Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

Part 1-Fun Strategies For Kids: Deconstructing Advertisements

In this recent blog post, Marina Del Vecchio shares a few advertisements that are the direct opposite of those that we’ve been seeing from Candie’s. Whereas Candie’s ads are all about depicting young females as sexy and focusing on their physical appearance, these ads are focused on strength, talents, and passion for achieving goals.

In this post, I’d like to do a little deconstructing of the messages that are being sent in the two ads above so that you can get an idea of how you might go about this with your own children, and for adolescents to start practicing deconstructing media messages themselves.

Contrast the first ad by Verizon that I’ve posted on this blog with the second ad, which is by Skechers. There are a few things that I see that really make these ads different. The first ad is the kind that I’d like to support, while the second is marketing to girls in a way that I just don’t like.

In the Verizon ad, the focus is on the little girls creativity and business sense. She’s building a business, working with a team, and accomplishing her goals. Notice also that there are positive depictions of males throughout this commercial. Susie’s dad gives her the phone in the first place, and she has members on her team who are boys. They’re working together and getting things done. It’s a fun depiction of children being resourceful and doing something powerful. While Susie is the main character, the positive depiction of males makes it a commercial that both genders can enjoy.

Now look at the Skechers ad. The girls are depicted as “stars” singing at a concert in front of a cheering crowd. This is clearly a promotion of the culture of celebrity that says that getting attention from large groups of people is a great thing. Instead of celebrating the girls’ musical abilities or something similar, it really seems to be more about “Hey, look at me being famous.”  There’s also some Age Compression going on here. Age Compression is a term that’s been used by marketers to describe how children are doing things and developing interests at younger ages than they used to. You see a “blurring of the boundaries” (Levin & Kilbourne, 2009) between adult and child behaviors.

The reason that this isn’t a good thing is that it moves children into thinking that they should be doing the things that adults do instead of looking at those behaviors as inappropriate for their age group. It may seem fairly innocuous to see girls between 8-14 thinking they should be wearing clothes or doing things that 15-18 year olds used to only do. But, when you consider that this often means these girls are beginning to focus on their physical appearance and romantic relationships at earlier ages as well, you can see where age compression becomes a slippery slope. Then there is the way that boys are depicted. They’re dressed in silly costumes and following the girl around with goofy looks on their faces. Boys are buffoons in this commercial. Is there any chance that real little boys are going to like this ad? I doubt it.
Here’s what I wish marketers understood, you don’t have to depict boys as stupid to attract girls to your product. You don’t have to focus on girls performing to get attention and “looking good” to attract girls to your product.  Look at these commercials for Nike, which feature both boys and girls. They’re also about shoes and other sports clothing and equipment, but the feel is very different from that of the Skechers ad. Then there’s this one from Geox, that also features children dancing, but with both boys and girls participating and having fun and showing their physicality and skill.

In real life, girls and boys play together. They run and jump and climb trees, they set up lemonade stands, they dance and sing, and they play sports. As most of these advertisements have shown, there are positive ways to show boys and girls interacting and having fun. In a very practical way, we can support the companies that provide more positive depictions of childhood with our business. Instead of buying one pair of shoes, I might choose to buy another because I like the messages that they’re sending to my kids.

This month I’m focusing on featuring positive products, companies and organizations. I’ll also be sharing some practical strategies for helping your child and yourself learn to be more critical media consumers and activists. As we become more aware of the messages that media are sending, it makes it easier to be active in choosing the best options for ourselves and our kids in everything from TV shows to tennis shoes. And when we begin to take action, we will have an impact.

Levin, D. E. & Kilbourne, J. (2009). So Sexy So Soon: The new sexualized childhood and what parents can do to protect their kids. Ballantine Books: NY.

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2 comments on “Part 1-Fun Strategies For Kids: Deconstructing Advertisements

  1. Hans Aagard
    May 27, 2011

    It’s good to see good examples of what can be done that are still clever and motivating – I do see a ton of ads that cash in on the celebrity culture idea, and my daughter, for one, seems to have taken to them. Showing alternatives is a great way to point out that it can be done and done well. Thanks for sharing.

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      May 27, 2011

      Thanks, and I love the work that you’re doing on your site as well. I think it’s so important for all of us to understand that media is not neutral, and that we need to be thoughtful in our consumption. Readers, for more ideas about using media thoughtfully, check out Hans’ site http://www.mediafacing.com/

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