In our human existence, every culture established a way of doing things. Now, with sociology firmly behind us, we call those established way of doing things "norms." Those norms that a culture embraces reflect certain values, certain traits of a belief system that the culture would argue is necessary for order.
As advertising is a reflection of society, it is only natural, then, that advertising follows the lead of those minds who are shaping what our culture believes are the new norms.
Example: Consumerist and CBS New York covered the story of a petition that was presented to Toys"R"Us about ending gender-based advertising. The petition, which started on Change.org, believes that the pinks and blues should no longer be pigeonholed by genders. That soldier toys, Barbie dolls, legos, and cooking sets should be pushed to whoever wants them, regardless of being a boy or girl.
Gender "norms" no longer apply.
Is our society ready for that?
It is a very interesting situation. We are creatures of habit, and lovers of patterns. Yes, humans understand matters and concepts best when the concepts are visual, and when they fit a pattern. So when we see a baby wearing blue, we automatically refer to our pattern database and determine in milliseconds that the baby is most likely a boy. The same with pink and the baby being a girl. Case closed.
We understand the petition; the owners believe that advertising pushing "gender roles" at a early age has a negative effect on girls pursuing the STEM professions in the future. That if two-year-old Nancy gets a Barbie, she is never going to get that Ph.D. in mechanical engineering.
Though we understand where the petitioners are coming from, we would humbly assert that their notion does a huge disservice to girls in science, and overly simplifies the situation.
Unless Toys"R"Us doing its gender-based advertising (of which the store says it doesn't do) is an element to the black swan of girls leaving STEM jobs. Does forcing girls to like glitter and pink drive them away from chemistry?
Listen, we're making a jest of this petition because we think its ridiculous. Our society is too pattern-fixed to totally remove how we identify gender roles. That is not a bad thing, and stop blaming advertising for thinking so.
Plus, once our culture finds a new way to identify norms and give us a pattern to follow, you better believe you'll see it in advertising.
Just not yet.
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.