What Baby Wants, Baby Gets

Hannah chatted me from the other room asking if I wanted to “see an awesome ad.”

Intriguing. Especially coming from my partner who watches television commercials with the sound off as a means to dissect visual meta-information. Holding degrees in communication and anthropology, she finds it fun, entertaining to pick apart advertising. “The oral message is direct,” she tells me. “But who did they choose to include? How did they frame the shot? Pay attention to color, lighting.” These are all things to watch for, I’ve learned. I know they matter, but I don’t know exactly what they mean. I just know how they make me feel and how I react to them.

“Of course audio is important; words and music play huge roles…” I nod. But tonight she is not delving into the logistics of the kind of camera pan, or the quickness of the cuts; tonight she is laughing at the simplicity of slow motion, the clever humor embedded in Target’s newest ad campaign.

This is the ad Hannah showed me, but it isn’t my favorite in the series.

I think of the Target brand in a very specific way. Target is supposed to take designer fabulous and make it affordable to regular schmoes. It’s middle class classy; it’s not like Walmart at all. Target is elevated, fashionable, and as NPR points out, “known for its cheap-chic clothing and home goods.” This ad campaign is working “to focus more on its grocery-store aisle.”

And focus they do. The ad features a row of exploding cake mix boxes and a tall, long-haired, red lipstick-wearing model, whisk in hand, breaking an egg open with her fingertips. “Dominate that PTA bake sale” the voiceover goads. Then, in a whisper: “The Everyday Collection. By Target.” Okay, admittedly amusing. Maybe even worth walking across the apartment for. The ad is set on a clean, white background (very Target). They are mixing their elegant designer simplicity (complete white set, cake mix on white podiums, the emblematic target/bullseye in white behind the model) with something like a PTA bake sale. It’s clever. It appeals to me in a strange way.

One thing I always look for in ads is how women are portrayed. This is most likely because I am a woman and because of my background in gender studies. Some ads make me cringe, but not the ones from Target. Did they just try to influence stay-at-home moms with a line about a bake sale? Yes. But it was in a tongue-in-cheek way, so I kind of loved it. Also: the models they’re using don’t seem typical model-pretty to me. They each have an interesting look (but they are definitely still pretty, and thin, and they look tall).

I love companies like Dove, who is still rocking their Campaign for Real Beauty. But I have to admit that as much as I love the Korean product, I am presently hating on this new Samsung Galaxy ad.
I had only seen the 30-second version before searching for it online. This one is even worse. The woman is shown out of her desk, chatting, watching videos on her phone while texting, not doing her job, and being a nuisance to her male coworker who is doing his job. Hooray for women in the workplace.

The colleagues demonstrate the tap-to-send feature as the man shares the work he’s been doing while the woman was goofing off. When their boss comes by to ask if either of them has put together the earnings report, the woman says that she has. (Oh! And she’s a liar!) The boss says, “You’re fast. Why don’t you tackle the next quarter?” and then invites the man to lunch. So wrong. The boss doesn’t know she’s lying and yet she’s told to keep working while the men go to lunch. In fact, I bet if the man had announced he’d finished it, he would still be rewarded with lunch. Maybe this is karma in action, but it looks more like sexism. What makes me more miffed is that this ad would have worked with two men. Or two women. But they chose to have the woman looking at puppy videos and sketching while the man was working. Is it meant to be humorous? Yes. But at the expense of women (who still only earn something like $.77 to the $1.00 that men earn. Why? Maybe because we are all perceived to be gawking at puppies instead of doing our jobs.)

Target has ads running right now for cake mixes, laundry detergent, vitamins, and cuts of meat. When I saw two of them on Hannah’s computer—as commercial breaks to the show she was watching—they included prices, which youtube has left out. According to NPR, four more are due to air and I have to admit I’m looking forward to them.

This is my favorite in the series. I think I’ll watch it again right now. My god, I love it.

But I am led to think things like, “why is the Asian actor in this commercial? To play off the stereotype that Asian women are often submissive? Demure?” It makes it even more ridiculous the way she’s tearing into chips and pickles. Are you just trying to be extra ironic, Target? Or perhaps this woman is fulfilling the “dragon lady” stereotype. Or maybe she’s just standing in for any ravenous pregnant woman. Maybe pregnant women are really offended. Either way, I have watched it 12 times voluntarily and still find it clever, amusing, funny. It’s because of the intent to be ridiculous. The woman is simultaneously designer-chic in white with flat-ironed hair and yet she’s really-really into grocery products. Ripping into them, in fact. In slow motion. It’s well-crafted in its wackiness.

The Target ad for laundry detergent features a woman sort of swaying in a slow whimsical way, streamers flowing around her. “We all yearn for something,” the voiceover says. “And that something is the other sock.” For some reason, I am way more lenient on Target advertisers. Is this what women’s hopes and dreams are? Let’s just make a big joke: we yearn for socks because we do laundry all day. But I don’t see it that way. Target seems to be making social commentary. Or maybe I am giving them too much credit. After all, I do think this ad would have been just as funny with a man—maybe more so.


Hannah told me I should check out Adbusters, which I did briefly. You could poke around there if you’re interested in taking a closer look at media and advertising. I enjoy spoof ads, so  I’ll leave you with this one to offset your desires to dart off to the grocery aisle in Target.


How do you like the new ads for The Everyday Collection by Target?


  • Sam Ligon Sam Ligon says:

    The Target ads are so blatant in how they use sex to sell. But they’re completely ridiculous, of course — the cake mixes erupting, etc. So we get it. We’re in on it. And therefore it’s an ironic use of sex to sell cake mix?

  • Laura Citino Laura C. says:

    But does the world need another advertisement reinforcing that women are the ones who do laundry, bake cakes, go to PTA meetings? And if it was a man, it would be extra over-the-top because of the role reversal ridiculousness. I don’t know. The whole “ironic sexism” thing, I’m kinda over it. I’m starting to think it’s no better than plain old actual sexism.

  • Ironic sexism is still sexism, of course. I think it’s the self-awareness that allows me to feel more “okay” about it. They know they’re doing it and they’re not hiding it. They’re trying to straddle the line and make a joke with the viewers. For me, that works in this case. Not for everybody.

  • nicole Hardina says:

    Great post, Michelle! The Target commercials seemed straight out of Zoolander, to me. Especially the detergent one. Here’s what I mean: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXsKHjX3Y6g

  • Keri says:

    I like the ads, but wanted to add some humor and reality. Here’s a real mom’s target ad: http://bit.ly/Wp5EHD

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