Allow me to set the scene: a man has just finished his business on the side of the road and goes back into a car filled with his buddies. Thinking themselves to be clever, the man-filled car edges just out of his reach each time he goes to open the door. Sheepishly, the man
attempts to grab the door handle again and again, much to the delight of his friends who continue to edge the car forward. Then suddenly, the car edges over a cliff the men were too busy laughing to see, leaving their friend staring down at the ravine as the words “why we insure only women” flash on screen, followed by the logo for 1st for Women insurance brokers.
As a man, if reading that description didn’t make you wince, then you haven’t been exposed to the commercials I have. The problem with this ad is one that has been a disturbing trend for as long as I care to remember.
The difficulty here comes from the overwhelming presence of this “men are morons, women are wiser” trope in advertising. If someone unfamiliar with our culture were to assess it based solely on what they saw on television, men would come off as a sorry bunch of ne’er-do-wells who just can’t figure out that incredibly simple Fedex shipping plan and have the hardest time getting the Febreze plug-in to work properly.
In many of these ads women consistently come off looking better, more grounded and sensible than their male counterparts. Should you question the sexist nature of this; simply reverse the genders and see how people would react to clueless women constantly being corrected by doting men who roll their eyes at their male’s incompetence?
Some may think this is not an issue and merely representative of some good-natured ribbing between the sexes. Surely we men can take the occasional jab to our pride; we’re not perfect, after all. Men are not above being ridiculed, and should not have their feelings spared more than any other demographic. Having said that, a recent study from the University of Illinois confirmed that the stereotypical ‘dumb guy’ cliché not only offends many viewers, but has proven counter-productive as a marketing gimmick as well.
“While partying and promiscuity are often depicted in advertising, some men find these images to be negative portrayals of their gender and are, in fact, turned off by them,” said Cele Otnes, marketing professor at the University of Illinois and co-author of the study. “Those stereotypes don’t actually fit the vast majority of males. Advertisers and marketers need to broaden the spectrum.”
In brief, there is no need to put down an entire gender every time you want to sell a cleaning product. We men have to buy detergent too and if your product is really that complicated for men to use, maybe we’ll just switch to another brand instead and save ourselves the trouble.