Moms in TV advertisements buy products for the good of their families

Two sociologists argue that a majority of mothers in TV commercials buy products for the good of their children:

Nearly two-thirds of mothers featured in ads on prime time Canadian television are “intensive” moms who buy products solely for the good of the family, while non-mothers were more likely to be portrayed as independent free agents, enjoying themselves far more, a new analysis has found.

The lion’s share of mothers were shown to be “organized, informative and in control,” and always purchasing the product for the benefit of their children, according to University of Toronto sociology researchers Kim de Laat and Shyon Baumann, who combed through 68 television ads…

But Ms. de Laat and Mr. Baumann say the advertising they studied is promoting “sacrificial consumption” — a term they coined to describe the act of buying products primarily for the care of others, rather than for self-care.

“It’s only been within the past 20 to 25 years that we’ve seen increasing emphasis solely on the children to the point where women are supposed to derive satisfaction from all of this caregiving,” said Ms. de Laat, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto.

“Sacrificial consumption” is an interesting phrase but it isn’t a new idea. I’m reminded of the research of Viviana Zelizer (in Morals & Markets) regarding how the once controversial product life insurance came to be viewed as a necessary and sacrificial product that would provide for one’s family. What might be new here is the idea that these commercials are tying motherhood, a social role, to a particular action, providing for children. It attaches a different idea to products: if you’re family needs the product or would at least benefit, whatever money that needs to be spent is well-spent. Being a good mother means buying the “needed” products, not necessarily providing love, support, time, or attention. Do these commercials work by guilting people into action (i.e, “I’m not a good mother unless I do this”)? I wonder how this ties in with the whole idea of “concerted cultivation” where middle- and upper-class parents look to give their kids advantages (including necessary products?).

Is sacrificial consumption used effectively to sell products to other groups? Can you imagine such marketing aimed at men/fathers?

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