Verizon’s coverage AND your ability to stalk people! It shows a mom who is “letting her daughter go shopping alone” for the first time, only to then show that her daughter is not actually alone because the mother can use the Verizon network to track her. Now, I’m not entirely against having such a feature for an emergency, like if your daughter doesn’t come home that evening – but the image presents woman as being a good mother by micro-managing her daughter, and implies that if you don’t track your children, you’re probably not being a good parent. I hate how this dovetails into a culture of helicopter parenting where kids are taught that they don’t need to be responsible in a sense because parents are always going to be there to bail them out. At the same time, any parent who tells their kid to explore the world without this micro-management is a lunatic for allowing their child that much freedom. If you’ve done your job teaching your child to make good decisions, is shopping at a mall (especially the clearly upscale, suburban mall represented in the ad) really a situation where you’d need to stalk your daughter? And what's more, it's not used for a son. It's used to track a daughter, implying the patriarchal notion that women need to be hovered over and cared for (and perhaps that we can't make good decisions).

Yes, these are the things I think about when watching television. Sometimes I wish I could turn my brain off!


  1. Your first analysis reminds me of a paper I wrote in college about the effects of media on the female psyche and how it is a highly supported leading cause of eating disorders in young teens.

    And I agree with the "hovering" notion with the Verizon commercial. I even had a hypocritical argument with my husband the other day about this sort of thing. Apparently it's "okay" for men to go to bars and night clubs because women aren't as agressive as men. But it's not okay for women to go, because they obviously aren't strong, able and assertive enough to ward off men.

    And my favorite stereotype was just addressed in the latest episode of "Greek" the other night. The age old story tells that men can sleep with as many women as they like and they are looked upon as studs, players and trophy-winners. But women who sleep around are disgusting, nasty and sluts. Hmm...

    Guess I've been watching some television too haha

  2. I feel the same way. Just watched the episode of the Simpsons where Homer is made smart and Lisa informs him that when intelligence goes up, happiness often goes down. Would be nice to be able to watch that Verizon commercial and not say WTF?! to myself. :)

  3. I hear you both - becoming media literate really is a curse sometimes! :o)