Well, I spent far more time than I should have googling around, looking for a KFC ad that I saw on TV at the gym today. I don’t watch many ads—yeah, DVR and iTunes!—so I have no idea if this is a popular ad or not. But it recalled the Angry Dude ads that raised so much of a fuss at the Superbowl. Apparently, despite the outcry, advertisers really think the “show men rebelling against an evil matriarchy” ads are the way to go. This particular ad had a bunch of men addressing the camera, explaining how they were so going to eat the Double Down sandwich—casting off the shackles the unseen person behind the lens was supposedly putting on them. I’m sure you could, if you were really in a rationalization mood, assumed these men are supposed to be rebelling against their doctors telling them to watch their cholesterol, but let’s face it—there’sa very high chance the nagging bitch they were supposed to be standing up to in order to eat this disgusting wad of grease was supposed to be a female partner.
I tried to imagine if you tried to do a gender reversal on this one, and have a bunch of women aggressively tell an imaginary (and presumably male and possibly a partner) off-camera person that they’re going to gargle grease if they want to and you can kiss their asses, and found that this was too ridiculous for even my vivid imagination. And I don’t think this is because men are so oppressed by nattering women with their ridiculous body standards. On the contrary, I’d say that it’s easier to address imaginary oppressions in ads than real ones, because real ones inspire actual discomfort and guilt. Ads addressing women’s guilt about “bad” foods are pretty much just ads promoting products that present as low-calorie substitutes, such as yogurt ads that imply that you can quell the craving for a piece of cheesecake with a 100-calorie serving of cheesecake-flavored Yoplait. In other words, the body police in both ads is presumed to be female. Women control themselves through guilt and the obligation to stay thin, and then women nag men to watch what they eat, which presumably emasculates men. And men retaliate by reminding women that they’re men, and as such aren’t under similar obligations to keep themselves trim to maintain attractiveness.
I have no idea how effective these ads are. They seem to speak to a very specific audience: partnered straight men whose female partners spend a lot of time watching their diet and therefore loop those men into it somewhat, making those men feel like they’re being emasculated because they’re being expected to do feminine things like mind their diet, and who want to rebel by shoveling a bunch of fried chicken down their throat. Then they can use their iPhone cruising time stuck on the toilet to show up at a feminist blog and whine that women don’t understand how hard it is to get laid, because being attractive comes so naturally to women. Perhaps KFC thinks that men outside of this narrow target demographic can still relate, figuring that there’s a shot of manliness available to all sorts of men when you dump on women for being nagging, responsibility-obsessed monsters.
This was a trend that defined many of the ads during the Superbowl, but hasn’t gotten much commentary since then. It seems much worse than it has in the past, though making or even just insinuating “nagging bitches” the villain to rebel against in ads is a long-standing tradition. My gut feeling is that advertisers are selling these ads to clients by using the bad economy as a pitch. The logic goes like this:
1) Men are feeling low because of the bad economy. These bad feelings can be interpreted with ease as emasculation.
2) Feeling emasculated by the wide world doesn’t provide an easy villain to dump on. But women, on the other hand, are right there.
3) Direct your male customers’ general malaise towards being angry with women for being pushy broads, and
4) Suggest your product is an effective way to tell those nagging bitches to fuck off.
And, in the grand internet tradition: 5) Profit!
Except in this case, they’re probably right about the profit.