Today’s television ads are full of inept dads, dumb jocks and clueless husbands and the women who rescue, seduce and nag them. Some see these ads as harmless, while others decry the gender stereotypes they reinforce. But these ads may also reflect new realities in marketing: as men make more household purchases advertisers are adjusting to the shift. We sort the savvy from the ridiculous ahead of TV advertising’s biggest night of the year.


  • Malcolm Venable Strategic planner, The Martin Agency
  • Linda Holmes Writer and editor, NPR's Monkey See blog
  • Jack Neff Editor at large, Advertising Age

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  • 13:22:59

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe Patriots take on the Giants this Sunday in Super Bowl XLVI. Players, fans and Madonna aren't the only ones with a lot riding on the game. Last year, a record 111 million viewers tuned. A captive audience that big means high stakes for advertisers, who pay an average of $3.5 million for each 30-second spot, where many of the ads will show men behaving like boys and women cast in one of two roles, temptress or scold.

  • 13:23:28

    MR. KOJO NNAMDISo on the days when women were always the happy homemaker and men the rugged authority figure may be over, we started to wonder, are today's inept dads and put-upon moms an improvement? Joining us to have this conversation in our studio is Linda Holmes. She writes and edits NPR's Monkey See blog, which covers entertainment and pop culture. Linda Holmes, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:23:51

    MS. LINDA HOLMESThank you for having me.

  • 13:23:52

    NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Malcolm Venable. He's a brand planner with the Martin Agency, a national advertising agency based in Richmond, VA. Malcolm Venable, thank you for driving up from Richmond.

  • 13:24:04

    MR. MALCOLM VENABLEIt's my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

  • 13:24:05

    NNAMDIJoining us by phone from Batavia, OH is Jack Neff, editor-at-large for Advertising Age, where he covers packaged goods, Wal-Mart and market research. Jack Neff, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:24:16

    MR. JACK NEFFThank you for having me.

  • 13:24:17

    NNAMDIIt's a conversation you can join. Call us, 800-433-8850. Do you take issue with the way gender stereotypes are depicted in TV ads? Why or why not? 800-433-8850 or just go to our website,, join the conversation there. Send us a tweet @kojoshow. Jack Neff, with the majority of American women in the workforce, we're starting to see greater equity when it comes to the sharing of, well, household chores, including the shopping. As more men take to the grocery store aisles, how would you sum up the role of men in TV ads today?

  • 13:24:52

    NEFFThey're still largely invisible, at least among the advertisers who try to reach packaged goods buyers. There are a few exceptions. But by and large, most of the advertising tends to show women.

  • 13:25:09

    NNAMDIWhat do you say, Linda Holmes?

  • 13:25:10

    HOLMESI think that's certainly been my experience. I think it's still true that, you know, if you're talking about certain kinds of products that will be advertised during the Super Bowl, cars and beer and things like that, you'll see more ads made for men. But I think when you're talking about things purchased for the home, you still see most of the ads, they may show men, but they're for women.

  • 13:25:29

    NNAMDIMalcolm Venable, what say you?

  • 13:25:31

    VENABLEWell, I think it's starting to change. I think a lot of astute cultural observationists have begun to compile a lot of research and sort of trend watching about the changing dynamics in gender roles in society. And advertising reflects culture, but I do believe that people are paying more attention now and are starting to change. We've done a lot of research in my group at the Martin Agency about men and their buying habits and buying styles. And this information is really valuable and I think people are paying more attention now.

  • 13:26:10

    NNAMDIAgain, you can call us at 800-433-8850. Malcolm, the feminist movement changed the way we perceive and the way we talk about gender roles. Did that movement shift the way families are portrayed in ads or has it been a more subtle shift?

  • 13:26:27

    VENABLEWell, I am going to be wise and not blame anything on feminists because I don't want to get -- but I will say that all the research data is showing that women in the last 20, 30 years have made advances in education. They're getting more master's degrees. They're getting more bachelor's degrees. They have 51 percent of managerial titles. The recession that may or may not be over, men lost a majority of the manufacturing jobs as well as in other fields like finance. So, there's been a shift in the sort of power and cultural sway, I guess, between men and women. And men are sort of trying to figure out where they are.

  • 13:27:11

    NNAMDITo which you say what, Linda Holmes?

  • 13:27:13

    HOLMESYou know, I think that the idea they're -- it's interesting. There were a bunch of network TV shows this past fall that sort of focused on this idea of a kind of masculinity crisis. Most of them are already canceled, fortunately. But, you know, I think -- I suppose there are some of that. I can't really speak to how men feel about masculinity. But it comes across to me when it's portrayed in culture as not a particularly thoughtful analysis of that problem, if it exists.

  • 13:27:40

    HOLMESI think when you see, you know, men portrayed in domestic situations in advertising, they tend to still be portrayed as bumbling and foolish and incompetent, you know, particularly as parents, which is what I find most troubling and annoying.

  • 13:27:58

    NNAMDICare to comment on this, Jack Neff?

  • 13:28:01

    NEFFThere are some advertisers who are kind of moving away from the bumbling dad, but they do still seem to be few and far between. One of the better example that comes to mind for me would be Vicks advertising earlier this year that showed Drew Brees, the quarterback from Saints actually caring for his child who had a cold, which may be a first actually showing a dad just in a normal situation actually caring for a sick child.

  • 13:28:33

    NEFFThat was a little bit different and it seemed to work. I don't know how it did as far as the sales, but it looked like it worked. You've seen, say, in recent years Kimberly Clark Huggies advertising showing a dad changing a baby. And while there's a mishap involved, really, in particular a bumbling dad. So, it is changing quickly. But by and large, it just seems like the men are more invisible rather than portrayed as the buffoon.

  • 13:29:09

    NNAMDILinda Holmes, an ad proclaiming the harder a wife works, the cuter she looks or Christmas morning she'll be happier with a Hoover wouldn't fly today. Though both were a part of ad campaigns in years gone by. But while ads may not be as overtly sexist as they once were, women still are not shown in the most flattering light. What's the typical role for a woman in a TV ad?

  • 13:29:31

    HOLMESI think what you said earlier is very accurate that the most common roles that you see in advertising are the very sexy, attractive woman. You'll see a lot of that during the Super Bowl and the wife who sort of stands there educating the husband in how to not burn down the house, properly care for the child. And ultimately, it's sort of insulting to both of them, that stereotype, because it makes the man into someone who has to be educated about how to do normal things that people do in a normal situation.

  • 13:30:02

    HOLMESAnd it portrays the woman as someone whose primary job is to sort of educate and normalize and make a man competent as a parent and husband, which I don't think many men find very flattering either.

  • 13:30:15

    NNAMDIMalcolm, what do you as how women are typically portrayed in TV ads today?

  • 13:30:19

    VENABLEI think women have a pretty wide spectrum. But I think one of the things that's interesting that both our guests are saying today their idea of normal. And our idea of normal has changed. There was a great study by Yahoo, I believe, in 2011 that showed that 61 percent of men felt like they were ignored by advertising these various different sort of packaged goods realms.

  • 13:30:44

    VENABLEAnd, again, and normal is changed now because it's not uncommon now for a man to be a stay-at-home dad or know how to take of a kid or be a single father, for that matter. And I think we, as an industry, have a little bit of a catching up to do to illustrate that reality, because it's not a foreign concept at all.

  • 13:31:02

    NNAMDIHere is Marci in Olney, MD. Marci, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:31:08

    MARCIHi, Kojo. I love your show. And I just want to say, you know, I wonder if sometimes -- I was an advertising major in Penn State and so I look at the ads a lot of times and some I love and some I don't. So, I was wondering if a lot of advertisers don't play to decision makers household, which are primarily probably women.

  • 13:31:29

    NNAMDIWhat do you say, Linda Holmes?

  • 13:31:30

    HOLMESI think they try to. I think a lot of these bumbling dad ads are, you know, certainly, they're not aimed at men. I think they are aimed at women. And I think some advertisers believe that women find that idea of the woman as the wise person in the household, who's responsible for going out and buying the right products to keep the household running, I think for a lot of advertisers assume or it seems that they assume that women find that flattering. Women I know do not find that flattering. They find it sort of limiting. And for many of them, they find it insulting to their husbands. So...

  • 13:32:01

    NNAMDIJack, as a matter of fact, in ads where both parents are shown, the dad is often is inept in some way and the mom, as Linda was just pointing out, is the one who can do it all. It's my understanding that that bothers you, as a matter of fact, that it bothers each of our panelists. We've heard from Linda. How about you, Jack?

  • 13:32:19

    NEFFIt doesn't seem like a particularly good way to portray men for either party. I'm not sure it's exactly aspirational for the woman to believe that her mate is incompetent in the household either. So, I mean, there are some truth that despite the fact that roles have changed, that women are still the predominant decision makers on most household purchases. But you know that at a point where at the minimum about a third of purchases are made by men and there are some debates as to how often those purchases are made on the advice of women in the household. But it's still an awfully big segment of your audience to overlook. And so, as a result, it's probably not the best way to go.

  • 13:33:09

    NNAMDIMarci, thank you for your call. On to Wes in Washington, D.C. Wes, your turn, go ahead please.

  • 13:33:17

    WESHi. I'm -- I called in in response to this because I'm getting a little tired of how men are depicted as stupid and these women are so condescending. And I started changing the channel. I won't watch a commercial like that and I make it a point not to remember what product they're selling and I couldn't tell you what product because I just -- I'm not going to let them get their advertising into me.

  • 13:33:44

    NNAMDIMalcolm Venable, most men say ads do not depict their reality. To sell a product, does an ad have to be realistic?

  • 13:33:53

    VENABLENot necessarily. I think advertising can be fun and aspirational and weird and crazy and funny. And I think there's room for that. But, you know, this previous caller, he makes a good point. There are a lot of dads who are really upset. There are blogs about this and there are people who are blogging and tweeting about this very topic. And one of the things I think is interesting -- we've talked a lot about the bumbling dad.

  • 13:34:18

    VENABLEBut I do think there's some other archetypes that are out there, including like the perpetual adolescent loser, because that's a very common archetype in culture right now with, you know, this 30-something guy who still wants to play video games and sleep around and not get a real job. And I think that, you know, advertising reflects life and vice versa.

  • 13:34:38

    NNAMDISo, how is your agency taking the new reality of who actually does the buying in home into account?

  • 13:34:44

    VENABLEI'm very glad you asked that. In the department that I work in, we -- it's called Martin Forensics. And what we do is use a lot of consumer data to yield insights about how people are actually behaving. And I -- we did a survey earlier this year -- or we used data from a survey over 9,000 dads and came up with these five distinct types. And their styles is different or vary from how they choose to sort of parent their children. One of which example is a hip father, right?

  • 13:35:14

    VENABLEAnd he thinks that the way to best relate to his kid is by buying the latest things and being cool. Then there's another dad who's more of the traditionalist, right, who won't buy anything unless it's broken or unless out of absolute necessity. And I think these are not only, you know, real things. They come out of actual data. So, I mean the proof there that, you know, there's no one type of man or father.

  • 13:35:40

    NNAMDIWell, if that is indeed the reality, Jack, why don't advertisers take into account what apparently the survey found and that is a whole lot of them and don't like being portrayed in that way?

  • 13:35:52

    NEFFI think it boils down as much as anything to the belief that women are still calling the shots in most of these categories. And that's probably true when they do their market segmentation analysis. But -- and part of it is just the somewhat tied to tradition. Honestly, there's probably room for some smarter marketers to take a different direction and to portray more of men in their advertising and even to actually position products and brands for men.

  • 13:36:28

    NEFFWhen you look at a lot of the categories out there, they're big enough and segmented enough that certainly they're large enough to have a primarily male-positioned brand.

  • 13:36:42

    NNAMDIJack Neff is -- go ahead, Jack.

  • 13:36:45

    NEFFYou see it not so much in household care, but you see it in personal care more with men's products and, I guess, another one of the better examples of somewhat different portrayals of men in advertising would be Dove men care, personal care products, where there's been a series of ads portraying athletes in their roles outside of the sport and talking about their journey to comfort, as it's called and the implication being that they're also comfortable enough to use a body wash that's traditionally associated with women, I guess.

  • 13:37:27

    NNAMDIWe'll get to the body wash issue in a second. Jack Neff is editor-at-large for Advertising Age, where he covers packaged goods, Wal-Mart and market research. He joins us by phone from Batavia, OH. In our Washington studios, Malcolm Venable. He's a brand planner with the Martin Agency, a national advertising agency based in Richmond, VA. And Linda Holmes, writes and edits NPR's Monkey See blog, which covers entertainment and pop culture. 800-433-8850 is our number.

  • 13:37:57

    NNAMDIDo you think ads should reflect reality? Why or why not? 800-433-8850. It seems that part of what we are at odds about here might also be humor. What is uproariously funny to me may be extremely dumb to you. Is the ad world's reliance on humor a double-edged sword, Linda?

  • 13:38:20

    HOLMESI think it is. And it's funny that you mentioned that, because I think advertising and humor have a lot in common in the sense that they both have a primary purpose outside of storytelling or reflecting culture in that humor is primarily there to make you laugh. Advertising is primarily there to sell the product. Nevertheless, they both tend to grow out of cultural narratives that really exist.

  • 13:38:42

    HOLMESAnd so that's the problem is how do you think about this in a way that doesn't stomp all over everybody's good time. Doesn't make it seem -- I mean, I think we would all agree advertising never accurately reflects anyone's life to a point where they say, boy, that person in that ad, it's like watching a videotape of my home. No one feels that way.

  • 13:39:02

    HOLMESAnd yet, there are still moments where the buttons that are being pushed are worth noting. It's not a matter of getting necessarily offended, but it's worth noticing what are the stories, what are the, like I said, the narratives that these are growing out of.

  • 13:39:16

    NNAMDIMalcolm, humor?

  • 13:39:17

    VENABLEI think Linda has hit perfectly. Storytelling is exact right word. And I think we are working hard to tell stories in the best way that we can and better. I think humor is essential. For example, the Hanes ad that our agency has done when the guy dips his son's feet in plaster, I think it's hilarious. I think it's one of the funniest things I've ever seen. But I can also see how people can be really miffed by it. And if you look at the comments on YouTube, people were really upset. But at the same time, Wal-mart was exceptional at showing fathers in a really normal, light-hearted, cool relationships with their kids. And I think, you know, there's a spectrum.

  • 13:40:02

    VENABLEI don't think that ultimately we can, as Linda was saying, pin all of our kind of personal baggage onto an ad. But I like funny, and I'm always up for a good laugh.

  • 13:40:15

    NNAMDIWell, speaking of humor. We have the audio from the first Old Spice ad, because this -- Old Spice ads came up repeatedly as an example of gender stereotyping turned into absurd theater. We have the audio from the Old Spice ad starring Isaiah Mustafa.

  • 13:41:04

    NNAMDIWell, Jack Neff, are men in some ways the only safe target out there?

  • 13:41:11

    NEFFYeah, to an extent. You can clearly get away with lampooning men in advertising more easily than you can anybody else. I mean, that particular ad was -- the Isaiah Mustafa ads in general are clearly so over the top that they are not meant to be taken seriously and I don't think for the most part many men have been offended by them, and they've also tended to appeal to women pretty well, and so from that point of view it's worked pretty well.

  • 13:41:44

    NNAMDIIs that because...

  • 13:41:44

    NEFFIn general, humor can be a very dangerous thing, and in advertising for advertisers because of its propensity to be misunderstood or misconstrued by a segment of the population. So it's something that people, particularly in packaged goods, tend to handle with care.

  • 13:42:03

    NNAMDILinda Holmes, do you think it's the absurdity that apparently makes that one work and men not object to it?

  • 13:42:08

    HOLMESI think that is part of it. I think that to me was a really smart campaign, partly because it's so much about gender, and yet it doesn't feel like it's at anybody's expense really. It's at the expense of the whole kind of ridiculous cultural idea of stereotypical masculinity. You can find that funny if you're a woman. You can also find it funny if you're a man, and I don't think anybody felt like that ad campaign was directed at that, that it was at their expense, and I think it was very inclusive.

  • 13:42:39

    HOLMESThe people I knew who thought that was really funny included both men and women, and I think they got away with that one partly just because it was a good idea. I mean, ultimately nothing works like a good idea to keep people from being upset by whatever you're doing.

  • 13:42:52

    NNAMDIBut Malcolm, couldn't some guys have been looking at that commercial and going like, oh yeah, that's me. Or was it too absurd?

  • 13:43:01

    VENABLEI would be astonished by that. If anybody would pull off the feats that are accomplished in that commercial in real life, I'd be really impressed. I think humor is an excellent device, but it has to be done while -- I mean, at the end of the day, not everybody's gonna like everything. That's the just the reality of life, right? But I think as Linda was saying, storytelling and telling stories well resonates with people, and that's what people respond to.

  • 13:43:27

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your call. You can also communicate with us via email to, at tweet @kojoshow, or go to our website, Join the conversation there. Have you ever stopped or started buying a product or shopping at a retailer because of the ads that they ran? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:45:51

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on gender stereotyping in advertising. We're talking with Linda Holmes. She writes and edits NPR's "Monkey See" blog which covers entertainment and pop culture. Malcolm Venable is a brand planner with the Martin Agency, a national advertising agency based in Richmond, Va., and Jack Neff is editor-at-large for Advertising Age where he covers packaged goods, Wal-Mart and market research.

  • 13:46:16

    NNAMDICommercials for trucks and beer are almost exclusively geared toward men. We got this email from Victor about beer ads. "I drink a lot of craft beer, partially due to the fact that it's just better stuff, but the cherry on top is that the big beer companies make commercials that as far as I'm concerned, openly mock the intelligence of their consumers. Is the slice of consumers that are cognizant of this kind of treatment so small that advertisers feel compelled to continue making commercials insinuating that their consumers are idiots?" That said, we have the audio from a Miller Lite ad, which you can also find out our website, It's part of their Man Up series.

  • 13:47:24

    NNAMDILinda, do you think we'll see a shift in these kinds of ads any time soon?

  • 13:47:29

    HOLMESBoy, I don't know. With beer ads, I don't know.

  • 13:47:31

    NNAMDIOne can only hope.

  • 13:47:32

    HOLMESBeer ads are a mystery to me, I have to say. I sort of agree with the email that you read. I find the target audience for that very mystifying. I don't get it. I got to admit, I don't get it.

  • 13:47:48

    NNAMDIWell, you mentioned this demographic earlier, Malcolm Venable, the 30-some-year-old-always-adolescent, are there really that many of those people out there to whom those ads appeal?

  • 13:48:01

    VENABLEWell, that's the great debate.

  • 13:48:02

    NNAMDINot according to your survey.

  • 13:48:04

    VENABLEThat's the great debate. Again, it goes back to sort of figuring out what's funny and what's not. I've actually been told by a female bartender before to man up when I ordered a drink at a bar before, so it's not like these things don't happen in real life. You know, I think we're coming out a period where there's this sort of weird consensus among me that nobody really knows what happening.

  • 13:48:28

    VENABLEYou know, words like murse, and mandles, and mancession are being used and tossed around and as heinous as they are, it just illustrates how people are sort of trying to figure out gender roles and where men fall in this new spectrum. So that being said, you know, are the people who are drinking that beer even responding to the advertising, they just like the taste of the beer and drink it regardless. That's, you know, a huge question.

  • 13:48:53

    NNAMDIInquiring minds want to know. What was the drink you ordered?

  • 13:48:57

    VENABLEYou know, I'd asked for a vodka and it was too strong, and I asked her to put more juice in it, and she told me to man up. Can you believe that?

  • 13:49:07

    NNAMDIAh, yeah.

  • 13:49:08

    VENABLENow, I'm not admitting...

  • 13:49:09

    NNAMDIThat is very difficult to believe. But Jack Neff, are these kinds of commercials likely to go away any time soon?

  • 13:49:15

    NEFFHistory would have to tell us no. You know, the history of beer advertising is not -- has not been really promising. The only reason to think that they will go away is that frankly they don't seem to work. In broad measure, the mass beer brands keep being flat to declining in sales, craft beer keeps growing. It probably has as much or more to do with the product as it does with the advertising, but at some point you would think that there would be some introspection in the industry as to whether the advertising approach is really working too.

  • 13:49:51

    NNAMDIHope you didn't tip that bartender. Or say, no, more vodka, I'm the designated driver. Here is...

  • 13:49:58

    VENABLEI think his point was a great point. The question is whether or not the product itself is really the issue, and not necessarily the advertising.

  • 13:50:06

    NNAMDIHere now is Matt is Washington, D.C. Matt, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:50:12

    MATTYeah. Hi, Kojo. Yeah. I had two -- I had a comment about research, but I think maybe, as a beer drinker, it also goes into the research on this last commercial. You know, a lot of commercials that I see are based upon, you know, the man pulling something off on the wife, you know, like he's trying to get away with something. I'm thinking Digiorno ad.

  • 13:50:32

    NNAMDIOh, yeah.

  • 13:50:32

    MATTYou know, most beer commercials. But is there market research that -- as a married man, and as a beer drinker, is there market research that shows, you know, that's, you know, that husbands are deceptive and are looking to pull something off? Is that what -- I mean, it makes me -- it makes it uncomfortable when I'm sitting watching TV with my wife. She thinks, you know, what's this all about. I didn't know if there was research behind that.

  • 13:50:56

    MATTAnd then to the beer point, I was gonna say, you know, Miller Lite is not where I would go for flavor. Are they thinking we're stupid enough to say, oh, well, if I want flavor I'm gonna go mass produce, you know, macro brew, you know. Is there research that shows that? I don't know where these ideas come from.

  • 13:51:14

    NNAMDIJack Neff, any -- oh. Jack Neff?

  • 13:51:19

    NEFFI am not aware of any research that shows a huge groundswell of anybody being interested in ads about husbands pulling things over on their wives. But I think it may just be a humor technique that works more or less and gets used over and over again. Not aware of any research on that though.

  • 13:51:38

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your Matt. Linda Holmes, of course the ads we see on TV are not being aired in a bubble or in a vacuum. You say we still see a lot of gender stereotypes in the shows during which those ads run.

  • 13:51:50

    HOLMESRight. And I think that's one of those things where you can often find parallels, not perfect parallels, but some parallels between what's going on in the advertising and what's going on in the shows. As I mentioned, it was sort of -- this past fall season on television was sort of the year of the masculinity crisis, and there were a lot of shows about men, not -- it wasn't so much the economic issues, it was men not understanding how to be men, and men who looked to other people to explain to them how to be men.

  • 13:52:24

    HOLMESAnd it was very odd, and those shows did not, for the most part, work. I believe one of them is still on, but several of them were, you know, very quickly canceled. I'm not sure they resonated as much as people expected that they would, although, you know, the track record overall for shows being canceled is very high, but yeah. It's definitely a strange year for television. It's a strange time in television for gender roles.

  • 13:52:49

    HOLMESThere are more good roles for women on certain kinds of shows, but then you do see, as Malcolm mentioned earlier, this sort of -- the guy who doesn't want to grow up, who wants to play video games, and again, not only men who aren't good at parenting, but men who sort of don't naturally enjoy parenting, which is kind of again, an odd thing to me since it's not, you know, my experience in life with actual fathers.

  • 13:53:15

    NNAMDIHere is Madeline in Philadelphia, Pa. Madeline, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:53:21

    MADELINEOh, hi. So I feel like a lot of advertising is about having power over even if with sort of like -- with funny advertisements it's sort of having power over the advertising agency or advertising industry rather. And so I'm wondering if it's actually possible to have a commercial in which power dynamics are in play, to have a commercial that actually kind of reflects gender equality. Is that even possible?

  • 13:53:49

    NNAMDII guess all things are possible in the advertising industry. Whether or not if it is possible it is necessarily attractive is another question completely. Malcolm?

  • 13:53:59

    VENABLEWell, yeah. I think, you know, the work that you see is reflective of research and insights about people. So, you know, we take these sort of insights about human behavior, things that are going on, and, you know, and true data market research, and to the previous caller's point, no there's not gonna be any research that says yes, 67 percent of men are trying to deceive their wives, but there may be research that shows that they have the same values, the same behavioral patterns.

  • 13:54:32

    VENABLEAs to gender equality, I think it just has to come out in the story. I think to Linda's point about how the sitcoms and television shows have been playing out, they are reflective of reality. What does it mean to be a mean, you know, when your spouse is making more money than you do, and you can't change a flat tire without going to your phone and figuring out that or how to carve a turkey. What does it really mean any more, and I think that that's what people are maybe not articulating, but it's what they're sort of trying to figure out, and that's why I think we're seeing what we're seeing.

  • 13:55:05

    NNAMDIWell, are we captive of history here, Linda Holmes? We have hitched our advertising wagon to gender roles, and so the notion that we can kind of unhitch them and re-hitch them to gender equality and still be successful I guess is difficult for a lot of people to even think about.

  • 13:55:22

    HOLMESThat's a great point, and it's important to remember I think that , you know, gender roles are not the only thing that exists in advertising that's potentially problematic. There are lots and lots of populations that feel that they're not adequately represented, or that they're not represented in a way that feels in any way respectful to them.

  • 13:55:40


  • 13:55:41

    HOLMESThere was just a big story about the use of a child who had Down Syndrome in a piece of Target advertising, which a lot of parents really appreciated because they feel that they don't see a lot of kids with disabilities in ads that feature kids. So it's not just a gender roles issue. And as I said earlier, nobody feels like they're looking in the mirror when they see advertising, especially funny advertising, blown up advertising. But, you know, it's hard to say. Is it ever gonna completely go away? Of course not.

  • 13:56:08

    HOLMESI don't think any more than it's gonna go away in the rest of media. But again, it's good to keep in mind what are the stories, what are the narratives, and how might they potentially be a little bit damaging over time, particularly repeated as frequently as advertising is.

  • 13:56:21

    NNAMDIMadeline, thank you very much for your call. Amanda in Falls Church, Va., has a fascinating concern. Amanda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:56:30

    AMANDAHi. My question, I can say that in my household my husband and I are equally dumbfounded by a certain advertising in the toilet paper industry. I don't know if this is a gender issue, but I think that this panel might be the best to get the bottom of it, no pun intended. Why are there -- okay. All the ads for toilet paper are either by bears -- the bears, you know, that have the pieces stuck to the bottom of them, or babies, they show babies with toilet paper, or babies, bears, and dogs. There's dogs playing with, like -- none of those three things actually use toilet paper.

  • 13:57:10

    AMANDABabies don't use toilet paper, bears don't use toilet paper, and dogs don't use toilet paper. And I just think it's insulting that we can only….

  • 13:57:17

    NNAMDIWe only have about 30 seconds left, and this is an extremely profound concerning issue, so we're gonna have to have Linda respond in 30 seconds or less.

  • 13:57:26

    HOLMESI completely share your concern, and they have just started a bunch of ads where people say very earnestly into the camera that we need to talk more about what happens in the bathroom.

  • 13:57:35


  • 13:57:36

    HOLMESI say we do not. I agree with you. I echo your concern completely.

  • 13:57:41

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's the all the time we have. Linda Holmes writes and edits NPR's "Monkey See" blog which covers entertainment and pop culture. Linda, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:57:49

    HOLMESThank you so much.

  • 13:57:49

    NNAMDIMalcolm Venable is a brand planner with the Martin Agency, a national advertising agency based in Richmond, Va. Malcolm, thank you for stopping by.

  • 13:57:58

    VENABLEThank you, sir. Thank you.

  • 13:57:59

    NNAMDIAnd Jack Neff is editor-at-large for Advertising Age where he covers packaged goods, Wal-Mart and market research. Jack, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:58:07

    NEFFThank you.

  • 13:58:08

    NNAMDI"The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Brendan Sweeney, Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, and Tayla Burney, with assistance from Kathy Goldgeier and Elizabeth Weinstein. The managing producer is Diane Vogel. The engineer is Timmy Olmstead. A.C. Valdez is on the phones. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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