Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Man/Woman of Now - The Kia Ads

There's a fairly big sporting event happening in Australia right now - the Australian Open. If you're not Australian and/or not in to tennis, you might not be aware of it. I don't tend to watch tennis - I know essentially how it works, and I can recognise the names of the main players, and follow along in conversations with people who are really in to it, but it's not really my thing. Tonight, though, I turned it on in the background while I was reading and was listening with half an ear.

This post isn't about tennis, though - it's about a matched pair of ads for Kia Australia that are running right now. I don't watch a lot of TV, and especially not free-to-air TV, so I don't really see many ads. I tend to forget how heteronormative mainstream media is because I just don't consume it that much. It's really, really hard to ignore ads though - they're designed to catch your attention. So when a Berlei ad came on talking about bouncing breasts (yes, really) it distracted me and I looked up - a friend had mentioned this ad recently and so I was watching it to see what she was talking about. That ad is a whole other story, though, so I won't go further in to the bouncing breasts ad here. The next ad in this break was the Kia "Man of Now" ad. I thought it was an interesting gimmick, but didn't think that much more of it...Until in the next break, the matching "Woman of Now" ad played. And now I was interested. The comparison between the two was particularly telling.

Man of Now

Vocal transcript: I'm a new-age man, I'm ageless - but not ageist. I'm free-range, free-spirited, free-willed - but on a leash. I push the envelope, push the buttons, push a pram [as he walks past a woman pushing a pram], push it real good. I wear the pants, I wear aftershave, I wear the blame and I wear it well. I'm going strong, and in one direction - but not on my iPod [he pulls a face like he smells something bad]. I'm tweeting, posting, sharing, linking, liking - my wall is never dry, I'm a social networking butterfly [as he walks past a woman walking with a little girl wearing fairy wings]. I'm house-proud, a house hunter, I like a house party, now I'm in the dog house [he pulls a little-boy-repentant face, then bumps in to the woman from the other ad]. I'm a barbequeing, meat-eating, sausage-sizzling, prawn-peeling salad lover. I'm international, interconnected, intercontinental - I'm into everything. [He gets into his car - a sporty sedan].

Woman of Now

Vocal transcript: I'm a woman of my time - on time, behind time. I climb the corporate ladder...I've got a ladder in my stockings! I can't wait, I don't have time to wait. I put on weight, I lose weight [as two female joggers in pink outfits jog past]. I wear a skirt, I wear the pants, I wear heels, and I wear them out. I'm texting, typing, LOLing, OMGing, I'm digitally in touch - but not retouched [as she walks past a billboard advertising an unidentified beauty product]. I'm a story-telling, canteen-helping, fundraising, muffin-making, party-going, yoga lover [she bumps in to the man from the other ad]. I'm in all compartments, head of all departments. I'm into womanhood, and watch the neighbourhood - it's all good! I'm putting fires out, putting my feelers out, letting my feelings out. I don't internalise - I vocalise. [She gets into her car, an SUV].

The man's description is nearly all about him taking charge and taking action. He is doing things, positive actions that let him take charge of others. When he's subservient it's to a woman in a clichéd way - "on a leash", "in the doghouse". His appearance and attire isn't referred to, except for the cliché "wear the pants" (which occurs in the woman's ad also) and his aftershave. His social media activity is him doing things. He's dominant, in control, active. He drives a sporty car.

The woman is a very different story.  The woman's appearance and attire is mentioned six times - including "wearing the pants". Her value is based on her appearance - she's horrified to find a ladder in her stockings, she's proud she doesn't need to be retouched. Most of her actions are passive, supporting things - making muffins, helping in the canteen (presumably at school), telling stories (presumably to her children). Her weight is mentioned (of course). Her social media actions are reactions to others - LOLing, OMGing. She's passive and reactive. She drives a practical car.

The ads are subtle and use an interesting gimmick which is fairly popular right now (of following a moving narrator who is speaking directly to the camera) and I'm sure they're effective - they use current language and refer to current pop culture trends, and they're appealing to their target audience of married working couples with young families. They're perfect examples of the "perfect" man and woman of now, and so because of that, they hit the mark.

But the social construct that creates these ideals is still going strong and doesn't seem to be crumbling. Both men and women have a lot to live up to, if they want to meet these ideals. Messages like these are everywhere, and are so insidious that it's easy for them to pass unnoticed and just slip in through the subconscious. It's hard to question messages we receive every day. But it's only by questioning these messages that we start to unpack and turn against these ideals. We don't need to meet these ideals to get through life, let alone buy a car, and we shouldn't feel pressured to.

(Note: according to the YouTube comments on the man's ad, these are rip-offs of a George Carlin routine. If you know which one, let me know in the comments on this post! But I don't recommend you read the YouTube comments. Seriously. Especially on the woman's ad.)


  1. Good observations...but I think what the ad is also doing in a very big way is rapping and it does that well - you could easily put either of these verses to a hip-hop beat and make it fly. As a man I see the woman as strong - as does my (very) strong partner ! But I see the man as a bit of a dweeb. The carefully groomed stubble and gelled hair... but I'm not the market for these ads. I still think they are quite effective.

    1. Yes, I'm not debating that they're catchy - they were easy to listen to and flowed really well, and easy to transcript. They reminded me of the Bob Dylan song "Subterranean Homesick Blues" or INXS's "Mediate" - the ones with the signs.

      I didn't get in to how the pair looked at all, on purpose - my main focus was on the way they described themselves. But I'll mention it briefly here. They're both young, white, cis, slim, and conventionally attractive - she has long hair, is wearing a business skirt suit (carrying the jacket over an arm) and heels, he has "designer stubble" and is wearing what I think of as the "hipster uniform" - vest, jacket, messenger bag.

      You say that you see the woman as "strong" - but what's meant by that, exactly? She's strong in a very narrow, feminine, "power mummy" type of way - she's wearing a skirt suit and "sensible" heels, she's well-spoken, she's a career woman but also a mum. She's very much a classic "working mum" - a significant chunk of her speech is about looking after her family, while the man only has one direct reference (when he says he pushes the pram - but even then, the person in the background pushing the pram is a *woman*).

      The man is a "bit of a dweeb" - he's got a very modern, "metrosexual", hipsterish look, so I can see why some people might think that's a bit dweeby. But look around you in the city - how many men do you spot who look exactly like him? Or her, for that matter? They're carefully constructed to look exactly how everyone else does - they might be the "man/woman of now" but they have no individuality.

  2. Very interesting comments you make. I would like to add that I find it funny how both ads were obviously filmed in Wellington. There are many tells - especially the trolly buses! Yet, when both ads show the car, there are AU number plates on them! Once again, Aussies stealing our stuff... I don't even know why they would bother doing that, it's such an insignificant detail. It's the same market too, yet if they wanted it for the AU market, why didn't they just film it here?

    1. Holy crap, I didn't even notice, but you're totally right! When the man walks past the woman pushing the pram and waits to cross the road, that's obviously Kircaldie & Stains on the other side of the road! I wonder why they did that - I can't find equivalent NZ versions on YouTube. Nice spotting!