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."
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.