Like roughly 50% of the world’s population, I’m a woman, with a body that does woman things. I’m fairly sure everyone in my life knows this, friends and strangers alike. It’s not a secret; even the internet knows what kind of chromosomes I have, apparently.
It’s been an adventure discovering how advertisers
take advantage of target different demographics on the internet. I remember seeing targeted ads for the first time in 2011. I had googled “Cambridge Satchel Company,” and sure enough, satchels of all shapes and sizes spewed across my browser, trying to get me to buy leather goods completely out of sixteen-year-old me’s price range. I’d google Mormon stuff for Girls’ Camp ideas and ended up with “I’m a Mormon” ads everywhere I turned. This definitely freaked me out.
It didn’t help that I was taking a media analysis class at the time, where we discussed all sorts of interesting issues including sexism in advertisements, greedy awful ad men in charge of making advertisements, and weird, subliminal ways ads influence their target audiences. Needless to say, I was screwed up for life after taking this class.
Nevertheless, years passed, and targeted ads became a fact of life. I forgot about the weirdness of it all for the most part. Occasionally, obnoxious repeat advertisements for scammy online universities would get on my nerves, but I usually ignored the graphics on my Facebook newsfeed and other websites’ sidebars.
But then, last summer, something terrible happened.
I was at work, eating my lunch and scrolling through my phone without a care in the world, when this showed up:
I suppose it was my own fault. My roommate posted a picture of me sort of camping one night, and I’d searched the internet for sleeping bags a couple of days before. Then there’s the whole “listing myself as a young-ish female on Facebook” thing. How dare I, right?
Of course I need to analyze this advertisement tailored to moi, because what else is a lowly woman to do when completely confined to the indoors at all times for want of Midol
First of all, that girl is not going to sleep well, regardless of her preferred method of pain management. Her tent is pitched on the edge of a very hard, jagged cliff, and is liable to topple over at even the slightest gust of wind because last I checked, you cannot safely stake down a tent on top of a hard, jagged cliff without some serious stonemasonry skills. Let’s not forget that she’s standing dangerously close to the edge (on an incline, no less) and might not even make it to nightfall BECAUSE CLEARLY, SHE DID NOT GO TO MORMON GIRLS’ CAMP TO LEARN SAFETY SKILLZ.
Secondly, what is this ad even SAYING? Is she camping while cramping? She certainly shouldn’t be if the advertised product is doing its job. Why is the “R” little and blue? Is this implying that it doesn’t exist, because last I checked, little and blue doesn’t mean invisible. It clearly says “cramping.” This would be like if Excedrin ran a single-word ad that said “headache,” or Ex-Lax had one that inexplicably read “constipation.” We all know what these drugs are supposed to fix. Shouldn’t an ad focus on, I dunno, relieving the ailment its product is intended for, not just pointing out that one might experience it during poorly-executed amateur camping trips?
And can I just say how amazing it is to me that ALMOST 4,000 PEOPLE “LIKED” IT?? Who are these people?? Do they appreciate unwelcome ads portraying women as terrible campers who favor acetaminophen over a much-more-effective NSAID in their times of female discomfort? All I can say is, AT LEAST SHE’S CHOOSING HER OWN ADVENTURE.
After becoming appropriately insulted that this ad would target ME, CLEARLY A CAMPING/CRAMPING EXPERT WHO WON’T FALL FOR ANY OF THEIR CRAP, I came up with a plan. Every time I saw a stupid advertisement on the internet targeting me because of my sex and childbearing age, I’d screencap it. I could have never predicted the storm of ridiculousness that would come to grace my screen.
(I’ll acknowledge here that I maybe could have just downloaded an ad-blocker and avoided most of these completely, but for the sake of feminism, indulge me.)
My findings, below:
Somehow Tampax targeted me while I read a Kansas local news article about a university marching band’s vaguely-lewd halftime show. News stories don’t get more feminine than that, am I right ladies? I’m so relieved to know I have a “BUY IT NOW” option for pocket-sized protection.
WHAT DOES THIS EVEN MEAN. I DO NOT UNDERSTAND. I’ll admit that she’s got cute water skis, but I refuse to spend any amount of time trying to understand any benefit to telling your period to “kiss your wake.” (BESIDES, THERE’S NO WAY IT WOULD LISTEN SINCE IT’S NOT A SENTIENT BEING, UNFORTUNATELY). Also, are periods REALLY the only thing “I” won’t be sweating over this summer? That seems really hyperbolic. If someone sweats over everything in their life that isn’t periods, I think they should see a therapist.
Playtex surprised me by using the old peer pressure trick. See, one of my Facebook friends “liked” Playtex Sport & Gentle Glide for some unidentifiable reason, and they’re using her involvement to encourage me to join their special club. They also managed to avoid the feminine hygiene topic altogether by asking me about topknots and working out – this actually comforts me, because they must not know as much information about me as I think they do. I’ve never even considered topknots, and working out is not my strong suit, SO SUCK ON THAT, PLAYTEX. YOUR RECRUITMENT TECHNIQUES HAVE FAILED.
This Tampax ad got even niftier than the “BUY IT NOW” one. You guys will never believe it, but when you clicked the circled triangle in the middle of the picture, the weird sunscreen-chapstick rolled away to reveal – gasp! – a tampon. #PocketPearl #WTF
This one I title “The Wildcard.” It’s actually hilarious and I love it and treasure it because SOMEONE WAS ADVERTISING FREAKING LAMAZE CLASSES ON A PERIOD TRACKING APP. I laughed out loud. WHOSE IDEA WAS THIS? You made my day, confusing stranger. Really.
On this day, I read a tragic article about a mother with Munchhausen syndrome who murdered her young son by force-feeding him pure sodium. BUT CLEARLY, ALWAYS HAS A MORE IMPORTANT MESSAGE FOR ME, SINCE I’M A WOMAN AND ALL. Know what also feels like nothing, Always? Murdering your kid when you have Munchhausen syndrome. I’m also interested why Procter and Gamble gave me a “BUY IT NOW” button for Tampax Pocket Pearl, and a “SAVE NOW” button on Always Infinity. What if I’d rather BUY it now??? DON’T YOU DARE TAKE AWAY MY CONSUMER RIGHTS, ALWAYS.
CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS IS REAL? This is just all kinds of wrong. Uncles, uncomfortably-questioning or not, should never be used to advertise feminine products. I’m all about being open and enlightened about our bodies, but this ad majorly creeped me out. What exactly is it referring to?!? There’s just such a pervading molestation-y undertone to this one. Blech.
There are a lot of problems with this one. Firstly, where are the CITATIONS? If Tampax Pearl is claiming superiority over U by Kotex, they better show me some evidence. I’m talking PEER REVIEWED, LARGE SAMPLE DOCUMENTATION. But alas, not even a percentage point in their favor to be found. Shame on your imaginary study perpetuating scientific gullibility, Tampax.
Secondly, corporations using teenage slang is weird and should never happen. “On fleek” mostly applies to eyebrows anyway, so I dunno how to draw the connection here. I’d rather not. #RealTalk #PowerOverPseudoScience
U by Kotex was quick with their equally-awkward slangy rebuttal. And the offer of free Kleenex is . . . a little odd. I guess they’re trying to cover the whole realm of bodily-fluid absorption? Or maybe they’re implying something rude regarding PMS tears? The real question is this: does it actually come with the little pink bow in the corner? It better.
Tampax jumped on the peer-pressure bandwagon by informing me of a different friend who “liked” THEM on Facebook, and introduced me to their “backup braids,” whatever that means. Wow. HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO CHOOSE, GUYS? This graphic is also really interesting because it puts the targeted consumer in the perspective of a sassy drummer who wears rockin’ chain bracelets and grandpa shirts. What can I say? Tampax just gets me.
Here’s another time I was targeted as a mother, this time a single one who wears polka-dotted satin nighties to bed, which I happen share with my son who likes cuddling. Nice. Also, there is NO WAY Always understands hashtags. Stop trying to make #AlwaysUltraExtraHeavyNight happen. It’s not going to happen.
Here’s Playtex AGAIN thinking I do things involving fields and gym bags. The nerve. Also, “Playtex Sport Pads: Feminine Pads for Sports” sounds like something straight out of a fake SNL commercial.
This one that showed up LITERALLY the day after I went to an amusement park and rode several roller coasters. It definitely felt a tad unsettling. The model they used has extremely pronounced anatomical snuffboxes, which I guess counts for something. I’m also interested in what roller coaster this is, because it looks fun.
The phrase “take a hike,” generally means “go away” in common figurative usage. Which doesn’t sound so bad if we’re talking about periods, but has Playtex really developed this technology in their “combo packs”? Has this been approved by the FDA? Are they making a pregnancy joke, ’cause it kind of sounds like they’re making a pregnancy joke. Just me?
Regardless, we’ve come full circle, back to majestic mountain views and backpacking equipment and ~freedom~. At least THIS girl might know how to camp correctly unlike Miss Midol.
You might be wondering why I decided to do any of this. Why spend months collecting pictures of stupid ads just to publicly shame them on my blog?
Well. That’s a good question. I mean, it was pretty fun, but there’s more to it.
I’m trying to raise awareness about the bigger picture. True, I walked away unharmed from all of these ads, but I couldn’t help but wonder how they impact younger girls who aren’t quite as comfortable with themselves yet. They don’t need to be told that their normal female bodies prevent them from camping and water skiing and playing drums and eating family dinners and playing soccer and riding roller coasters and SLEEPING unless they use this newfangled state-of-the-art product. That is super dumb, and it’s manipulative. Not to mention COMPLETELY UNTRUE. It almost makes me miss the days of ads featuring white flowy dresses, kittens, and cheerleading on the beach. At least they were TRYING to put a positive (albeit inaccurate, uninformative, and obnoxious) spin on things.
It’s a concerning issue, because given the state of sex education in this country and the squeamishness of some parents (not to mention the crazy young ages some kids start using social media), there’s a good chance a lot of girls get their first (and maybe only) exposure to “mysterious lady things” through misleading advertisements. This is a problem. I was blessed with good parents and teachers and books as a young’n, but that’s not always the case. If I started this project completely oblivious to what menstruation actually is, all I’d know by now is that it’s an embarrassing, uncomfortable, inconvenient, shameful disease that somehow impacts your ability to hike, play drums, ride roller coasters, and be “on fleek”. I mean, if we’re being realistic, it’s not exactly a party – but do ad agencies necessarily have to take the “everything is terrible, better buy this expensive stuff” approach? Is this the message we want to send the next generation of women regarding their bodies?
Every one of these ads says “sponsored” underneath. That means that the companies paid Facebook big bucks to display their brands all over my newsfeed against my will. They tried to reach me, and tons of other 13-25 year old women, from the same location we hear from our friends and watch puppy videos and read about gritty current events (okay, maybe not the 13-year-olds with that one). The point is, they’ve infiltrated our interests. They’ve bought a piece of our online identities as women, and I think it’s wrong.
Do I hate all advertisements? No. Sometimes I get advertisements for British food, and I think that’s great. Whenever I google Birkenstocks I see ads for days, and I don’t have a problem with that, because Birkenstocks are the best and they’re not trying to convince me I’ll be less able if I don’t buy their products (even though, yeah, actually, I probably would be – THANKS, UNREASONABLY HIGH ARCHES).
Right now, my Facebook page is telling me about Pandora Radio, Verizon data plans, and E-Counseling (to help with my unstable emotions evident all over Facebook, I guess). They’re fine. They’re gender-neutral. I wouldn’t have even noticed them before checking for the sake of this post.
But all these lady ads that, for whatever reason, haunted me for nearly five months? Those drove me crazy. No man would ever have to deal with them. I didn’t ask for them. I certainly didn’t learn anything from them. They just sort of sat there, waiting for my irritated snark to attack at any moment.
They mysteriously disappeared some time in November, and I didn’t even notice they’d left. Maybe Tampax, Playtex, Kotex, Midol, and Always just gave up on me and decided I wasn’t worth their time.
Fine. By. Me.
But to those younger girls out there who maybe exist: you do whatever activities you want, whenever you want, and you do them USING WHATEVER FEMININE PRODUCTS YOU WANT, mmkay? This may come as a surprise based on the above capitalist media, but NO ONE CARES WHAT BRAND YOU USE. One long-held secret is that ads like these are guaranteed ridiculous because they’re presenting commodities that every woman of a certain age needs to buy – all they’re trying to do is stand out from the competition. As long as you’re using what’s most comfortable for your body and your lifestyle, no one else (including competing companies) should have any say in the matter. Even if you do find that there are certain times you’d like to spend all day in bed and cry, at least give yourself the chance to come to that realization yourself (and also acknowledge that no amount of “Pocket Pearls” is going to make you feel better unless they’re laced with drugs).
So, internet woman-targeting advertisers, please leave me alone. Or at least come up with ads that are actually funny/relevant/educational/somehow valuable. When I tried searching for male equivalents, all I found was this Buzzfeed article that, SURPRISE, featured MALE-targeted ads that ALSO demean women. I think I’m done here.
In other news, I better hurry – there’s a Lamaze online class out there waiting for me, and I hear they fill up fast.