Today advertising is all about 'integrated social media campaigns', but when I was growing up there was just the plain old TV. And food was always a staple ingredient of the ad breaks between shows like Bullseye and Minder. Looking back at food advertising from the 1980s via YouTube, it's clear the idea that 'the lady of the house' did the cooking was still very much entrenched.
Take a look at this Berni Inn advert. The way this man speaks to his partner would be grounds for divorce these days - leave the brute, sister!
The growing popularity of home freezers saw a new range of products to help the ‘embattled housewife’. But as this ad for Bird’s Eye shows, it was still the woman being asked ‘what will you give your old man?’ with their 'cook like a steak, serve like a steak' offering. Bet it didn't taste like a steak.
Frozen food was even marketed as a form of freedom from the shopping and preparing of ingredients. Look at this one for Bird’s Eye boil-in-the-bag beef stew, a product that 'helps you make time, to live your life', or to pursue more domestic drudgery, such as weeding the garden while your husband and son go fishing.
Things were beginning to change by the 1990s though. We started to see men doing some actual cooking, though not very well. Here's a great example; sprinkle basil on an almost done leg of lamb. Surely it would just dry up and fall off? Nowadays we're all about 'butterflying' it or inserting garlic and anchovies into little holes made in the flesh.
From 1983-1999 the Oxo Family were a barometer of the nation's attitudes (we'll look at their history in a future article). In this episode Dad does the cooking, but the implication is it's something of a rare event.
Nowadays men appear in ads cooking just getting on with it, as this ad for Lurpak shows. Though we are still often typecast as klutzes in the kitchen.
The Advertising Standards Agency
So why have men and women in the kitchen been depicted as such? Matt Wilson, press officer at the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), says “stereotypes are a quick and easy way for advertisers who have to tell a story in a short space of time.”
On the difference between ads from the past and today’s commercials, Matt says: ‘If we look back at ads, we’d be aghast at what was said. Furthermore what wasn’t acceptable then is now acceptable, and people 30 years ago would equally be offended by what we allow now’
The Heinz Deli Mayo ad
In 2008 Heinz withdrew an ad featuring a same sex kiss after negative publicity. The ASA received over 200 complaints. “We didn’t actually ban the ad, Heinz chose to pull it,” says Matt. “Same sex kissing isn’t banned, only overt sexual kissing.” What was interesting about this case was that the ASA also received complaints about the ad being sexist by assuming that the ‘mother’s’ role is to make sandwiches for the children. Gay rights groups subsequently began boycotting Heinz products.
“It’s never about the volume of complaints however” adds Matt, with commercials that receive a single complaint are investigated as vigorously as those that get hundreds.
Next time on Lovefood.com...
If you’ve enjoyed this trip down memory lane, ‘tune in’ in the coming weeks when we explore other aspects of food’s interesting advertising past.
In the meantime what's your favourite TV ad featuring food? Let us know in the Comments box below.
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