Persons invest self feelings in their possessions.
In his piece, “Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates,” author Erving Goffman makes this basic observations that property means something to people, and the choices we make about what to own and what to buy define us to a large extent. This is true even when one considers the humble container of yogurt.
Yogurt does not seem like something about which people should have strong associations. It’s one of those things that you buy in the grocery store every once in a while when you have vague feelings of guilt about the Cheetos you’ve been eating recently and want to make a gesture towards positive dietary decision-making (the argument could be made that this particular experience cannot be generalized… I leave the ultimate verdict to the reader). However, a series of television ads illustrates the principle that food choice – even yogurt- can hold a lot of meaning. Yogurt consumption is clearly associated here with being a woman, and particularly with a certain class of women. In an excellent video, comedian Sarah Haskins pokes fun at this connection and its frequent use in the media. I’m not sure that WordPress.com allows for embedding video from this platform, so I give it to you here. I submit that the extra click is worth it entirely.
Haskins recognizes that these commercials generalize from some sort of shared ‘women’s experience’ to boost their products’ appeal. This use of a generic “everyperson” to tie a product with a particular emotion is quite common – witness the phenomenon of women eating salad or go to the numerous other Target Women parodies about cleaning, cougars, shoes and more to see how companies consciously use (or reinforce? or create?) certain stereotypes about (upper-middle class) women to create successful reality TV shows or reinforce brand loyalty. Women eat salad, they like shoes, and they frequently complain about bridesmaids’ dresses and short men… the list could go on. Car commercials, which cater to men, have a certain stereotype as well. The best commercials slyly acknowledge certain cultural norms that they are playing upon, and also use them to their advantage.
Yogurt ads can be used to illustrate a human desire to categorize things, and also to categorize each other. Yogurt is the “healthy” thing to eat, and should be eaten and enjoyed by women. Take apart the idea of a generic “everywoman,” and you have the type of woman who “has a Master’s degree, but then got married.” One identity (being female) is equated with a women’s experience that is largely middle class.
Furthermore, thinking about why we buy what we buy connects with recent posts about mindfulness and with research about implicit associations. Acknowledging and poking fun at these “constricting mindsets” probably goes a long way towards combating the basic assumptions that we make about people all the time who eat certain foods or participate in particular activities. In these ads, yogurt is associated with being thin, eating well, and dieting (the latter being something that decent women contemplate and worthwhile women do, all the time). The reasons we think yogurt is good for us, if we think about it, probably has to do with some vague connection between dairy products and calcium intake, but in reality has more to do with images, which resonate most powerfully in our primate brains. Furthermore, it’s interesting to think about how any implicit associations we might have about something as seemingly mundane as food can be shaped by media and by our particular social networks.