Analysis: Advertising Ketchup

As an industry, advertising aims to convert all audiences into consumers by portraying different products and services as desirable and necessary. With the onset of mass consumerism and consumer capitalism, advertising has become an even more essential function of businesses. This paper will attempt to portray the impact of advertising on gender roles and family notions, specifically the portrayal of women and families in advertising campaigns. By critically analyzing four different print ad campaigns carried out by Heinz Ketchup between the years of 1933 and 2018, the cultural, social, and ideological notions surrounding these periods will be portrayed. Further, the impact of consumer culture on these advertising campaigns will also be touched upon. 

Figure 1.

The emerging practice of mass production in the 1930s resulted in a departure from the traditional notion of consumers preferring practical purchases; rather, consumers from all classes were able to afford goods and services that were previously limited to the rich and elite. There was a shift in demand for products that were produced by local artisans or small scales businesses, to corporate and more industrialized companies that could produce standardized products at a large scale (Strasser, 2003, p. 382). Strasser emphasizes in her work that:

Branded, standardized products came to represent and embody the new networks and systems of mass production and distribution, the social relationships that brought people the things they used. Household routines involved making fewer things and purchasing more; consumption became a major part of everyday life and household work. (Strasser, 2003, p. 380).

The above written statement clearly showcases the shift in consumer buying behaviours in the age of mass production. More and more, customers shifted from purchasing products from local storeowners, people in their immediate network, and small-scale merchants to large corporations hence becoming a part of the global capitalist system as a consumer. Perhaps, this is one of many reasons that the field of advertising saw rapid development during the postwar period. As more and more products were produced, consumers needed to be informed of different attributes of these products and convinced of their usefulness. Mass production of standardized products and their advertising together allowed consumers to depend more and more on corporations while ignoring the complex processes behind the production of these goods (Strasser, 2003, p. 381).

One such company that took advantage of the growing number of consumers who were willing and able to buy mass produced goods was Heinz. By using several targeted advertising campaigns, Heinz was able to become an iconic brand whose ketchup evokes a sense of nostalgia from their demographic even today. Several of their advertising campaigns rely on heteronormative notions of family and stereotypical portrayal of gender roles in order to induce a sense of familiarity in their customers. The first campaign that will be critically analyzed in this paper is an ad titled, “How to Please a Husband” from 1933 (Figure 1 in Appendix). Like several advertisements of the time that were targeted towards women, this ad appeared in a lifestyle magazine called McCalls (which was primary read by women) in their March addition. The ad features a man using Heinz Ketchup as a condiment and smiling, indicating pleasure and excitement. As was common advertising practice at the time this photo is followed by a body of text which urges wives to purchase this ketchup in order to make their husband “delighted”. There is a notion here that it is a wife’s duty to ensure her husband’s happiness, and this can only be done in the traditional way- by cooking.

Further, the text even urges women to buy Heinz by stating that every good housewife has at least one bottle of this ketchup in her home. Clearly, this ad showcases how advertisers manipulate stereotypical gender roles to promote products (Eisend, 2019, p. 72). In this ad, the wife is given the autonomy to make a buying decision. However, this decision is solely to make her husband happy. This highlights the stereotypical and sexist notion that a woman’s duty is to please her husband. The idea that she can do this by cooking him a delicious meal regularly not only portrays gendered roles, but also showcases the stereotypical portrayal of family dynamics in media and advertising. It is important to remember that, “gender roles in advertising (as a part of media) not only influence brand-related attitudes and behavior of consumers but can also contribute to non-brand-related and social effects” (Eisend, 2019, p. 73).

These ideas appeared consistently in Heinz ad campaigns even if their portrayal was different. “A Bottle to Beckon With” was an ad campaign that made its debut the following year, in 1934 (Figure 2 in Appendix). This ad shows a man and a woman speaking on the phone as opposed to just portraying a man. On first glance, they appear to be a couple speaking about something positive as they are both pictured smiling. Just like the ad published the year before, this ad also includes a body of text showcasing the quality of Heinz and urging women to buy a bottle of this ketchup. The woman is waiting for the man to presumably return home from work and is baiting him by informing him of all the delicious food she has cooked. Once again, this highlights the stereotypical notion that men are to work hard and women are to cook and patiently wait for their husbands to come home. Further, the words ‘Heinz Ketchup beckons a man’, directly calls out to women to buy this product if she wants her husband to come home to her from work and be pleased.

Both the ads that have been analyzed so far have highlight how, “Gender roles in advertising correspond to cultural expectations toward gender, and advertisers “mirror” the conventions and wishes of the society” (Eisend, 2019, p. 75). In both ads, women are as portrayed as being mere objects who exist to please their husbands. Both ads feature an emphasis on cooking for her husband, another stereotypical gender role. Further, the ads exclusively portray a husband and wife highlighting a heteronormative view of families (O’Barr, 2012). The text on these ads also include a section that describes the ketchup as “luscious”, “mouth-watering”, and made with the best tomatoes. Once again, this highlights the impact of mass consumerism on the expectation of consumers who now held a product to a certain standard (Strasser, 2003, p. 383). The ads make it appear as though ketchup is made and packaged into the iconic Heinz glass bottles just for you, thereby personally calling out to consumers. This showcases the above discussed impact of mass production- the idea that corporations make products on behalf of households and hence housewives must invest in them.

The third print ad campaign this paper will analyze is from the year 1939. “Heinz Genuine Old-Fashioned Kettle Ketchup” portrays a mother feeding someone, presumably her daughter, a spoonful of ketchup (Figure 3 in Appendix). The name of this campaign and use of words like “old-fashioned” suggest that Heinz is evoking nostalgia from its targeted customer base. Similar to the ads mentioned above, this too contains a body of text that aims to sell the quality of the ketchup to consumers. By using words such as “pungent” and “aromatic”, this ad tries to plant aspirational ideas in the mind of consumers, and hence manipulate their buying behaviour (Dhaliwal, 2016, P. 4502). By inducing ideas of the old-fashioned process of making ketchup in wooden stoves, the ad is trying to inform consumers of the high quality of this product. Again, Heinz is referred to as a “trick” that housewives can use in the kitchen in order to unleash their potential, that is cook delicious food for their family. Unlike the other ads analyzed however, this ad is specifically portraying family notions.

The ad showcases just a mother feeding her daughter; in one sense, this is reaffirming the notion that it is solely a woman’s job to cater to the needs of her children. Further, the stereotypical idea that women are naturally nurturing due to their ability to reproduce, as opposed to men, is accentuated by the absence of a man or a perceivable father figure in the frame. Although the text itself does not indicate that the pictured figures are mother and daughter, the action of the older woman cooking over a stove and feeding a young girl seem to indicate so. Once again, this ad perpetuates stringent gender roles for women such as cooking and nurturing (O’Barr, 2012).  Another idea this ad is perpetuating is that Heinz Ketchup is made from fresh ingredients including tomatoes, vinegar, and spices and hence is good for the family. This is a concept that we have seen in the previous advertisements analyzed as well. The presence of such text in addition to the imagery of the mother-daughter duo once again points to the rapidly developing consumer culture at the time. Herein buying or consuming products became a regular occurrence more and more households (Strasser, 2003, p. 380).

Finally, Heinz’s ad from 2018 which proudly states, “No one grows ketchup like Heinz” is the most recent campaign that will be analyzed in this paper (Figure 3 in Appendix). The title itself is a nod to consumer capitalism and highlights the abovementioned idea of households shifting from making products to buying products made by corporations (Strasser, 2003, p. 380). This ad portrays a Heinz bottle perceivably made out of real tomatoes that is sliced up, and has a tomato stem in place of a bottle cap. Unlike the other ads critically unpacked in this paper, this ad does not feature any human component. That means it does not portray imageries related to women, men, children, or families. Simply, it portrays the above mentioned sliced up bottle shaped tomato putting a huge emphasis on quality. As this paper has, shown different Heinz campaigns have included ingredient lists and have always had an emphasis on the quality of the ketchup they produce. However, this campaign is different in so far as the quality being the sole emphasis. The freshness of the tomatoes indicate that this product is high quality, natural and healthy. Although it does not include covert family notions, this ad is still calling on people to purchase this product to ensure the wellbeing of themselves and others in their household.

Advertising has always been an important industry due to its role in influencing and informing consumers. However, with the onset of mass production and consumer capitalism at the turn of the 20th century, advertising has become even more indispensable. As this paper has shown, advertising and different ad campaigns play an active role in the way one perceives the cultural, social, and ideological ethos around them. As was seen in the first two Heinz campaigns from 1933 and 1934 portraying extremely stereotypical notions of gender role and family, advertising often reflects ideas that are socially acceptable at the time. This paper has also shown that advertising based on such gender stereotypes can have further social implications, such as legitimization of such stereotypical claims. In addition, this paper has analyzed campaigns from 1939 and 2018 to showcase changing consumer behaviours due to an extreme rise in mass consumption.

The creation of standardized products has also led to raised consumer expectations regarding the quality of products they purchase. This was clearly portrayed in the 2018 Heinz campaign whose sole purpose was to show consumers the organic, fresh, and natural ingredients that Heinz uses to make their ketchup despite being mass produced. The change in consumer behaviour in recent years can hence be understood as a direct consequence of mass production, and targeted advertising. However, what stands out most is the fact that although all these ads are from different periods in history and portray different imagery, they have coinciding messages. These include ideas regarding femininity, gender roles, family notions, and mass consumption. In conclusion, this paper has critically analyzed four Heinz ad campaigns to showcase that although an idea might be portrayed differently in different ad campaigns through space and time, their messages can remain constant.

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