In my last blog I made mention of the “clueless husband” trope in TV ads. Upon closer examination I’ve noticed this cliché has become nearly an epidemic in television advertising to women. Men—or more specifically, husbands—use the blender with no lid, change their kid’s poopy diaper on the kitchen table, and generally behave like morons, while their long-suffering wives clean up after them with disinfectant wipes and paper towels. Check out the hilarious Sarah Haskins’ diatribe on “Doofy Husbands” for more examples. She astutely points out that while single men in TV commercials are still cool—driving hot cars, buying beer for sexy women in bars, working out at the gym—as soon as they get married, it’s all over.
While this portrayal of men can be funny (especially if you’re not a man), it demonstrates a lack of respect for women as well as men. It gives the impression that the only way to make women feel smart and competent is to make men dense and inept. This “if I make you less then I’m more” fallacy is the logic used by bullies everywhere. Most women I know don’t feel the need to bully men in order to feel that they are intelligent or capable. And research shows that the most effective marketing to women also appeals to men. Why do so many advertisers ignore this truth?
It’s not like men don’t notice. In fact, men are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore. As described in this Huffington Post article men protested a 2012 TV campaign by Huggies in which the diaper company implied that allowing dads to be in charge of babies for an extended time would “put diapers to the test.” In other words, dads would let the babies’ diapers go without changing for a lot longer than moms. One man protesting the spots complained: “Get over the gender thing, will ya, Huggies? Because, as best as I can tell from all the comments you're ignoring on Facebook, most of us parents have been over the gender thing for years.”
Sounds like good advice for advertisers everywhere. What do you think? Is the portrayal of men in ads targeted at women unfair? Or is it justifiable payback for decades of vapid women on TV?