It’s no secret that advertising is specifically geared towards a target audience, and that advertisers often use not-so-subtle patterns in order to appeal to these audiences. A prime example would be the use of gender stereotypes in fast food commercials, which often either appeal to male customers by portraying their food as “manly” or “meaty,” or to female customers by emphasizing the lack of preparation needed for the meal. An example of a fast food television advertisement which incorporates stereotypes of both genders is the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. commercial which features two highly sexual women, one grilling burgers and the other grilling pulled pork, competing with each other in an almost erotic way, as two male bystanders watch.
One might argue that the commercial defies typical female stereotypes because of their rugged, country portrayal in the video and the way in which they grill the meat, which is a task traditionally reserved for men; in reality, however, the reason this is done is to appeal completely to the male audience. An old but still relevant study that examines the nature of interpersonal attraction would suggest that this advertising method would be ineffective, but the reason why this is false will be explained shortly. The study from Kent State University found that “a highly dominant person should be attractive to and attracted to a very submissive person,” a theory which can easily be applied to gender roles (Seyfried & Hendrick, 1973). Despite this universally recognized law of attraction, however, the tactics used by the commercial in question are still effective; this is because the women in the video are meant to be viewed as sexual symbols, rather than potential partners. The purpose of the video is to advertise Hardee’s new burger as a “man’s” meal, and portraying women in the clean-cut and feminine role that is often sought after, although still making them seem attractive, would simply detract from the “manliness” of the burger itself.
This type of fast food advertising goes both ways, too, with men being portrayed as kind and family-oriented in order to appeal to the female target audience. This can be observed in one of Kentucky Fried Chicken’s video advertisements in which a mother is relieved at the fact that she doesn’t have to cook the family dinner, because she went to the fast food chain and picked up a meal instead. Meanwhile, the father sits happily at the dinner table, interacting playfully with the children, and for the most part appears to be in his own little world as he thoroughly enjoys the chicken. He makes no special effort to appear “manly” or “tough,” because, since this particular commercial is targeted towards housewives who are often imagined doing domestic chores such as meal preparation, the dad gives off a more domestic vibe in order to appeal to this.
It’s interesting how the patterns present in both of these commercials coincide so closely with the findings from a particular study titled “Gender Representation in Television Commercials: Updating and Update” in which gender-related trends in advertising are observed. This study focuses not specifically on fast food advertising, but on advertising in general. According to the findings of this study, women were more likely to be commercial representatives of domestic products and men were more likely to be commercial representatives of non-domestic products (Bartsch et al, 2000). In this particular study, all fast food was classified as a domestic product, but these two examples of fast food commercials show that there are significant differences between the methods of advertising used and the target audience.
Similarly, more gender-related trends in these two commercials can be observed while considering the type of foods that are advertised (beef and chicken, respectively). In a 2002 study on food preferences, the results suggested that males have more of a preference for red meat while women have more of a preference for white meat (Kubberød et al, 2002). This trend, which isn’t difficult to see even without the data from this study, may offer a reason for why the burger commercial is so heavily geared towards a male audience and why the KFC commercial appeals to a more feminine, domestic member of the household. Perhaps this is due to gender stereotypes that have been so deeply ingrained into our culture that we hardly pay any notice to them anymore; as Emma White describes in her article, “Starved By Society,” “When we perform our genders we do so by strictly adhering to our society’s idealizations of what it means to fully embody femininity (and masculinity) at any given time” (White 319).However, whether these trends for meat preference is simply due to taste or genetic factors, or due to stereotypes that red meat is “manly” and white meat is lean and healthy, is up for debate.
“Starved By Society”