Watching the commercials during the Super Bowl, or any televised sporting event for that matter can be a perilous activity for a family. Between the commercials for beer, Axe body spray, and GoDaddy, there are plenty of moments to turn the channel momentarily or send the kids to refill the bowl of chips just in case.
Back when I was in college I took a sociology class on Pop Culture. One day we spent an entire day analyzing popular advertising, which to this day was one of the most memorable two hours of any class I ever had in all my years of being educated. Our professor gave a very interactive lecture, meaning he encouraged a lot of dialogue from us on the more subtle messages of advertisements. He displayed numerous clips of print and TV advertising and pointed out some of the more subtle messages that are communicated that we don’t necessarily pick up on, which can also be the most influential because we haven’t been trained to think about it beyond its bad because it’s overtly sexual. In regards to print advertising, he trained us to observe how in clothing and especially fragrance ad women were almost always in postures that suggested she was available sexually and was placed on a lower plane on the page that suggested her submission to the male character. In other words the subtle message of male dominance and female submission to men was more influential than the overt fact that she, or both of them were half naked. More subtle than the fact that all the women look like models in most beer commercials is the subtlety that, one, opposite sex interaction was easier with a beer in hand, and two, if the girl even looked at the guy she not only was attracted to him but wanted him sexually. Some advertisers are savvy enough to poke fun at their own strategy (think the Merc Benz commercial where the guy almost makes a deal with the devil to get everything that goes with the car). If it wasn’t for the fact that I knew numerous guys who went through life thinking in these ways, if a girl even looked at them and gave so much as a polite smile it meant she wanted him, it wouldn’t have been such an impressionable lesson.
Now instead of simply recognizing how women are being objectified I recognize how men in particular are advertised to as if their Neanderthals whose sole purpose in life is to mate and reproduce. By purchasing this product the odds of my happiness, fulfillment, survival, social status or whatever it may be will instantly multiply, is the underlying message. When I was a teenager all I saw was the product and pretty girls who depending on the ad wore next to nothing. It wasn’t until my twenties that I saw more.
Here are some suggestions for parents of young teens who want to help their kids decipher the more subtle messages of advertising. This way they can become more empowered to not fall for the subtle lies used to sell the product. Plus you may have an opportunity to get to know a little bit more about your young teen as you enter into dialogue about something other than what they did or need to do.
- Find Out What They’re Thinking. Ask them what they think about what they just saw. Ask them how they think the marketers are trying to convince us to buy the product. Ask them what they think the ad says about the nature of men and women. Ask them what they think the ad says about life, fulfillment, happiness etc. This will also help you get a gauge on whether or not they are thinking concretely or abstractly (Hint: if they already are starting to pick up on the subtle stuff then they are entering abstract thinking).
- Make Observations. Instead of making direct comments about what you think is wrong with the commercial, which if you are raising your child to have a moral compass shaped by God’s word will be fairly obvious to them, point out some of the more subtle things. For example instead of pointing out how overtly sexual the ad is, point out how the mood or tone of the individuals change when the product appears or is put into use.
- Discuss the Message? Advertisements, whether commercials or print are like art, and portray a worldview; life is good or as it ought to be if ‘x’; there is a problem or life is broken because of ‘y’; life is back the to the way it was meant to be or even better than before because of ‘z’. This doesn’t have to be like work and could be turned into a fun little exercise to connect with your young teen as you watch tv.