MHB WEEKLY: By the students, for the world

Commercial Controversy: Past & Future, Pt. 2 | March 15, 2011

The sassy, stuck-in-her-ways grandmother is certainly a stereotype that Hollywood has beaten to death — but is it offensive in a modern ad campaign? Athenos, a Greek-style food company owned by Kraft, is catching some heat for its most recent commercials, which feature Yiayia — a traditional Greek grandmother — criticizing an American family for its arguably unconventional ways. In the ad below, Yiayia doesn’t understand the point of a stay-at-home dad:
From there, the ads get much saucier: in one, Yiayia tells her granddaughter that she’s “going to hell” for shacking up out of wedlock; in another, she criticizes a young female family member for dressing “like a prostitute.” Maria Anagnostopoulus, director of a leading Greek cultural center, has called the ads “inappropriate from a Greek perspective.” Others have characterized the commercials, which represent a clear effort at viral marketing on the part of Kraft, as a desperate bid to get attention.

In the past, meanwhile, grandma wasn’t the family member most often caricatured in leading ad campaigns — it was mom, or wife. This continuing series takes a look at embarrassing advertisements from the past, including the vitamin campaign below.

Kellogg’s, “The Cuter She Looks!”
The tagline of this campaign, also the title of a popular book on the woman’s place in the old age of advertising, reduces a wife’s role to housework and purports her purpose to be maintaining her looks. The product being sold is Kellogg’s discontinued line of PEP vitamins. The ad is most likely from the ’40s or the ’50s, when product advertisement had a habit of generalizing the American familial structure in order to increase brand reputation.

Continue reading for two more politically-incorrect ads from decades past.


Ovaltine, “To Wake Up Gay”
More a case of outdated vocabulary than outright controversy, this Ovaltine ad just plain wouldn’t exist in the same way today. Ovaltine, in fact, is largely regarded as a responsible advertiser through its history; its modern campaign, which hearkens back to “simpler times,” has received far more criticism. Avoid the “nostalgia trap,” explains one critic: “It can be a powerful…but it can also make a brand irrelevant to the present market.”

Tipalet, “Blow in Her Face”
Tobacco companies have the most shameful past when it comes to advertising; this example, from extinct brand Tipalet, encourages forced secondhand smoke and blatantly manipulates sex appeal to sell cigarettes. The brand tagline — “Blow in her face and she’ll follow you anywhere” — depicts women as entirely submissive creatures. For men, the Tiparet product is associated with dominance and social control. The advertising game has fundamentally changed for cigarette giants since the time of this campaign: they can no longer advertise on television, and companies like Philip Morris are mandated to fund anti-smoking initiatives like the Truth Campaign.

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    Established in 2009 at USC, the Master's of Science in Human Behavior is designed to equip students with knowledge of consumer psychology, social media and market analysis skills. This is our blog. Subscribe

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