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"Real Americans Drink Sprite!": Gender, Race, and Class in Commercials


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#1

BanjoSteve

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Posted Mar 10, 2006 @ 4:29 PM

This the thread for discussing the political and social issues that lurk in the background of most advertising. One particularly noxious campaign comes to mind off the top of my head.

One is for the Dodge Durango. It stars an unpleasant overweight man with a wife who's way more attractive (that's a whole other issue that I'm not even going to begin to touch on). Anyway, in one ad he shows his toddler son the engine and try and teach him to say "Hemi". His wife points out some less masculine feature of the car or something (I forget), and he flips out at her, presumably for undermining his project to make his two-year-old son into a real man. In another, the three of them are driving on a lone road in the middle of nowhere when she suggests he uses the onboard navigation unit, and he snaps at her.

These commercials are ostensibly humorous from the "Mars-Venus" school, but to me they just reveal a deep-seated misogyny and insecurity on the part of the husband character. It seems like he's really threatened by his wife, and if he doesn't find some way to reclaim some center of masculinity from somewhere (like his SUV) his balls are going to shrivel up and fall off and his son is going to turn gay. So when his wife comes and encroaches on his territory, either by feminizing the truck or undermining him when he's driving it, he lashes out at her. The thing is, this theme is so pervasive to the campaign, I can't imagine it's not an intentional feature. It seems like Dodge is intentionally targeting men who feel emasculated by their wives as their market niche. It's pretty sick, but then so are a lot of commercials when you actually think about them, which is why I opened this thread.
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#2

Bb

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Posted Mar 10, 2006 @ 7:09 PM

Damn, BanjoSteve- that's deep! I'm the one always screaming at the TV about the inherent sexism of commercials. The only ones I can think of right now are the DeBeers commercials- namely the one with the woman who's embarrassed when the man yells "I love this woman!" but whispers "I love this man" when she gets the diamond. Yes, it's true. You should be embarrassed by someone being expressive from the heart. Only when the pocketbook is empty have they shown their true love. Arrrrgh. Hate!
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#3

klio

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Posted Mar 10, 2006 @ 7:51 PM

I actually took a whole class in college about television and society and we spent a fair amount of time talking about commercials. There's all sorts of subtle messages in commercials, like the ones where you see a frumpy, harassed-looking woman and another woman who has her act completely together. Frumpy woman just doesn't use the right laundry detergent/carpet cleaner/peanut butter/whatever.

Dear Mothers of America: If you use the right products, your children will always behave, your house will always be clean, and your husband will always be faithful.

My husband is annoyed by the fact that you never see women who are clueless in commercials. It's always men. I can't say that I blame him.
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#4

BanjoSteve

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Posted Mar 10, 2006 @ 8:20 PM

The only ones I can think of right now are the DeBeers commercials- namely the one with the woman who's embarrassed when the man yells "I love this woman!" but whispers "I love this man" when she gets the diamond.


I was going to write a whole big thing on that one too, but my post was getting too long. That's easily my least favorite commercial in the history of the world. But then most jewelry commercials are premised on the notion that if your man buys you jewelry (i.e. spends a couple months salary on a shiny rock) that means he loves you. Conversely they also tell men that if you buy a woman jewelry, you'll probably get laid, or at the very least you'll get a woman to gush over your awesomeness. Then there's the one about the man who failed to get his wife jewelry when all the other men at the cocktail party got their wives jewelry, much to his enduring shame. I tell you, these ads have turned me off of buying jewelry entirely for the rest of my life (and that doesn't even get into the whole evil that is the diamond mining industry).
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#5

Fabrisse

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Posted Mar 11, 2006 @ 7:58 PM

There was a car ad from a could of years ago where women were looking at cars coming up to a valet and commenting on the type of man who'd drive it. Several people described it as a bit of empowerment for women. I never got that. It always seemed much more like a male perception of female cattiness.

While misogyny is always fun, I think the inherent purpose of commercials is to level the social classes.

I have two examples, one from each end of the perceived social scale.

The first is the old, "Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?" It was a fantastic ad. Who could've imagined making mustard into a class indicator before it.

The other is one of the hemi ads. I'm not really sure which one anymore, but it had two guys in a hemi looking down on a guy in a sports car. The looking down was both literal and figurative.
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#6

Anakerie

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Posted Mar 11, 2006 @ 8:18 PM

I also have a huge problem with men shown in commericals, and I'm not even a man. They're all clueless, gibbering idiots who have to rely on their wives to remind them of the simplest things. I can't even remember the product, but there was one a few years back where a woman was skipping around slapping her husband across the face. Oh, yeah, domestic violence! What a great way to get me to buy your crap!
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#7

glory85

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Posted Mar 11, 2006 @ 8:24 PM

I also have a huge problem with men shown in commericals, and I'm not even a man. They're all clueless, gibbering idiots who have to rely on their wives to remind them of the simplest things.

Thank you! I hate the way men are portrayed in commercials, and I'm not a man either. Not all men are clueless idiots and not all wives are so calm and collected.

But I guess that's "balanced" by the negative portrayals of women. A lot of commercials portray women as vapid sexual playthings of men. I know sex sells but geez.
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#8

ConnieVandelay

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Posted Mar 11, 2006 @ 9:10 PM

I guess this would go under the race category.

There is this new Glade Wisp ad with an Asian-American family in it. It's refreshing to watch because I think this is the first time in a long, long, long time I've seen a commercial like this.
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#9

BanjoSteve

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Posted Mar 11, 2006 @ 9:38 PM

Thank you! I hate the way men are portrayed in commercials, and I'm not a man either. Not all men are clueless idiots and not all wives are so calm and collected.

But I guess that's "balanced" by the negative portrayals of women. A lot of commercials portray women as vapid sexual playthings of men. I know sex sells but geez.


I wouldn't really call this balance. The "men are just bumbling idiots" stereotype in ads usually has a specifc context. It's usually in domestic situations: shopping, cleaning, cooking, taking care of the kids, etc. So it's not like it's saying men are morons generally, it's just that men are out of their depths in domestic situations, so they can't be expected to do these housework sorts of things. Basically, women shouldn't hold them to a high standard, and clean up after them.

I'd say the real victims of this stereotype are the women who have to clean up after their husbands, because the husbands are coming up in a culture that says they're fundamentally incapable of housework. Yeah, it sucks as a man to be depicted as infantile and incapable, but domestic activities are considered low-status; it's not like a man is going to lose out on a job interview because of stereotypes about how well they do housework. Whereas, a woman might not get a job because the man interviewing her can't conceive of her as anything other than a sex object, and can't see her as a peer.
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#10

Anakerie

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Posted Mar 11, 2006 @ 10:53 PM

Actually the one that comes to mind is the one where the husband is watching the football game and his wife is asking if he called about the car insurance. When he says he didn't compare rates the announcer yells "Oh, he dropped the ball." The wife gets a very patient "He's an idiot but I love him" look on her face and hands him the phone. If the genders were reversed in that commercial people would be howling for blood.
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#11

Rant

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Posted Mar 11, 2006 @ 11:02 PM

The biggest thing I've noticed is the separation of races based on the channel. There was one car commercial that I've seen many times (where the man leans against the car and thrillingly imagines that he's driving it merely by the vibe he gets from where his hand touches the hood) that, on ABC, NBC, etc, had both the man and woman portrayed by caucasians. On UPN, however, both the man and woman were black. After that, I kept noticing that the UPN had 'alternate' actors for pretty much the exact same commercials that showed on other channels.
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#12

nichelle

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Posted Mar 12, 2006 @ 12:08 AM

This is an interesting thread. Since Tivo is my best friend, I fast forward through almost all commercials now. But I recall discussing this topic many years ago. I was pretty passionate about two commercials, both from McDonalds.

- The first was advertisement for a Coke glass giveaway. If you ordered the value meal and paid an additional fee (or whatever, my memory is fuzzy on this part), you received a Coke shaped glass. In the commercials, there was a white family all enjoying their meals and Coke glasses. In the commercial featuring black customers, they had their Coke glasses turned upside down and were playing them as if they were drums. Maybe I read too much into it, but I found it insulting.

- The second commercial advertised a 2 for 1 promotion. The white family used it as an opportunity to skip cooking a meal and get a fast bargain. The commercial featuring a young, black male, however, showed him using the promotion when dating two women at once. He was presented as more of a 'player'. Again, I found it insulting.

I don't want to be one that sees racism in everything, but it seemed present in many commercials back then. I'll be reading the thread to see others opinions of the state of commercials today.

(And on this post, I just became a Couch Potato. Yay me!)

Edited by nichelle, Mar 12, 2006 @ 12:10 AM.

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#13

ajra

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Posted Mar 12, 2006 @ 12:33 PM

I also have a huge problem with men shown in commericals, and I'm not even a man. They're all clueless, gibbering idiots who have to rely on their wives to remind them of the simplest things.

But we only have ourselves to blame, right? Whenever a man picks up a book/newspaper, we bust out the KY Warming liquid. Then, when we're saddled with all these kids, we get no help from our clueless, neanderthal husbands because we haven't allowed them to learn and grow.

Actually the one that comes to mind is the one where the husband is watching the football game and his wife is asking if he called about the car insurance. When he says he didn't compare rates the announcer yells "Oh, he dropped the ball." The wife gets a very patient "He's an idiot but I love him" look on her face and hands him the phone.

That one irritates me to no end - what was she doing that she couldn't make the call? Did she have to interrupt his watching the game? But that falls in line with the thinking that women don't watch sports, drink beer, etc.

The biggest thing I've noticed is the separation of races based on the channel.

Notice, too, that a commerical featuring caucasians will have one (or two) minorities in it, but the AfAm commercial will be entirely African-American. Why is that?

Edited by ajra, Mar 12, 2006 @ 12:34 PM.

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#14

Fabrisse

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Posted Mar 12, 2006 @ 1:40 PM

But we only have ourselves to blame, right? Whenever a man picks up a book/newspaper, we bust out the KY Warming liquid. Then, when we're saddled with all these kids, we get no help from our clueless, neanderthal husbands because we haven't allowed them to learn and grow.


*sob* You're right it's all our fault.

The same ads with actors of different races actually strikes me as a step toward progress compared with when the ad campaigns are completely different and -- as in the McDonald's examples above -- insulting. But, dammit, why can't I see a hot black couple car-fondling on CBS?
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#15

SteveJRogers

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Posted Mar 12, 2006 @ 2:49 PM

How about beer commercials that seem to make you think:

-The only two things worth living for with men are beer and hot girls.

-Certain beers will make you the life of the party. Look I'm all for brand reconigition and getting customers to have a beer of choice, but when you get right down to it certain beers tend to taste the same. Especially domestic (US) light and/or cheap beers.

-You'll only see attractive people drinking beer, girls will flock to you if you are drinking beer. This is funny because it makes martini, margaritta, and hard liquor drinkers less "manly" despite the fact that all those are much, much more stiffer beverages. Wanna be a man? Drink beer! Uh no, I'll take my Jack Daniels on the rocks while I watch you act like a moron!
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#16

No Touching

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Posted Mar 12, 2006 @ 3:52 PM

BanjoSteve, that Hemi commercial is probably my most hated ad from the last five years. I'm a guy, and I'm insulted at how Dodge seems to try to pander to the stereotypical caveman mentality. There's even a faint whiff of homophobia there, because the manly dad doesn't want his wife making his son feminine by focusing on the 'girly' features of the SUV.
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#17

eikram

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Posted Mar 12, 2006 @ 5:48 PM

I too loathe the Hemi ads.
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#18

ConnieVandelay

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Posted Mar 12, 2006 @ 6:00 PM

I was pretty passionate about two commercials, both from McDonalds.

- The first was advertisement for a Coke glass giveaway. If you ordered the value meal and paid an additional fee (or whatever, my memory is fuzzy on this part), you received a Coke shaped glass. In the commercials, there was a white family all enjoying their meals and Coke glasses. In the commercial featuring black customers, they had their Coke glasses turned upside down and were playing them as if they were drums. Maybe I read too much into it, but I found it insulting.

- The second commercial advertised a 2 for 1 promotion. The white family used it as an opportunity to skip cooking a meal and get a fast bargain. The commercial featuring a young, black male, however, showed him using the promotion when dating two women at once. He was presented as more of a 'player'. Again, I found it insulting.



I completely understand where you are coming from with your examples. I agree it does border on stereotypes.

On UPN, however, both the man and woman were black. After that, I kept noticing that the UPN had 'alternate' actors for pretty much the exact same commercials that showed on other channels


About five years ago on Daily Show back when Steve Carell would do the "Ad Nauseam" segment where they would make fun of a certain commercial, they brought up 2 ads for this thing called the Slomin Shield. And there was a "white commercial" and a "black commercial" and it was basically the same exact ad.

I made a transcript of this bit years ago: I hope this is ok to post
http://anitasdailysh...ts/2001kahn.htm
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#19

phxchic

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Posted Mar 12, 2006 @ 6:48 PM

Actually the one that comes to mind is the one where the husband is watching the football game and his wife is asking if he called about the car insurance. When he says he didn't compare rates the announcer yells "Oh, he dropped the ball." The wife gets a very patient "He's an idiot but I love him" look on her face and hands him the phone.
That one irritates me to no end - what was she doing that she couldn't make the call? Did she have to interrupt his watching the game? But that falls in line with the thinking that women don't watch sports, drink beer, etc.

I can't stand this commercial either, and I have a husband who hiberates in front of the TV every football season. She seems like such a bitch--it's a Sunday afternoon and the insurance quote can't wait another day? Please.

As far as car commercials go, I'm bothered by the Toyota commercials with the clueless dad who gets into "uh-huh! Nuh-uh!" fights with the local kids about his cool ass truck and makes his son gives references and a piss sample to take the car out. The worst is the one where his daughter greets him home with a picture she drew in school, and he starts crapping all over it because she got the details of the car wrong.

I just can't stand this boob--his cluelessness is supposed to be for laughs, I guess, and the mother is nowhere to be seen in any of the commercials. His behavior, especially around the little girl's picture, just rubs me the wrong way.

Maybe this is tangential to the gender discussion, but that Suzuki(?) ad where the guy kisses his wife and parachutes down to his kickass SUV to go to work--besides wondering how the hell he gets home at night, but what is her deal? Does she stay at home with the baby? What if she needs to go grocery shopping, or take the kid to the doctor, or get the baby to daycare so she can work? How the hell does she get out of the house?!?

I am so happy I have TiVo so I have to watch very little of this crap.
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#20

Fabrisse

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Posted Mar 12, 2006 @ 7:35 PM

Maybe this is tangential to the gender discussion, but that Suzuki(?) ad where the guy kisses his wife and parachutes down to his kickass SUV to go to work--besides wondering how the hell he gets home at night, but what is her deal? Does she stay at home with the baby? What if she needs to go grocery shopping, or take the kid to the doctor, or get the baby to daycare so she can work? How the hell does she get out of the house?!?


From the way she's dressed, I assume she has a job outside the house. And that she's the one who takes the helicopter to work -- which also neatly explains how he gets home at night. *G*

Yeah, I've spent way too much time thinking about that ad. But to bring it back to topic, how often do we see Black, Asian, or Hispanic guys doing the adventure route. Would that commercial be shown as often if it were a Denzel Washington or Lorenzo Lamas type coming out the door?
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#21

No Touching

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Posted Mar 12, 2006 @ 11:14 PM

The only reason I can tolerate that commercial is knowing that if this is always the way he leaves the house, the law of averages will eventually win out and there will come the day that his chute won't open.

But you're right. The automobile commercials with an 'extreme' off-the-trail mentality rarely feature non-white actors. Why is this? Have studies shown that only Caucasion families build homes on top of mesas?

Edited by No Touching, Mar 12, 2006 @ 11:15 PM.

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#22

greybear

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Posted Mar 13, 2006 @ 2:58 AM

I've come to the conclusion that the football wife/insurance quote ad is to 'balance' the old Sears air-conditioning ad. The wife, dripping sweat, whines something like, "Did you call Sears about installing air conditioning?" He says he'll call later or tomorrow or something. She urges, "You'll call now?" He acquieses, "I'll call now."

She couldn't call?

At least the football wife can hand him the phone rather than just whine. One day, though, there'll be a wife who knows how to use the phone and get a quote. And then, one day there'll be a wife who will actually place the order!

Edited by greybear, Mar 13, 2006 @ 2:59 AM.

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#23

ajra

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Posted Mar 13, 2006 @ 10:17 AM

Maybe the Sears wife couldn't call because she couldn't be trusted with the Sears charge card number. She might go all Wilma Flintstone - Chaarrrge It!!!

Seriously, these two ads seem to be saying that ordering central air and securing car insurance are men's jobs. Is that the message?? That the man is the breadwinner and takes care of stuff like that? Are there any ads where we see the woman taking care of the bills instead of the man? The only thing that comes to mind are those bank ads (the woman is running a bath or getting ready to meet someone out) which shows how fast their online banking is, but those ads don't have men in them.
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#24

jennblevins

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Posted Mar 13, 2006 @ 11:33 AM

[T]hat Suzuki(?) ad where the guy kisses his wife and parachutes down to his kickass SUV to go to work


You mean the one where he puts on the helmet (which has no straps on it at all),walks to the end of the drive and jumps off the cliff -- and suddenly his helmet has straps and they're buckled under his neck? Hate.

The Visa Win What You Buy commercials have always seemed to me to be well-balanced, gender-wise. I can think of two with women and one with a man off the top of my head.
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#25

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Posted Mar 13, 2006 @ 12:25 PM

McDonald's has a pretty long history of commercials with black people either as promoters or as characters in the "story." Which, when I was young and naive, I thought of as nicely progressive... until I had lived with the commercials a while, and realized that they had a particular tone, with a particular kind of flash and attitude: the idea that African-Americans (because, you know, they all live in marginal urban neighborhoods and aren't real deep thinkers <shudder>) could be tricked into eating all their meals at McDonald's, rather than buying groceries and eating more nutritiously and cheaply at home.
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#26

ajra

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Posted Mar 13, 2006 @ 2:12 PM

What did you think about the one with the boy (Ricky?) whose first job was at McDonald's? "That boy's going places!" I didn't like it, then again, I vowed at an early age never to work at a fast food restaurant.

Last fall, McDonald's was supposed to be running ads featuring real people whose first job was at McD's (Carl Lewis, Macy Gray). Did they ever air?
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#27

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Posted Mar 13, 2006 @ 2:27 PM

Last fall, McDonald's was supposed to be running ads featuring real people whose first job was at McD's (Carl Lewis, Macy Gray). Did they ever air?


Yep, they did, ajra, and I saw them during the Olympics once as well. They were nice, quiet ads that had a good message, imo- "I picked up some skills that served me later", even an eventual McDonald's store manager. To me, it also gave off a 'just because you work here, it's not the dead-end job everyone has made it seem."


The stupid male/ stereotypically girly female ad that makes me gnash my teeth and pull out my hair is the JCPenney ads (and my dad worked for the company for 40 years) with the delightful "Where's your mother?" exasperated dad that can neither pick up ice cubes nor calm the children he helped bring into this world! Of course, the seeming message is Mom snuck out- without cluing in Dad- so she could spend all the cash she could/max the plastic while leaving Poor Defenseless, Clueless Dad with the hellions they have unleashed on the planet. Or that Dad's such an ass that Mom has to sneak out to get things for the house and kids and maybe herself.

Useless men aren't funny.
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#28

Rinaldo

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Posted Mar 13, 2006 @ 4:15 PM

Ah, this isn't exactly gender or race, but it's in the same spirit, as exploiting a divisive element in our society:

"People come in pairs... why shouldn't biscuits?" Bite me, Pillsbury Doughboy.
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#29

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Posted Mar 13, 2006 @ 4:42 PM

What?! People come in pairs? Are we all born twins and didn't know it? That is ridiculous. I guess Pillsbury doesn't mind if they offend the single people of the nation. I guess they can skew to the single demographic in their "perfect portions" ads.
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#30

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Posted Mar 13, 2006 @ 5:30 PM

Just so this thread isn't all bitchiness, I do want to point out a positive development in commercials. It used to be that ads featuring white people were for mainstream campaigns, and advertisers only put people of color into ads that were marketed to that segment in particular, but nowadays you see a lot more ads that are targeted toward the mainstream, but still feature people of all races.

Take the All State commercials with Dennis Haysbert. He seems to have been selected because he has the presence of a reassuring authority figure, obviously because his most famous role is as the President. But he works in that role on 24 and can carry it over residually because people can envision a black authority figure. Back in the day, they would have still hired someone like Dennis Haysbert, but only as a voiceover (look at James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader and CNN).
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