Advertisements should ideally be smart and catchy, leaving viewers with an immediate desire to purchase that product. In the United States, some see the Super Bowl, with its hefty fees for commercial time, as the pinnacle of advertising. In 2014, an ad for Summer’s Eve Cleansing Wash appeared on screens across the country. The ad begins with a husband showering and using what he believes to be body wash while his wife brushes her teeth in the bathroom. When she realizes he is using the wash designed to douche, she explains the benefits of this brand to him – a quick sell of the product. The husband, however, ignores all the information his wife describes after she first mentions its intended use. His face sinks, as he feels his masculinity threatened, and proceeds to attempt an outrageous amount of tasks to assert his manliness, such as drumming like a true rock star and prepping for a boxing workout by eating raw eggs. He finishes these activities by jumping onto the couch next to his wife, crushing a beer can against his skull as she rolls her eyes, most likely intending to mirror the look on viewers’ faces as they watch this ridiculous sequence. Despite the silent, eye-rolling critique from the wife, this ad does not give a powerfully positive message about gender equality or inclusivity. Instead, on the largest stage in advertising, Summer’s Eve chose to display gender conventions. Specifically, while the creators of this ad intended to make the man look foolish and the woman look smart and realistic, a deeper analysis reveals this ad as more offensive than progressive.
The horrified look on the husband’s face as his wife reveals the advertised nature of the product he is using re-emphasizes obsolete gender stereotypes, hinting that not only should women avoid talking about their bodies, but that men cannot even comprehend these conversations. As the wife begins discussing the benefits of her cleansing wash, the man immediately stops listening, more worried about his threatened identity, and, in the end, contributing to a woman’s lack of confidence in opening up a dialogue about her body. This ad, as many have before, manages to sell a product to women by shaming its key clients. In the Victorian Era, “True Women were defined by their distance from lust” and any sexual topics, and, in a way, this ad brings women back to that time period, suggesting many people, especially men, will not listen to a discussion as “inappropriate” as one about a woman’s bodily functions (Katz 232). In an attempt to deflect the conversation from a potentially uncomfortable topic, the husband physically leaves the scene and begins a new activity, leaving the wife appearing like a lecturer as opposed to a participant in a dialogue. While this ad is clearly targeted to women, portraying her husband as a child-like figure who ultimately discourages her discussion about her body, only further strengthens those dichotomous gender stereotypes.
The extremity of the activities the husband takes part in to recover his masculinity ignores any attempts to disrupt timeworn gender stereotypes, showing that any signs of femininity in a man must be eradicated. The husband karate chops wooden blocks, tows a car with his teeth, and even fashions himself a Spartan helmet, all in an effort to cleanse himself of any traces of femininity stemming from accidentally using the genital wash. While the man is clearly mocked in the ad for his excessive actions, this parody ultimately affirms the hegemonic structure that men are fundamentally different from women, and therefore need specific products. This ad exemplifies this facet of the marketing industry that “spend[s] massive amounts of time and money ratifying and supporting the versions of masculinity that we enjoy and trust,” (Halberstam 1). Validating a world in which men must be completely masculine, this ad “depend[s] absolutely on the subordination of alternative masculinities,” (Halberstam 1). The ad ignores the existence of men who can still enjoy playing sports while being the primary caregiver for their children or manicuring their appearance. Or even use a vaginal wash product manufactured for and advertised to women that, in fact, is basically just soap.
The characters in this commercial represent a white, seemingly upper class, heterosexual relationship, again omitting many other gender, sexual, and even race and class identities from the customer base of the product. Many ads today attempt to cast diverse actors, in order for their products to appeal to more people. This commercial not only displays traditional gender norms, but also portrays a stereotypical heterosexual relationship, which does not exist for many people, including those who might want to purchase the product. Even as scientists and sociologists alike release more information debunking previous assumptions about gender and sexuality, “a scientific fact, once established, may sometimes be disproved in one field, remain a “fact” in others, and have a future life in the popular mind” (Fausto-Sterling 169). While many more people today are realizing and accepting non-heterosexual and/or gender queer people, advertisements like these are still ignoring the emerging acceptance of these lifestyles. This ad, even while using younger actors who may be part of this tolerant generation, does not cater to those who identify outside of gender and sexuality norms.
Advertisements must balance between appealing to the masses and pioneering the portrayal of new societal trends, but this ad focuses much more on old and insulting conventions of gender roles as opposed to engaging people in the 21st century. The creators undoubtedly thought an ad, even one meant for a women’s product, playing during the Super Bowl, must connect with the typical audience of a football game, again making assumptions about the gender make-up of the audience. This targeting, however, not only excludes many people, but also makes gross stereotypes about those who enjoy sporting events. While not everyone today recognizes or accepts the changing discourse on gender and sexuality, advertisements have the ability to change public opinion. An ad created specifically for a women’s product, therefore, should best portray the shifting culture acceptance of previously undermined groups, like women and those who do not identify with traditional ideas of gender and sexuality.
Fausto-Sterling, Anne. Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. New York: Basic Books, 2000.
Halberstam, Judith. Female Masculinity. Durham: Duke University Press, 1998.
Katz, Jonathan N. The Invention of Heterosexuality. New York: Dutton, 1995.
Wilchina, Riki Anne. Quuer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant Primer. Los Angeles: Alyson, 2004.