Professor Earl Brooks
Rhetoric and Civic Life
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Kellogg’s PEP Cereal Advertisement
Kellogg’s PEP cereal was a popular cereal in the 1930’s-1940’s. It was one of the first cereals to be fortified with vitamins. Many people were unaware of what this meant or what eating extra vitamins could potentially do for them. Because of this Kellogg’s began an advertising campaign that tried to explain these benefits to the populous, but unfortunately they relied on typical gender roles and sexism to explain these possible benefits.
In order to truly understand this ad you need to first understand the culture of the time period it was released in. This ad was released in 1938 but stayed in circulation until the early 40’s. This time period showed a backslide in Women’s gender rights. Women had made great leaps forward in the 1910’s and 1920’s which culminated with the 19th amendment granting them the right to vote in 1920. Women had achieved a much higher level of political equality, but still lacked social or economic equality. However, as the Great Depression began, Women’s rights fell to the back burner politically. Politicians chose to focus on trying to fix the economy instead of provide equal rights for women. Not only was ensuring gender equality socially and economically not a major issue, but many politicians and governmental agencies began to try and reinstitute the old stereotypical gender roles of men being the bread winners for their families. Politicians that stressed that the man was the one responsible for earning and maintaining a job that would allow for his family to survive while women were in charge of keeping and maintaining the home through tasks such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. This train of thought can be seen in the over 1000 bills passed in the 1930’s that discriminated against a women’s ability to enter the workforce. The public sector also followed this backsliding pattern. Many universities began to deny women entry and many businesses wouldn’t hire women. For example, in the automobile industry there was a ratio of about one women worker for each 10 male workers. About 3/4 of women who were lucky enough to get a job worked as nurses or school teachers. Society in general discouraged women from attempting to get work outside of them home. In fact, women who worked outside of the home were often seen as hurting another family because jobs were scarce and they were stealing a job from a man who would be supporting his whole family. Overall women were viewed as and treated as second class citizens whose job it was to manage the home by society.
The Kellog’s PEP cereal advertisement’s intended audience is both men and women. Men would be attracted to it do the advertising because it supposedly makes their women “cuter”. They would also be interested in having their wife doing the maximum amount of cleaning while they are gone which is apparently also something the cereal can do. Women would also be attracted to the ad. They would ideally want to be cuter for their husband. Also, this ad says the women in this ad says she’s not tired after a day full of cleaning because of the vitamins in this cereal. Ideally, women would choose to be less tired so they would be interested in consuming this product.
The main part of the ad shows a husband and a wife in a loving embrace. The wife is dressed in a traditional dress and an apron. She is also holding a duster. Her outfit emphasizes her role as the one in charge of maintaining the house. The husband is in contrast wearing a professional looking suit. This emphasizes his job of being the breadwinner of the family. Also, the fact that the man is the only one thinking anything along with the agreeable look that is on the wife’s face shows a domination of the man in the marriage. This part of the ad reinforces stereotypical gender roles as well as a man’s dominance in marriage.
The other main part of the ad is the cartoon in the bottom right corner of the ad. The man comes home from work, tired from his day at work. He notices that his wife is still full of energy after cleaning all day. The husband asks her how this is possible and she responds that she makes sure she always gets her vitamins. The outfits of the cartoon match the other part of the ad with the woman wearing housework clothes and the man wearing a suit. This again pushes stereotypical gender roles. While this part is extremely sexist, it does somewhat equate housework and working in a factory of being equally tiring. This suggests some type of equality between the workloads of the couple instead of suggesting that housework was light and easy work as many ads and people in society said at this time.
This Kellogg’s PEP Cereal would never be used today. First, its blatant sexism would result in a PR nightmare and hurt Kellogg’s sales across the board. Second this advertisement doesn’t show the product anywhere on it. If it wasn’t for the Kellogg’s logo in the bottom left corner you would have no idea what this was an advertisement for, at first glance possibly vitamins of some sort. Modern marketing has much more of a focus on the product, especially food that is being sold as healthier. A modern comparative product would be Cheerios. Cheerios are being marketed as a healthier breakfast product that provides health benefits. Almost all Cheerio brand advertisements have a strong focus on the actual product, something completely lacking from 1930’s Kellogg’s add. In addition, the main part of the ad has nothing to do with the product itself. It doesn’t mention anything about PEP cereal or vitamins, it just mentions the husband thinks the wife looks cuter the harder she works. It’s not until you read the smaller font in the cartoon that you realize the loose connection between it and the product. Third, the cartoon has absolutely no product explanation or placement within it. The wife simply answers “Vitamins, Darling! I Always get my vitamins”. She never once says that she gets these vitamins from PEP cereal nor is there a bowl or box of PEP cereal anywhere in the cartoon that you can imply this. Overall, this ad does little to market Kellogg’s PEP cereal, combined with gender stereotypes, there is no way this ad would ever be used today.
Kellogg’s PEP cereal was a brand new kind of cereal when it was released in 1938. This ad attempts to convince people of the benefits that it being fortified with vitamins could provide. However, the outfits of the couple along with the dialogue subtly promotes typical gender roles. Luckily an ad like this would never be used today.