Valentine’s Day Ads Offer Low View of Men…and Women

by David Heitman

The annual wave of Valentine’s Day ads have been running in great number for the last couple of weeks on radio and television. Upon close examination, they seem to provide a not-so-great perspective on gender stereotypes.

But first, the economic implications: as it ends up, Valentine’s Day is big business. It’s the third largest consumer spending holiday, second only to Christmas/Hanukkah and Thanksgiving. Valentine’s Day spending accounts for 7.7 percent of annual consumer holiday spending, coming in at a whopping $17.6 billion. With that kind of money on the line, marketers are capable of stooping to a crass transactional approach to romantic love.

Three examples:

Teleflora is running one of the most seductive ads in recent memory featuring supermodel Adriana Lima, whose less than subtle advice to guys is “Give, and you will receive…”

A PajamaGram ad tells men that “It will look like you spent hours choosing just the right gift.”

Edible Arrangements, the fruit shish-kabob folks, tell gents that one of their gift baskets is “Your secret weapon this Valentine’s Day.”

So to summarize, Valentine’s Day gift buying is:

1) a quid pro quo for getting sex;
2) a means of deception; and
3) a secret weapon.

It’s hard to tell whether the view of men or the view of women is most denigrated by the marketers behind these ads: men are assumed to be 1) selfish, 2) deceptive and 3) requiring weapons. Women are portrayed as 1) calculating, 2) easily fooled or 3) witless victims.

These ads don’t attempt to play on the perpetually adolescent male persona that beer ads have turned into an art form, nor the tough-guy persona of truck ads. Instead, these Valentine’s Day ads take a fundamentally artless approach to creative. It’s like a sitcom whose unoriginal writers resort to sexual innuendo and put-downs for most of the laugh-lines. The Valentine’s Day ads cynically present men as willing to embrace a transactional approach to sex-based relationships, which itself depends on a view of women as susceptible to being conned.

Whether people like to admit it or not, advertising contributes to self-perception and self-definition. As immersed in the media culture as we are, it’s naïve to suggest advertising isn’t working. Tens of billions of dollars say it is.

So while ads like this may be effective, they aren’t really giving us a lot of love.

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