Smart is the New Sexy. Right?

December 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

At the beginning of December, I got really excited about the Newspaper Association of America’s recent campaign to get people to read the newspaper. Their campaign slogan, “Smart is the New Sexy,” was immediately appealing to me, because, after all, I am in graduate school striving to become smarter. Could I truly become sexier while becoming smarter? What a deal! I quickly became quite enthusiastic about the campaign, infatuated with the designs (see more here), and decided I would frame all three ads and hang them by my desk in my study area at home (you know, as motivation to study when the going gets tough).

Then I took a closer, more critical look at these ads. (I cannot help it. That is why I’m still in school. I am addicted to rhetorical criticism.) The first ad, the one that drew me in and got me excited, was the ad with the woman drinking coffee, reading the newspaper and becoming smarter (and therefore sexier, no doubt). However, when I saw the second ad, with the shoe and the price tag, I was bothered. Um, what? I don’t really want that picture framed in my office space. Then I looked at the third ad, of the man and woman sitting on the bench reading the newspaper on their chosen media. But much of the man’s face and upper body are hidden. Wait a minute…could it be? Are these ads aimed at females? And if so, what is that saying about females and newspaper readership? There are so many directions I could go with this.

In an attempt to redefine the word “sexy” to refer to a brilliant mind instead of a brilliant bod (because there is really nothing traditionally “sexy” about the people in the ads – they are bookish at best; ok, maybe the foot with the shoe is sexy), taking a closer look at the ads reveals they are targeting women, which is potentially offensive. (Are they implying women in general aren’t currently smart?) One might counter that the ads are not offensive, but might be targeting women because females tend to make most of the purchasing decisions in the home, and therefore might have a greater influence on readership (see this 2008 Pew Research article). However, this argument would only make sense if statistics show there are fewer female subscribers than male subscribers, but the NAA’s own website shows there is no significant difference in readership of the genders, just in age. Hmmm…what’s going on?

While I could go more in depth on this issue, I will not. Instead, I will remain a bit miffed. Oh, and, in the meantime, I will go shopping for frames in which to display these new images that will motivate my studies next semester.

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