Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Gender and Sexuality in Advertising

The commercial says: "Be smart. Be attractive to the opposite sex!"
What is this commercial about? You have three guesses:
  • Excel, the gum that whitens your teeth.
  • Toyota, the car that makes you socially desirable.
  • London School of Economics, the higher education institution that makes you very employable.

If you guessed "Toyota", then you've got it! Not because there's something intrinsic to Toyota (the car or the brand) that makes you both smart and sexually attractive. But because the advertising/ marketing team has decided that wits and sex cannot possibly go wrong. Who doesn't want to have them both? And if all you need is a car, then hey, I'm in! The political correctness of this commercial - as well as its stupidity, unfortunately the two go hand in hand here - was compelling. It's a little treasure, revealing how intellectual concerns and criticisms about economic issues make their way back into the world of economics and get reincorporated in the economic logic of profit making.

This commercial may be a nice example of what sociologist Anthony Giddens has once called the reflexivity of the modern world:

The reflexivity of modern social life consists in the fact that social practices are constantly examined and reformed in the light of incoming informatoin about those very practices, thus constitutively altering their character.” (Giddens, 1990, p. 38)

When some consumers get upset or feel left out, the good advertiser knows that all you need is a re-branding, the miracle touch that transforms the gender-oppressive product i
nto a gender-bender, gender-celebratory one.

  • Buying the product gives you the two things feminists have nagged us about: sexual attractiveness and intelligence. Because we all know how hard it is to be both smart and attractive. Yet, with this product, the two become seamless.
  • The product is not designed exclusively for men or women. And while it is unfortunately still designed for the heterosexual group (I guess the creative team could not come up with a word that would please everyone... And you have to agree that 'Be attractive to whomever or whatever you are attracted to' does not really sound very neat...), both men and women can benefit from its magical, sexual effects. No more "Mini-Cooper is a car for gays" or "VW Beattle is car for women"... No, sir/mam, this car's magic bestows sexual attractiveness in a (almost) politically correct manner.
Photo credits: DavidHT
References: Giddens, A. (1990)
The Consequences of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990

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