Some brands or commodity items are created for very specific purposes, like tampons for women, diapers for babies, and dog food for dogs. So their ads are aimed at those who use the item for that exact use. Men don’t need tampons, adults don’t need diapers, and cats can’t eat dog food. For other products, like sustenance, there is no exclusive market segment; anyone can enjoy fast food, anyone can enjoy a cup of coffee, and anyone can enjoy a chocolate bar. Yet Snickers ad says different. Despite being a consumer product for all types of consumers, the Snickers ad tends to target only one demographic, the heterosexual male. Snickers ads are not problematic because they only target male, but they are problematic because while they are attempting to reach their target audience, along the way they reinforce stereotypes relating to gender, race, and sexual orientation. What they do is exploit these different groups for the purpose of emphasizing masculinity and hegemonic maleness to appeal to the all-American heterosexual males watching the ad.In this analysis, I will explore how Snickers throughout the years used a consistent concept of hegemonic ideals, and created images by poking fun at other minority groups.
There are common patterns throughout the Snickers commercial. One is the setting, in which only males are ‘allowed’ to enter like rugby fields and locker rooms. And we see that the majority of characters in the ads are male. This signifies that sports arenas and locker rooms are spheres only available for men, and women cannot enter the male dominant territory. Another similarities in the ads are that along with the setting you see these men enjoying sports, especially rugby. The fact that they use rugby as sports instead of other sports signifies that rugby is a sport that should be played by and enjoyed by all men. This idea reinforces a hetero-normative vision of life and promotes an ideal lifestyle that a ‘typical’ and ‘normal’ man should have. Also by doing so, they construct a world in which all American male should enjoy rugby and if they don’t, they are not considered as men.
“We see these ads as establishing a pedagogy of youthful masculinity that does not passively teach male consumers about the qualities of their products so much as it encourages consumers to thinks of their products as essential to creating a stylish and desirable lifestyle…they also work with consumers to construct a consumption-based masculine identity relevant to contemporary social conditions.” (Messner & Montez de Oca, P.1879)
Additionally Snickers ad ‘symbolically annihilate’ males who do not share a hetero-normative vision of life. They exclude men who are considered gay, or embody elements of gayness. Moreover, they poke fun at gay men or characteristics that pertain to gayness in the Mr. T ad. Here, we see a speed walking white male who is dressed in shorts and a tank top; from the signifiers the viewers can assume that the male is a homosexual. Mr. T, a Black soldier riding on a jeep with rows of Snicker bullets on his shoulder, yells, “Speed walking? I pity you fool! You are disgrace to the men race! It’s time to run like a real man!” Inselling sexual subjectivities, Sender states that gay, lesbian, and bisexual demographics are only addressed by ads to the extent of being a consumer. But the Snickers ad doesn’t even do that. Instead it deliberately criticizes and humiliates the gay demographic, and also highlights a stereotype that gayness is attributed to Whiteness, and there are no Black homosexuals. “Race may have been little discussed because neither the racial distribution of the groups nor the images in the advertisements required a self-conscious analysis of race: it remained irrelevant because, in the main, white people can afford to find it so.” (Sender, P. 188)
Also in relations to portraying race, Mr. T ad illustrates stereotypical characteristics of Black men such as being aggressive, overreacting, and sometimes violent. This is also shown in the Coach ad where Robin Williams transforms into a Black coach leading the rugby team. As demonstrated, Blackness is used as an alternative to Whiteness and is exploited by mainstream culture just as much as homosexuality. “Within commodity culture, ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture.” (Hooks, P. 366)
What is most interesting of all is the plot. The general outline of the Snickers ad goes like this: In a ‘male-dominant’ sphere, the men are playing ‘manly’ sports. And there is one person who plays like a woman or acts like a woman; and this character is played by an actual female. Other guys criticize the ‘sissy’ character for acting like a diva. Then some random guy approaches the woman saying the following line, “Eat a snickers. Every time you get hungry you turn into a Diva.” The woman eats a Snickers bar, and with the scene change, the woman is now a male and two exchange comments like “Better?” “Better.” Then a catch phrase pops up that says, “You’re not you when you are hungry.” Without a doubt, we see a pattern that emphasizes sexist images, that when a man sucks at playing sports he is compared to a woman, which conveys a message that women are not good sports players.In the Joan Collins Snickers ad, at the end a slogan says, “Get some nuts,” basically referring to the male genitalia as a pun to express that having balls/nuts is equivalent to being a man.
But what is worse is that the ads try to disguise these forms of gender inequalities and irrationalities through the use of humor and comedy. Despite the sexist images, I cannot reject the fact that it evokes some laughter. It is creative and funny. And we know that it is humorous because the viewers understand the mainstream codes embedded in the commercial. But people are not thinking profoundly when they are watching these ads. We have to see the ads more closely to examine traits of sexist and anti-feminism ideals that provide insult and offense to the female demographic.
It is tricky to come up with a parody video to evoke laughter when the original commercial already fulfills the criteria. But if I were to create a spoof then I would do everything opposite to the Snickers ad. I would propose a set in a Ballet studio where Ballerinas and Ballerinos are taking lessons. And there would be a very hunky and overly masculine man in the middle struggling to follow the routines. I would propose someone like the Rock, a.k.a Dwayne Johnson, to play the role wearing tutus. A Ballet instructor would hand him a Snickers bar and say, “Daisy, eat a Snickers. You dance like a stiff when you are hungry.” And he would eat the Snickers but he won’t change, he would still be the Rock. And the ending slogan would say, “You are still you, even when you are hungry.”
I chose the Snicker ad series because I recently saw a Korean version that exhibited a similar pattern. In Korea, and possibly in other Asian countries, mainstream gender or racial norms are rarely challenged and critiqued by the viewers. So I wanted to confront normative ideals by creating a parody that defied the structure and reveal that gender, race, or sexual orientation should not be limitations to performing any activities in life. Gay men could play sports, women could play rugby, and macho men could dance ballet. Like Carducci says, spoofs allow the audience to expose certain inequalities and injustices in life and make little changes by critically addressing the issues. “Culture jamming reflects a theory of culture as a site of political action, seeing consumer culture as a viable path to social change.” (Carducci, P. 130)
Katherine Sender, “Selling sexual subjectivities: Audiences respond to gay window advertising”
Messner & Montez de Oca, “The Male Consumer as Loser: Beer and Liquor Ads in Mega Sports Media Events”
Hooks, “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance”
Carducci, “Culture Jamming: A Sociological Perspective”