In this DVR and download-enabled age, we don’t see as many TV commercials as we used to. So when my kids watch something on actual network television, the ads always catch my attention. First, because they’re LOUD and it’s impossible not to stop what you’re doing and come over to see what’s making that horrible noise. (Weren’t they supposed to be doing something about that?) Also because of the incredibly specific way they market to my kids.
The visual parts of TV ads are so striking, it’s easy to ignore the language. But a new analysis may have you listening more carefully from now on. The image at left is a mash-up of the most common words used in advertisements for boys’ toys.
See the girls’ version after the jump.
We hear so much about how gender stereotyping affects girls (though, as I discussed in my earlier post, knowing about the problem hasn’t done much to improve the situation). The question of boys’ stereotyping often gets shunted to the side. But these words show there are two sides to the coin of gender bias. Our boys may have more diverse media representation, but when it comes to marketing messages, they are being pushed into an equally confining box.
The Achilles Effect is a website about the ways boys are subject to gender bias. The founder, Crystal, created the word clouds pictured here by tallying the vocabulary used in advertisements for children’s products and processing them with Word Cloud software. The distinction between toys for boys and toys for girls was determined by that authoritative arbiter of gender: Toys R Us. (Each list was culled from the Boys and Girls section of the Toys R Us website.). The words are sometimes describing the toys themselves, and sometimes describing the play. Crystal stresses that this exercise was an effort to call attention to the way boys are marketed to, rather than a rigorously researched study. The girls’ words were provided for contrast. You can read about her process and findings here.
These words aren’t necessarily shocking in themselves. But the juxtaposition is a bit alarming. I know there’s the theory that marketers are just giving kids what they want, and that these traits and interests are inherent within boys (and girls). But when the messages are so powerful, and so homogenous, how do we know which came first—the desire or the object of desire?