The five kinds of female advertising stereotypes
Mad Men's Betty Francis ... the 'busy housewife' prototype.
If there’s one thing I miss about the good old bad old days of yore, it was the trend - in around the late-’80s through the ‘90s - to make television shows out of ads. Advertising with advertising in it, how deliciously postmodern! (Or something.)
You might recall them: Doug Mulray or Kimberly Davies hosting an hour of “adults only” ads from around the world, back in the days when programs were rated “AO” and the kids went to bed at 9pm. Behold the singing wang ad for... god, I don’t know, what do penises with the ability to sing Italian soul usually flog? Or, before the kids went to bed, a compilation of heartstring-tugging masterpieces from the Cannes Lions, inevitably featuring a parade of Saatchi & Saatchi and that bloody “face” ad for British Airways.
I also have fond memories of the times that advertising took hold of the national psyche, like when they showed the final ad in the Nescafe “This Valley” Blend 43 series in the middle of Hey, Hey, It’s Saturday!, or, more recently, when the TAC ads’ 20th anniversary retrospective did a ‘roadblock’ across all the commercial networks and I rang all my friends and family and insisted that they watch it.
Perhaps because of this, I’m one of those rare people who likes to watch the ad breaks. I don’t give a toss about what’s being sold unless it’s one of those fever-dream late-night products like a blender that can turn milk into whipped cream.
Instead, I approach advertising as a handy cultural barometer (I have been known to assess someone’s vintage purely by seeing if they know all the words to the Snack-Pack song), and the ad stereotypes at any given moment arguably reflect the current climate. So, with that in mind, here’s a handy guide to female advertising stereotypes!
(Feel free to join in with your own personal “favourites”.)
The Indescribable Shame Of Skidmarks - I could have just gone ahead and written “the busy housewife”, but if there’s one creeping trend I’ve noticed in the last few years, it’s women who are terrified that their dunnies will sell them out as hopeless slatterns. Once upon a time it was the stovetop, then it was “odours”, and now it’s grotty toilets that are an advertising housewife’s chief cause for concern. Gone are the days of Toilet Duck merrily flying his way around the bowl, the toilet is now ground zero for judging a housewife’s cleaning nous. Who are these women and why are they so terrified that a houseguest will discover that people - shock horror - poo in the toilet?
(The flipside of this, though he may not be female, is The Clueless Dad. Dads, what can they do? Not a whole lot! Maybe, at a stretch of his IQ, he might be able to microwave some sodium-soaked frozen food. But he’ll need a sit-down afterwards.)
The Fun-Stopper - Fellas, you know what I’m talking about: you’re sitting around in your undies, playing video games/drinking beer, and then the old ball and chain turns up and ruins everyone’s fun. They want you to listen to them! They want you to stop drinking! They even ruin your fun in their own feminine hygiene product ads! Women, who needs ‘em?
PMS (Perky Menstruating Shill) - We have not come a long way, baby, when it comes to flogging pads and tampons. Today’s tampon lady may not have White Pants Confidence anymore, and the days of riding horses along the beach are sadly over, but advertising’s women are still mighty stoked that Aunt Flo has come to visit. (So stoked, in fact, that they’re happy to be transphobic when necessary!) At least Libra recently realised (I hope?) the ridiculousness of advertising’s rose-coloured red tide with their Shout! series. The last time I got that excited about tampons was... wait, it’ll come to me...
The Leg-wax-ophile - A close relative of the woman who is stoked to get her rags is the lady who just loves tearing and shaving her leg-hair out/off before a big event. Body-hair removal, ladies, am I right? How much fun is it?? Doesn’t it just make you want to run up and down a beach and dance and let reams of fabric fall down your shins? No? Just me?
Yogurt - The magnificent Sarah Haskins has covered this more comprehensively than I could ever hope to. As she demonstrates, “yogurt is the official food of women”. Her yogurt takedown aired back in 2008; since then, women have gone even more yogurt mad! Evidently we’re all outrageously bunged up, perhaps because we’re so stressed out from not letting men have any fun, or maybe we’re just terrified of people seeing poo in our toilets.