Words have proven to be a mighty weapon indeed. They have raised heroes and made villains. They can create or they can kill before you see them coming; they can convince and they can refute. They can make or break people and brands. Indeed, words have shaped the universe. And now when we choose to be copywriters, we must be responsible with the words we use and the message we send out, because as advertisers, the potential influence we hold is high.
Over the last century, advertising has shifted and molded itself according to socio-economic changes. In the race for sales, many brands have shown a tendency to exploit harmful tropes present in the society. For those not in the know, a trope is a common or overused theme or device. Sadly, too many of these are commonly found in advertising.
Apart from social harm, using a trope is a sign of lazy writing and a lack of creativity. It is a sign of mediocrity and if you’re on this page, it’s probably because you want to be better than the best! We’re here to put an end to the rule of mediocrity!
Luckily, the advent of internet, and consequently social media, has sparked off countless conversations on just about every subject. Revolutionary ideas have gained a worldwide platform in real time. With the increased interactivity and intimacy on social media, there’s no room for error and no place to hide. Spotlight is on!
Let’s have a look at some of the most common tropes found in advertising.
Gender stereotyping: This is the most exploited stereotype of all. Women in ads are typically caricatured as homemakers, mothers and submissive people. Rather than let them bloom in their individuality, they have been assigned specific roles, thus reinforcing society’s beliefs. Men on the other hand are shown to be the alpha, career driven but too important to do mundane things like housework. After centuries of subjugation and assigned gender roles, men and especially women are exploring their individuality; and it’s up to us in advertising (as a collective group), to encourage this progression.
Unhealthy body images: The idea that only fair is beautiful has been perpetuated down the ages. Dark-skinned women (and men) are seen as less successful and beautiful, while fair retains all the superiority and privilege. This promotes a unhealthy body image. The world needs smart and confident people. It needs people to accept themselves as they are, irrespective of their skin colour, body weight or height.
Child gender roles: Boys like blue and girls like pink, right? Girls must be submissive and boys must be dominating and yada yada. This is a message we give our future generations at a tender age instead of letting them grow as individuals and developing their own likes and dislikes. Sales of toys would skyrocket if toys were not restricted to gender! Ideas such as boys don’t cry and girls are weak only propagates crimes as dastardly as domestic abuse.
Age stereotypes: Assigning stereotypes to age can be harmful to brands. Age only defines what a person wants. For e.g., video games are primarily targeted at kids even though a major chunk of adults are interested in games. Research suggests that 25% of all games are purchased by consumers over 40 and 38% of the buyers are women. Another irksome tendency is to assume that all old people are only interested in retirement and pension plans. It’s high time such outdated ideas were left behind.
Racial stereotyping: Access to more knowledge has revealed how deeply embedded racial prejudice is. Naturally, the ink of the real world has bled into advertising too, but it’s time to recognize it for what it is and accord respect to every race. Brands must take care that no race is portrayed as inferior.
Other tropes that have been done to death (and hopefully you will avoid like the plague).
Sex sells: Stop beating a dead horse over and over. Using such a device for promotion indicates a serious lack of creative skill apart from being forgettable and lost in a crowd of other similar advertisements. Most consumers are mentally fatigued with ads where a deo attracts tons of girls. Brand names can be interchanged and no one will be any wiser!
Slice of life: ‘Slice of life’ ads are the next go-to solution when faced with the crisis of no–ideas. ‘Slice of life’ ads include bits and pieces of real life that are sewn together to make an ad. It’s nice. And by nice I mean, done to death. Mediocrity is rampant in this one.
If you think these are the only ways to advertise, you surely have a creative block. There are good ways to deal with it. Click on http://omnivoreacademy.com/blogs/2017/09/14/6-fun-ways-to-help-your-creativity-flow/ to find out how.
The key point here is to treat the target person as a person, not a statistic. Keep in mind his or her individual quirks and traits rather than treat the person as a generic group. Sales and society will both be better for it. We have a chance to undo centuries of conditioning. Let’s not waste that chance.