I’m guessing that most house dogs allowed to lollygag around the living rooms of middle class households have been neutered or spayed. Left without sex, the highest sensual pleasure of house dogs would likely be when someone rubs them on their belly.
What are we then to think about the TV commercial, now around for about two years, in which a fit and attractive but not beautiful 30ish-looking woman tells her dog that the way it feels when she scratches its belly is exactly the way she feels eating a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch? Cinnamon Toast Crunch is a General Mills dry cereal which lists sugar as its second biggest ingredient.
The setting is very cozy: on a plush sofa with lots of throw pillows in a warmly lit living room. And the woman speaks to the dog in a voice of sensual, almost sexual comfort, a voice that puts one at ease at the same time it appears to entice with a hoped-for delight.
Once again in an ad we see a person anthropomorphizing a pet, giving the pet the complex emotions of human beings. But instead of using this literary technique to sell pet food, General Mills employs it to sell cereal to adults, and specifically to single adult women.
Even by today’s standards of self-absorbed and selfish solipsism, this ad is bizarre. The advertiser has sexualized the act of eating a sugary cereal, but not through a comparison with an act of love between humans, but by comparing it to the passively received “substitute” (or “best case scenario”) pleasure a sterilized dog receives from its master.
As I have pointed out in the past, even the worst of TV commercials have behind them solid demographic research. So when I see a TV commercial that’s bizarre, doesn’t make sense or is in particularly bad taste, I ask myself, who is the target market? In the case of this ad, the primary target must be successful single women not in a relationship or in a dysfunctional one (because if they were in a relationship that was working, they wouldn’t seek sensual pleasure in eating cereal).
Connecting food with emotional states and selling the ability of food to create a desired emotional state have been strategies of food marketing for at least a century. But in this commercial, General Mills stretches the limits of credulity, perhaps because the conflation of eating cereal with sexual pleasure is a bit comical to begin with, and getting the dog involved as confidante adds a pathetic note.
And I think General Mills knows the ad isn’t working. Unlike for the best contemporary marketing communications campaigns, General Mills does not have anything online that builds or devolves from this ad. I searched for a while and all the General Mills websites featuring Cinnamon Toast Crunch I could find are for children.
Which brings us to the other social trend embodied in this short spot: the infantilization of adult life. In general, infantilization means to make someone into an infant in appearance or behavior; and in this usage, for adults to retain the habits and predilections of childhood. I’ve written before about the large number of adults in late 20th century and early 21st century America behaving like children and enjoying the entertainments of their childhood, e.g., Disney, video games and fast food. The spot for Cinnamon Toast Crunch builds on this concept because it proposes that a product designed for and usually sold to children can precipitate the highest sensual pleasure in an adult.
Changing the topic: Last Thursday I pointed out that the mainstream news media had let race-baiting blogger Andrew Breitbart off easy for his editing and dissemination of video tape that maliciously and falsely made Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod look like a racist. I’m glad to see that over the weekend and today there are signs that Breitbart is beginning to get the condemnation he deserves in the media, although sometimes in a squeamish manner. On Sunday, both Frank Rich in the New York Times and Mitch Albom in the Detroit Free Press chided Breitbart, as did two separate articles on the front page of the business section of today’s Times. Much of the right-wing media, however, continue to support Breitbart and much of the mainstream media continue to ignore his unethical actions, which led to Sherrod’s firing.