Same Old Story

In this for-profit machine we like to call society, one thing holds true: what sells is what goes.

We see stereotypes used in ads day in and day out. It’s the same old story, told over and over again. But why?

Here are a two classic stereotypes used in product advertisements.

Women do the cleaning.

Men do the house and vehicle maintenance.

The word stereotype usually sends pangs of discomfort and disapproval through your head. And rightfully so, to some degree. This is most likely because the use of stereotypes usually comes along with offensive messages or ideas. However, in the advertising industry, stereotypes can be used for a different reason.

Picture this: Lowe’s is planning to place an ad on television in order to promote an upcoming sale the company will have on power tools. Due to extensive market research, the ad agency that Lowe’s has hired is fully aware that the company’s most frequent customer is a 49 year old, white, middle-class male. In order to establish connection with this segment of their audience quickly, the ad agency decided to hire a 49 year old, white, middle-class male actor for the TV spot. This is technically using a stereotype. It is not done to offend a group of people or suggest that only middle-aged, white, affluent males can or will buy power tools nor are they suggesting that a 21-year-old, female college student cannot operate a power tool or that she does not have a use for them (in fact, I can use them and I do). Instead, what they are doing is channeling their carefully crafted message with their most frequent customer: a strategic strategy that wastes no time. They connect with the desired audience instantly and draw them in to the ad, which allows them to spend the maximum amount of time selling the product. And after all, time is money, especially when it comes to advertising.

I’m not saying that offensive and inappropriate ads using stereotypes do not exist. That is not the case at all. But, what I am saying is that advertisers often employ stereotypes in order to connect with the audience and get on the same page quickly, so they can proceed to use the majority of their time, ad space, etc. to sell you their product.

The use of stereotypes in advertising remains controversial, but by looking at the situation through an advertising lens, one may be able to understand why stereotypes continue to be used in ads in the 21st century. The ultimate reason stereotypes are used in ads today is because they effectively sell the product. Alternate, diverse or unique stories are not used frequently in advertising because they are not as effective in selling the products. However, occasionally, commercials will pop up with a situation that defies and even completely contrasts a common stereotype. These types of ads present a fresh perspective and deliver a shock factor or even a dose of humor. For example, in order to change things up, Tide and Downy decided to feature fathers who act as full-time caretakers of their home and their children.

Alternative stories, like this one, are important to tell because they provide different pictures of what is acceptable and normal in today’s society. This ultimately allows people to become more inclusive toward individuals with alternative lives and alternative stories.

What do you think?

Do you think that using stereotypes in advertising is prehistoric? Offensive? Out-of-date?

Or do you think the continued use of stereotypes in advertising is a strategic move for ad agencies to employ?

Should ads feature more alternative stories?

What’s your opinion?


2 thoughts on “Same Old Story

  1. I definitely think that ads should feature more alternative stories; I very much believe that telling the same story over and over does not reflect society, but reflects what we may have believed in the past. That isn’t to say that some stories don’t remain the same (dads still use power tools), but maybe just that these stories can be added to.


  2. I do believe that advertisements should include, as you call them, “alternative stories.” While I do concede that stereotypes exist for a reason, it is no excuse to continue using them when roles regarding gender and race are becoming more and more obsolete. However, it is not necessarily “offensive-” a Lowe’s ad featuring a middle-aged white man will not offend me, simply because it is based on market research. Ads about cleaning product with only a woman on-screen is a different story.


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