How advertisers use stereotypes to sell

This time it’s about voices. Accents in particular.

How would you sell to people who lived here?

Are ad makers still using northern English accents to denote frugality? Trustworthiness? Close-knit communities and old-fashioned standards. And American accents to hint at some sort of old-age freedom? (Before the newcomers hadn’t yet slaughtered all the native people.) Or mob-type approach.

Then I wonder whether the ad is trying to appeal to the growing swathe of ‘silver surfers’. Don’t they want to feel that the world hasn’t really changed?

The PlusNet ad seems want the web to seem homely and safe. Doesn’t that instantly make it suspect? Don’t we want our internet connections to be fast and reliable? And cheap.

Then I wonder whether the ad is trying to appeal to the growing swathe of ‘silver surfers’. Don’t they want to feel that the world hasn’t really changed? That you can still pop over the road and leave your door unlocked, be kind to strangers calling at your door sort of thing.

Well Mrs. don’t leave your internet connected and your door open. Someone will creep in and steal your bank details, send rude emails to all your contacts, run off with your jewellery and leave a list of questionable sites in your history. (“Oh! How did she get there? She needs a vest on. Looks chilly…” )

There’s something they’re not telling the old folk and I disapprove. Don’t be fooled by the northern accent: the internet can be ugly and unsafe.

The token female suggests there are girls who don the hi-vis jerkin and heave steel tubes about. I don’t think they do

Almost worse than this is the money supermarket ad with a female site worker. Looking like they’re challenging all the prejudices about women working in this ‘man’s’ sector (are there any?) but relying on stereotypes anyway. She’s built big, has been made to look angry and doesn’t actually do anything remarkable with her body (like the male actors do). Why?

The token female suggests there are girls who don the hi-vis jerkin and heave steel tubes about. I don’t think they do. More fiction from the media industry. So again, just a stereotypical view of what sort of woman might work on a building sire. Will this help the ad?

And then there’s the Open University. Ahhh, almost more predictable than all the others. Which area to better represent brains than Scotland? For me, this one works. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a Scot talking about cooing, money, pet care or politics, there’s something innately smart-sounding about the accent. (Sorry to admit my own prejudice here…)

As for the Trivago TV ad… I don’t know where to begin. Some antipodean chick in a terrible set of mismatching clothes (did she buy all Liz’s stuff from eBay??)

And Ikea, well, might be my small world of travels but to me the chap sounds like Antonio Banderas in Zorro/Puss in Boots: ‘the wonderful every day. Señor…’

Oh dear. Changes the whole sense and mood, doesn’t it? Suddenly PlusNet is targeting wealthy widows with a fat pension, offshore investments and live-in staff.  

What would the eBay ad sound like with the Ikea actor’s voice? “Hotel? Trivago.” “’Otel? Treebargo.” (That’s a Spanish/Swedish accent.)

And could the eBay ad find a new audience by using Richard E. Grant’s voice? Plummy. Posh. Pubic school. They’d have to change the names. Possibly the script too. “Oh Jemima, you do so like to stockpile your old paraphernalia…” Probably wouldn’t have the same feel to it. The Open University promoted by someone with a Leeds twang…?

PlusNet using Emilia Fox’s voice? Could she get away with their slogan? “We’ll do you proud.” No. So they’d have to change the slogan to something like, “A service any mature and immensely patriotic northerner would be glad to use…”

Oh dear. Changes the whole sense and mood, doesn’t it? Suddenly PlusNet is targeting wealthy widows with a fat pension, offshore investments and live-in staff.

I’m not in the business of creating ads so can’t come up with any workable options. And I do see that older beliefs about nations are slowly being smashed and rehashed. The Irish are now showcasing their lovely culture and country. And their accent is the sound of poetry, music and an erudite population.

But would those who make a living out of it, try and steer away from old stereotypes? It just makes the ads dull and passé.

I don’t think northerners are any more trustworthy than anyone else. Or female site workers are all frightening, slightly butch with badly bleached hair. The Swedes may well have an identity crisis and aspire to be Spanish and the Australians possibly do have appalling taste in clothes and a penchant for cheap hotel stays.

And maybe (and this costs me a lot to say) the Scots aren’t any cleverer than the rest of us. But I’ll hold on to that prejudice til I’m proved wrong.

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