Monday, December 11, 2006

One Less?

Merck has chosen the slogan “One Less” to advertise Gardasil, the HPV vaccine that helps protect women from the four kinds of Human Papillomavirus that are most likely to cause genital warts and cervical cancer. They advise women that by getting the vaccine, they (or their daughters) could be “one less life affected by cervical cancer.” Solid advice, but genital warts are never mentioned. Neither is the fact that HPV is sexually transmitted. But I’ve vented about all that here before, and today I have a different soapbox to stand on.

I realize that a commercial isn’t behavioral psychology, but there are some basic tenets which seem to carry over. Medicines for asthmatics, for example, aren’t marketed as “you’ll wheeze less!” Instead, they’re marketed as “You’ll finally be able to run through fields of flowers with your dog without stopping to take a puff on your inhaler!” Positive reinforcement, if you will.

Now don’t get me wrong: I, and the women I know, all want to be “one less” cervical cancer statistic. But in a culture that constantly negates women’s thoughts, women’s work, women’s experiences, is “One Less” really a wise slogan? Essentially, it’s negative reinforcement. At the very end of the television commercial, a group of girls are jumping rope and chanting “O-N-E-L-E-S-S, I wanna be one less (ONE LESS!)” I found it absolutely haunting. I don’t want those little girls to think of themselves as less! I want them to think of themselves as one MORE woman who is protected against HPV.

Am I being silly? Language is so incredibly important and so easy to overlook. Everything in this country is informed by a culture that negates women. Every little thing, even down to telling girls to be “one less.” While I’m sure those who designed the ad campaign weren’t thinking “Oh, let’s make young women feel reduced,” the language isn’t innocent or innocuous. Why use negative language when a positive phrase would work as well, if not better? Language has impact regardless of intent.

That being said: if you're eligible, please consider being vaccinated. The you, too, can be one more woman protected against HPV.


Anonymous said...

Don't forget erectile drug advertising, which is all about more, more, more!

...or diet aids, which are all about less, less, less -- and overwhelmingly pitched to women.

...or preparations related to the scent of a woman. Less, less, less -- or better yet, none, none, none at all! Remember, your pheromones should be "Secret," necessitating the eponymous deodorant that's "strong enough for a man, but made for a woman."
Any attempts to replace said pheromones with beauty-industrial-complex-approved fragrances approved should be measured and ladylike.

I could start humming jingles about bringing home the bacon/fry it up in a pan/and never let you forget you're a man...but you weren't even around in the 70's. I've already suffered through them. Anyway, who wants to talk cheap perfume?

What fun! But only because I have a penis... Were I better read I'd say you're onto a fresh thesis about the evolution of blatant sexism into slighlty subtler advertising that is even more destructive, insofar it concerns prescription drugs, which weren't legal for TV advertisement back then.

Seems to me that a lot of advertising in categories that weren't necessarily proscribed but weren't pitched to women (e.g., brokerage houses) betray similar subtexts, even though the change resulted from cultural attitudes swayed by the women's movement.

Sometimes irony sucks.

Anonymous said...

I haven't acutally seen one of these commercials, but I've heard a lot about the ad campaign. Each of the women I know wants not to be "one less" of anything, but one fewer diagnosed with a now-largely-preventable cancer. Why not put faith in the culture and in women and use "fewer"? Is "One Less" that much more catchy to overpower the diminutive phrasing when there's a slightly-less-catchy option that doesn't diminish women.

Amanda said...

Great examples, especially the juxtaposition of drugs for ED.

I'm reminded of Jean Kilbourne's Killing Us Softly series:

"One of Kilbourne's underlying arguments is that advertising, as perhaps the primary storyteller in American culture, has the capacity to both produce and affirm the very fictions about women's desires and identity that advertisers themselves often claim to be innocently tapping into and reflecting back at the public. In keeping with the industry's own self-stated mission to create the markets they pitch to, she argues that there is little that is natural, inevitable or innocent about the stories advertising tells us about women, that cultural standards of "femininity" are less given than made, and that in terms of sheer money, power and cultural presence, the maker that matters most is advertising itself." (From the Media Education Foundation study guide to the film)

As for bringing home the bacon, etc, there was a reference to that song on TV the other day and I laughed and (naively) explained to my mother that it had been a reference to a Salt 'n' Peppa song. She laughed and told me I'd just betrayed my youth.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the recommendation! BTW, the Enjoli perfume commercial drew brickbats even in its early-70's heyday.

I guess no one's safe from the media's wagging finger. And when it's hooked up to the long arm of the law, look out.

Think of Nicole!

As you may know, Nicole Richie got busted on a DUI today. And the sun rose in the East.

Alas, a Google search returned more than 600 articles that don't share my news judgment.

Maybe that's because this isn't just news. Beneath the yellow journalism and purple prose of this story runs the scarlet mythology of women who misbehave, which is as old as Lot's Wife.

Nicole's press suggests that she is an especially promising novitiate, as bad girls go. She's headed the wrong way, not just on the Burbank freeway.

She fails most of critieria and labels used to validate women, and defies the labels we cuse to cope with them - except for the one that she can't seem to shake.

Nicole was the key to a hit show, but she is no TV star. She has screen presence, but is no actress. She is clever; but to call her smart or witty would be an invitation to ridicule. She's a published novelist, but not bookish! She pals with socialites, but was an illegitimate adopted child.

Nicole Richie is not quite black, surely not white. Her face is pretty but not beautiful -- not on Main Street. Her figure is so notorious that it has eclipsed all opinion, even those implicit in the designer clothes that she chooses well.

But Nicole Richie is, without doubt, a glamorous, self-destructive young woman. She's a bad girl by default, not to be confused with or treated like bad boys - say, Mel Gibson.

Boys will be boys. But you girls had better behave. If you don't, you might turn into a pillar of salt. Worse, you might get pilloried.

Anonymous said...

It's amazing to me how people can hear, read, or see the same thing and get totally different impressions and thus reactions to one particular thing. For all of you to have instantaneously gotten a negative undertone from an ad, that apparently meant not much more to you but exactly that,"an ad", is really shocking to me. It's always interesting to hear different points of view...and this one is one which NEVER crossed my mind while watching the ad. To those of us who do have a strain of high-risk HPV, the ad was quite possibly our first notice of a victory. The slogan "One Less" is one which is EMPOWERING, not demeaning. It is one that evokes joy, relief, and gratitude that my nieces can at least have a slight/partial chance to fight a "silent" STD that has spread like wild-fire without men and women even knowing it existed...and to those of us fighting on the other side of that sentence, "One More" or "One Less" all means the same thing. So I can see where you're coming from in speaking about it's negativity, but maybe they wrote it from the mindset of those of us who already can't benefit from the vaccine...then, the phrase "One Less" has more power than using "more" because it's as if it's said in rebuttal to the disease. Maybe because I've worked in research for eight years trying to understand and "go in through the backdoor" of cancer and knowing how ravaging the disease can be...and being the patient with HPV...that saying "One Less" seems to actually say so much more to me. But that's just me. Granted, the Tell Someone campaign (which has tons of flaws) and the Gardasil commercials definitely aren't perfect (they're lacking in some key facts), but they're ads, come on, at least they're getting the word out and creating an awareness to a virus that MOST people NEVER had a clue about until these ads existed. And that, in my opinion, is where our anger should lie.

No one is perfect. Hopefully the ads will get better, but at least it is step one in a fight that I would have no qualms "chanting" in a battle against cancer...from my end, I see One Less as a powerful statement, not one of anti-feminist diminution.

Amanda said...

to the most recent commenter-

I was actually quite verkelmpt the first time I saw the "One Less" commercial. I had to pretend to be having allergy problems so my sister wouldn't think I was a total sap (which, of course, I am). I'm thrilled that an HPV vaccine has been developed and released. I've literally cried happy tears about it more than once. It's something I've mentioned a few times here in my blog. There's no doubt in my mind that Gardasil is a victory for women, but I didn't want to dwell on the obvious in this particular post.

I had a professor in college who --and this frustrated the hell out of me-- insisted that her students look critically at and be suspicious of anything designed to evoke emotion, even when it seemed harmless or cathartic or even positive. I appreciate your comment, it's always nice to hear differing opinions!

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