Mad Woman: Suzbob vs. the Advertising Adversary

After finally finishing my mid-term month (yes, month), I realized that I could deal with some good old fashioned giggling. So I turned to one of my favorite comedians–Sarah Haskins. Sarah Haskins was featured on Current TV a few years ago with her fantastic mini-series, “Target Women” focusing on the absurdity of advertisements intended for (but clearly not produced by) American women. It’s a riot, but don’t take my word for it.

In one of my favorite sections, Sarah Haskins (who graduated from Harvard in History and Literature (America Field) what -what) takes to task the yogurt industry. Didn’t know that yogurt was an industry? It’s ok, let’s listen to how yogurt (a fairly innocuous food in my book) has been transformed into a highly toxic gendered project.


See what I mean? Giggle-inducing. Funny thing is, I don’t know if Yoplait meant it to be that way. As Haskins points out, the women who are eating the yogurt look foolish, as if this miracle product could solve any and all problems–including the ultimate–finding a man! (Along with only being consumed by women, it appears that this exclusive product is only available to straight single individuals.) For someone who hasn’t seen many commercials since arriving at Harvard, watching Haskins commercial parody is funny but not too out-of-the-ordinary. But, of course these commercials don’t make sense, they are based on irrational logic. However, I can’t pretend that I am immune to advertising. But really, how many times have I gone for the more expensive shampoo because of an ad that I have forgot that I had seen months ago. How many times have I seen someone carry a Starbucks cup across the Yard and then have “random” urge to go go grab a latte? How many times have I flipped through a magazine looking at a perfume ad and making a note to check it out at the Mall? (Truly, the perfume people are the true advertizing geniuses, for how else could they make a visual image promote a olfactory stimuli.) So you see, selling yogurt, the food of children, old people, and apparently women, perhaps isn’t as light hearted.

During the spring of my freshman year, I met a junior who had just returned from a semester in Cuba. Posing a rather obvious question, I asked her what she thought of the differences between Cuba and the US. “I remember one of my roommates mother’s sent us some women’s interest magazines. We flipped through it, laughing so hard at the ads, that to us, didn’t make any sense. In Cuba, sure there was propaganda, but this magazine was ridiculous.”

To be sure, most of the insecurities that I have about my body stem from advertisements. My lashes aren’t long and thick? But they also aren’t curly and defined? They are supposed to be bold too? Although the world of advertising has been glamorized  through shows like “Mad Men,” the fact remains that ads often make profit from reinforcing insecurities. With the previous example, I didn’t know that my eyelashes were deficient until I was told so by L’Oreal, Revlon, and their friend Maybelline. This constant messaging that my body is somehow defective is definitely dangerous, but how are we going to stand a chance?

My diagnosis is to create some smile wrinkles–aka laughter. Indeed, I think that is the real reason why I love Sarah Haskins’s “Target Women” so much. She observes, parodies, and eventually dismantles the destructive power of advertisement over American women. So sure, I’ll take my yogurt with a smile on my face but that’s just because I just finished laughing at it.


2 thoughts on “Mad Woman: Suzbob vs. the Advertising Adversary

  1. Let me kick this off by stating that I love yogurt form the bottom of my heart!

    It is hard to argue with any of the well laid out points made by Suzbob or Sarah H. It’s true that yogurt is advertised as a good of the middle class. It’s true that yogurt ads target women on diets. It’s true that sitting around with a friend gushing over how delicious a cup of yogurt is seems ridiculous. That being said, after watching Sarah’s compilation of ads, I don’t think I have seen a less harmful commercial campaign in my life! Yoplait does indeed offer delicious and unconventional flavor selections. Incorporating yogurt into your diet certainly can lead to weight loss. No lies… big accomplishment for the advertisement industry if you ask me.

    Now I can see the lack of sense made in the selection of only women as the consumers of the product in these ads. Men eat yogurt. However, much like I understand that just because every commercial featuring grilling has a tall, muscular, sun-kissed man doing the cooking doesn’t mean women don’t know how to flip a darn patty I would hope that men don’t think their lack of presence in yogurt ads means that they can’t indulge in a cup of yumminess now and then.
    What is most interesting to me is that this division between men and women as far as yogurt is concerned is a very American construct. In Europe and in Sub-Saharan Africa, which are all I can speak to from experience, men are featured in far more yogurt ads…

    In short, while I understand the ridiculousness of targeting specific genders in ads such as these featured on Sarah H’s show, it would be poor business practice to advertise carving knives more to women than they currently are, sports cars more to women then they already are, yogurt more to men then it already is (maybe). These companies, which finance these ads, know who consumes their product most, and adjust accordingly. Evil? Maybe. Fundamental business practice that would be costly to ignore? Undoubtedly.


  2. I am also a yogurt lover. On that note, I would take yogurt advertising to task on a different point: the product’s actual wholesomeness. Most advertised yogurts, certainly the highly-sweetened, flavored Yoplait products singled out in Haskins’s video, are packed with sweeteners, flavors, food dyes, and, in the case of very-low fat and fat-free varieties, thickeners to improve texture. As such, the product in the colorful, name-brand cups is often less nutritious than advertisers lead us to believe. In order to remain a “diet-friendly” food in consumers’ eyes, yogurt often hovers around 100 calories per package; 100 calories of sweetened and flavored yogurt is much less than 100 calories of, say, plain or lightly sweetened yogurt. This means less protein and calcium per cup. By advertising their products in a way that caters to women’s insecurities about weight and fitness, and formulating these products in a corresponding way, yogurt manufacturers often do not do their customers’ nutritional needs right.
    On a similar note, marketing yogurt to help with digestion, specifically to women also seems silly. Surely, men sometimes need help on this score.
    I would also like to take up a point Suzanna makes late in her editorial. She speaks to how advertising can harm our self-images. I could not agree more. We are bombarded with ads, most of which feature women airbrushed or otherwise “fixed up” to perfection. It is very difficult to keep in mind that we are real people, not models or retouched photos, when such “standards” of beauty or appearance are trumpeted as normal or even as readily-attainable. We need to do more than just laugh at the ads, though, because after laughing, when we open a magazine or check out a website, more perfect faces and bodies send the message that we need to mirror their perfection. Here I think Lindiwe has it right: this advertising works. The industries do not change it because it is profitable. It seems ridiculous, even harmful, but it is well-established business practices.
    In this age of citizen protest, however, perhaps the next public movement will spring up not around centers of commerce but centers of ideal-creation and advertising!

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