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Girl and Boy Toys CAN Play Together According to...Chevy?

I've got to be honest. I'm not particularly a fan of big trucks. It probably wouldn't shock anyone who knows me to say that if I had my choice of vehicle, it wouldn't be an F150 double cab with all the fixins. Nope. I'm for zippy or sporty and good on gas. Having said that, I am an avid commercial watcher, especially ones that speak to gender and involve children. While I'm no ad executive, I think it's safe to say that most truck commercials are marketed toward the male persuasion--you know, the ads are always about being tough and gritty and are typically aired during Sunday football games. Because real men drive trucks, right? (And they certainly would never touch quiche!) But then I saw this commercial from Chevrolet for their Silverado model entitled, "Like Father, Like Son":


There are many interesting points to be made about this ad. First of all, the tagline is very clever. "Chevy Runs Deep" allows for some subliminal meaning and depth particularly in this context. It reminds us of the phrase, "emotions run deep," only the word "emotion" is replaced with "Chevy" allowing for the connection between the two. It seems to me that they have done a good job depicting a father/son relationship and the emotional bond between them. We see how the son's "play" parellels the father's day. The surprised look of joy on the little boy's face as the toys are suddenly dropped upon the realization that "Dad is home" provides that heart tug. (My daughter does the same exact thing-- only she usually squeals.) 

But the father/son thing has been done before in ads. What's different about this is that it takes us on a journey we're not used to seeing with boys. In this commercial, we see a little boy, probably around six-years-old, playing with his big truck, while we get a glimpse of an array of toys that run the gamut from Monkeys In a Barrel to Mr. Potato Head. He is guiding his truck through the maze of toys pretending that he has just left work, saying to the guys, "Great job team!" and "I'm heading home." Along the way home, he encounters a host of obstacles which include his very complacent dog. Within seconds we get a glimpse of the entire terrain. We see that the "home" he refers to is a dollhouse. Then we see a flash of--OMG--PINK, as he hitches what looks like a Barbie trailer to the truck. He passes a cute doll asking her, "You need some help, m'am?" to which she says, "Oh, thank you!" Finally, he arrives at the house where, waiting for him outside, is his wife (who does not appear to have been baking cookies all day)--a Lara Croft Tomb Raider action figure--who says, "Hey Honey, glad you're home."

Not your typical mom

The second I saw this commercial--I thought, "Well, this is different." I don't have any doubt that the creative team for Chevrolet's ad agency really thought about gender when putting this commercial together. They had to know that they were taking a risk by showing a boy playing with "girl" toys--especially given their target market. Reading some of the comments under the video on YouTube support this. One of the first comments was: "What the hell is wrong with that kid? Boys don't play house, not alone at least. When little boys play with cars, those cars fly. When little boys play with dolls, those dolls generally break through walls and´╗┐ stuff. I'm pretty sure this kid will grow socially awkward...kid that cuts himself. He will drive that Chevy off a bridge." Nice, huh? Shows you the mindset that thinks that by introducing pink to a boy, for instance, you'll "turn him gay." But this is often the response when kids, especially boys, are shown doing something that seems counter to what is considered "normal" gender behavior. Remember the J. Crew ad in which a mom is seen painting her son's toenails pink that took to the airwaves likes a tsunami?

I posted the Chevy video on my FB page as an example of a company thinking outside of the standard gender box. Although many really liked it, there were some who thought either it didn't go far enough in terms of breaking down gender stereotypes, or that it was still adhering to traditional images with regards to girls and women. For instance, the insertion of standard go-to females such as the cute little doll who needs help from the strong man, the wife (who is scantily clad) waiting for the husband to come home, were perceived as negative images...but I think these are small issues compared to the more progressive aspect of showing a young boy mixing up his toys. Some companies have tried, like the Tide commercial that features a prim and proper mother who seems a bit ambivalent toward her rough and tumble daughter, but missed the mark on the gender front. Conversely, Chevy offers something authentic with this ad. 

Nonetheless, I do believe that the underlying message and unorthodox inclusion of pink and dolls outweighs the criticism. Let's remember, the ad is selling trucks to mostly grown men. But don't adults need to see this kind of gender bending just as much as kids? Of one thing I'm certain: Chevy certainly did not have to go this route. Of course, the commercial is not earth shattering in terms of busting stereotypes, but the ad could have simply shown a boy playing with all of his very tough and gritty toys--or perhaps the boy might have shown a rougher side by casting aside the more girly toys. And you can see that this young boy is actually very sweet. Now, if we could get toy companies to take this route and show kids playing with a variety of toys--perhaps girls in race car commercials, or boys in Easy Bake Oven ads--we'd be getting somewhere. But for now, I'll take Chevy's small step, because it does exhibit progress and who knows? Maybe others will take notice and follow suit. After all, small steps are how big change is made.



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Reader Comments (7)

We've been talking about this commercial a lot within SPARK, and I think you really hit on all the points that I think are important about this ad. It doesn't completely break free from gender stereotypes, but the fact that it even made strides in that direction, and that this is a typically male-dominated advertising field that uses manly-man masculinity as its baseline, is so incredibly encouraging to me. To show a young boy very comfortably playing with pink "girl" toys shouldn't even need to be something that we consider impressive, but for now it is, and I am giving Chevy a huge round of applause for doing so.

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBailey

Great post. So many lines have been drawn in the sand about pink toys versus blue toys that the message has been confused. Pink is not evil. Blue is not for boys only. All we are asking is for the limits to be removed when it comes to gender expectations. Chevy at least made a good effort.

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKelly O'Sullivan (HILWD)

I love that you are writing on these issues. I find your approach both rational and persuasive, and might just have to write a follow-up blog response to it. Between now and then, just wanted to say good on ya and good work. xoxo

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEl Farris

Thanks for your critical analysis of this ad!
Many men dislike the stereotypes of males in marketing. They are so often portrayed as clueless dads, misogynistic jerks, or hyper-masculine tough guys. Also, truck commercials tend to rely on a sort of fantasy of what they are going to be used for - driving around in beautiful landscapes for no clear point, which I imagine may be annoying to those who actually need a truck for their work. This one portrays a real, hard-working man with a good relationship with his children and wife. I think it will appeal to many of the men who don't see themselves in much marketing to men. It's certainly a good step.
Another interesting thing about this ad is the way it portrays creative play. It acknowledges creative, non-destructive, non-violent play by a boy, and portrays the way children play - they translate what they see and experience in their lives into their play. That's how we know what the dad is like, through the things the boy does with his truck.

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterErin @mktgchildhood

This makes me really happy. Not perfect, but it's a move it the right direction. Baby steps.

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPartlySunny

This ad is really clever! My son wants me buy him that chevy truck toy when he saw this!

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

I don't see any problem regarding the play time of kids together boys and girls. They are too innocent to think of undesirable things or change their gender stereotypes just because they play together. Guidance of parents will not let it happen.

February 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterplaymobil

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