Editorial introduction: Special issue: (Re)creating cultural models of motherhoods in contemporary advertising

Margaret Hogg, Pauline Laclaran, Lydia Martens, Stephanie O'Donohoe, Lorna Stevens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Huge markets have grown up around the ideology of the nuclear family and the central role of the mother in maintaining this. Myths endure around ideal motherhood archetypes that imply certain behaviors, norms, and indeed, taboos. These social and cultural constructions about how to be a good mother proliferate in the marketplace through numerous intersecting discourses. Building on the essays and personal reflections concerning how advertising addresses and represents mothers in Volume 7, Issues 3 and 4 of this journal, this special issue takes a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary focus to explore advertising's role in the circuit of culture and the (re)construction of motherhood roles, identities and relationships in media representations. Whereas the articles in Volume 7 focused on aspects of early childhood and maternity, this issue focuses on papers relating to later stages of motherhood.

Rachana Johri's paper, "Mothering Daughters and the Fair and Lovely Path to Success," fits particularly well with this special issue as it draws on an increasingly important cultural context (India) and focuses on gendered issues around mother and daughter relationships with specific reference to appearance, and a television advertising campaign for a fairness cream: Fair and Lovely. The paper begins with a general analysis of the privileged space occupied by motherhood in India, and especially by mothers of sons. This son preference is a key theme throughout the paper, and its opposite, the sense of loss of status often felt by mothers of daughters, who in India, are sometimes referred to as barren. Linked to the motherhood theme is the other predominant theme of the paper: beauty and the importance of a fair skin. Johri offers an interesting historical analysis of the changing trend in the advertising campaigns for Fair and Lovely cream (FAL)—from a concern with safety and effectiveness of the skin lightening treatment, to the idea of romance and finding the man of your dreams, to Fair and Lovely as a path to personal destiny and success. However, the interesting twist in Johri's paper is that she takes the opportunity, using a detailed reading of the "Manzil Saaf Dikhe" ad which depicts a young woman who has chosen to be a professional cyclist, to analyze how mothers' voices have been silenced in the new global India.

In "Motherhood in Black and Brown: Advertising to U.S. Minority Women," Elizabeth Hirschman also explores the intersection of motherhood and ethnicity, this time by looking at representations of black and Hispanic mothers, African-American and Hispanic women being the two major U.S. women-of-color communities. Significantly, her paper highlights how their limited portrayals as household cleaners, cooks and babysitters continue to contribute to contemporary stereotyping of mothers-of-color. First, Hirschman documents the history of the iconic black female image of Aunt Jemima, the "face" of Quaker Oats, whose intertextual history recalls the "black mammy" who raised rich white children in America's Deep South. She traces how this image has evolved since its conception, with Aunt Jemima's features becoming more Caucasian looking in later campaigns, yet still retaining her servant connotations. Disturbingly, Hirschman's analysis reveals how post-2000 advertising has seen a revival of negative stereotyping of "Big Black Momma" associations. Turning then to Hispanic mothers, she shows how they are most often depicted in limited family-and child-centered roles which again perpetuate their stereotyping. Advertisers' preference for using lighter-skinned Hispanic models, together with more European features, is also commonplace, as Hirschman highlights in her discussions. Overall her paper illustrates the major discrepancies between media images of black and Hispanic mothers and the wider socio-cultural narratives in which their lives are embedded. In conclusion Hirschman offers recommendations as to how advertisers can begin to address the problem, rather than continue to reinforce the mismatch between media images and women-of-colors' everyday lives.

In "Through Mother's Eyes," our third paper in this special issue, Dan Cook's exploration of maternal representations in American parenting magazine advertising takes as its starting point the mother-consumer, for whom caring cannot be extricated from consumption and consumer culture. His analysis of how mother-consumers are portrayed in advertising focuses on what the presence or absence of children in the frame suggests about the ideologies of motherhood in the Global North. Contrasting representations of mothers as workers and as women with portrayals of mothers as mothers, he notes how the latter category often depicts children on their own. Examining such advertisements more closely, Cook suggests that this is a "matriocular" form of visual address; it is aspirational, inviting the consumer-reader to look at the child through mother's eyes, since "the most compelling evidence of being a good mother to a mother…is that of a pleased, satisfied, or otherwise happy child."

As children have gained in cultural and emotional significance in affluent societies in the past century, so parenting, and in particular mothering, has become more keenly interwoven, in both practical and symbolic ways, with responsibility towards children and the problematic of risk, anxiety, and uncertainty. In "Motherhood, Advertising, and Anxiety," our fourth paper, Alexandre Coutant and his colleagues offer an important contribution to debate about the ways in which marketers wield anxiety, uncertainty, and certainty in their communications with mothers. Informing this paper is an investigation of the contents of 167 television advertisements, shown in 5 European countries in the period 2001 to 2007, of Danonino yogurt, a product targeted at children, though marketed, as the paper suggests, mostly to mothers. The authors carefully sketch the interconnections between the social science of food and eating, motherhood, and media representation to contextualize their own work. Presenting a five-fold typification of rhetorics found in the advertisements, the authors move on to discuss how the prominence of these themes varies cross-culturally. So, while German advertisements placed emphasis more readily on "natural" foods and the educational demands made on children, French, Polish, and Spanish advertisements were more likely to resort to "scientific experts" to explain connections between children's health and their physical development.

Media representation is also the focus of "'(Re)covering' the Spectacular Domestic: Culinary Culture, the Feminine Mundane, and Brand Nigella." The final paper in this special issue is a contribution by Douglas Brownlie and Paul Hewer, which explores the "domestic goddess" of UK culinary culture, Nigella Lawson. Drawing on brand theory, celebrity culture, and discourses around food, family, and cuisine, as well as motherhood, sex, and domesticity, they deconstruct the brand in order to unpack its iconicity. Through discourse analysis of her TV programs, books, website, and merchandise, the authors trace Brand Nigella's culinary cosmopolitanism, which seamlessly blends motherhood, domesticity, and glamour to create an irresistible recipe for a primarily middle-class female audience. Her seductive, retro-voluptuous style transforms the domestic space of the kitchen into a homely, spectacular, and leisurely realm of self-fulfilment, hedonism, and fun, a space that emphasizes communication, relationality, and togetherness, with the mother goddess presiding over all with a relaxed and comforting style of cooking and baking, more reminiscent of the 1950s housewife than the multitasking mother of the 21st century.

As such, Brand Nigella demonstrates that the basic poetic of the domestic goddess, like other cultural myths, is always on a wheel of rediscovery, ready to be made over and re-invented. The spectacular reinvention of the domestic goddess, embodied in Brand Nigella, serves to reclaim the kitchen as a female space, where the suspension of disbelief and the re-enchantment of domestic labor and culinary work become the order of the day—the repetitive and frustrating reality of the "feminine mundane" carefully evaded and avoided, with functionality replaced by an aesthetics of performance based around emotional intimacy. Brownlie and Hewer also underline the fact that many contemporary lifestyle brands inhabit intensely emotional (and often contested) terrain. In this case, Brand Nigella represents a re-valorization and re-inscription of the domestic space as an extension of female identity rather than female drudgery. Consumers of gastrobrands such as Brand Nigella thus immerse themselves in a world of experience and emotions that is mediatized through culinary consumption, an emotional economy where market-making serves to reshape the domestic sphere and the role of motherhood, nurturing, and nourishment within it.

Taken together, we believe these five studies offer fascinating insights into cross-cultural models of motherhood in contemporary advertising and media representations, and the contestations, negotiations, and ideologies that surround them.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAdvertising & Society Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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