Saturday, April 08, 2006

Being Aware of Advertising

I've been watching the comments on Pal Dorian's note about the "Silly Little Fairy" commercial. My gut reaction to the ad when I saw it on TV is that the ending was offensive... but your mileage may vary.

One of my favorite games to play with TV ads is "What is this ad really telling us?" For instance, there's an ad playing now about a bunch of mob guys who are after a snitch... they don't catch him, but they get his phone, and because it is massively personalized, they are able to deduce who it belongs to. So, what is this ad really telling us? If you buy their product, you will get killed by the mob!

When I was in college, a dormmate had a three-year project going. Right around Christmas she would spend some time in the lounge with a couple of other people watching the ads for shows. They noted the gender and ethnicity of children in all the ads for toys, and if the toy was a game with a clear winner, they noted who won in the ad. The first year, the ads were heavily slanted towards white males, and even when a girl showed up, the guys always won the games. By the last year, the data was still heavily slanted toward white males, but they found that girls won the games almost as much as boys ... if a girl appeared in the ad. I never saw the compiled results of the study, only the part my dormmate was involved in, so I don't know if that was really the result. But it's what the folks who hung out in the lounge noticed.

I've been keeping an eye on ads myself recently, especially since hubby-Eric and I started watching "Black. White." I've been trying to note the ethnicity of people appearing in ads. It's kind of interesting to me to see the ethnic groups that are completely left out of advertising. Around here, I rarely see an ad featuring Asian or Hispanic lead characters. But I keep thinking that one of these days I need to do an ad survey, just out of curiousity.

Ad surveys, as I learned how to do them by watching my classmate in the dorm, are pretty simple. Pick a show you already are inclined to watch (my dormmate actually watched Saturday morning cartoons, as her project was to see how advertising was aimed at kids). During the ads, note the ethnicity and gender of every character in the ad. Note if what happens to them is positive or negative. Ignore promos for other shows or movies. At the end of your show, tally up the ethnic groups represented and the genders represented. Look at how each group was portrayed. Put away the data for a year and do it again next year to see if the advertising market has changed at all.

This would actually be a perfect project for bloggers. Except that it takes some effort, and you have to actually pay attention to ads on TV. And watch TV, for that matter. Still, it would be one of those things where you could link back to your entry from the previous year, and link to other folks entries. A good blogger meme. Maybe I'll do it next time I watch TV.