The Original Ad
The Australian ‘Thanks Lean Cuisine’ advertising campaign pushes to promote a range of frozen foods that are presumably quicker and tastier than traditional homemade meals. The main objective of the ad is to promote nutritious and convenient meal options for busy women-on-the-go. Nevertheless, the ad campaign is highly controversial due to its overtly sexist message and its glorification of white privilege.
First, the advertisement employs the common stereotype of “women in the kitchen” in order to derisively celebrate women’s microwave-based success! As implied by the campaign’s sexist message, the reason behind the success of the modern woman is not so much her intelligence, resilience or drive, but rather her mere ability to cook. The ad reinforces the traditional female roles of doing the housework and nurturing the family. In doing so, Lean Cuisine suggests to the female consumers that providing at-home meals is a mandatory prerequisite to building a successful career. The patronizing tone in the tagline and the strategic placement of a microwave behind the woman imply that busy women can balance their household duties and professional lives, but only with the help of Lean Cuisine.
Secondly, an element of racism is embedded within the ad. The arguably intelligent, slim, and affluent white woman is directly associated with the notion of success. The ad defines success within the boundaries of a privileged socioeconomic class: the glasses represent her intelligence and possible academic background, the slim-fit dress creates an optical illusion of a thinner and more conventional body type, and the accessories and hair up-do further establish her affluence. The portrayal of this woman arguably undermines the unjust personal, professional and financial challenges faced by women of color in achieving success. Against all odds, many of these women overcome such challenges and create their own success stories, but the white-dominated mainstream media often ignores this reality.
The jammed advertisement features Oprah Winfrey attentively looking at the consumer. Unlike the woman portrayed in the original ad, Winfrey is not forcing a smile or a suggestive pose. Instead, as shown by her upright posture and hand steeple, Winfrey is ready to get the job done! The jammed version of the Lean Cuisine ad invokes a sense of female empowerment, which is achieved through two avenues.
The image first addresses the sexist tagline conveyed in the original ad. By boldly expressing the woman’s “own goddamn self” as the driving factor behind her success, the jammed advertisement invites the consumer to recognize the absurdity of the original message. By substituting the words “Thanks Lean Cuisine!” to “Thanks hard work!” the viewer is reminded to think about the real attributes that lead to success: capacity, character, authenticity and perseverance. Winfrey has never been married or had children (her only son died in infancy). Winfrey defies the prevalent gender stereotypes of women as the primary caregivers and nurturers within the boundaries of home. Her image in the jammed ad reminds us that female success extends far beyond accomplishing household or family duties. Like countless other historically influential women, Winfrey empowers women to succeed in their political, social, and economic endeavors.
Secondly, the jammed advertisement challenges the notion of racism in the original ad. Oprah Winfrey has established her worldwide success through her influential career as a producer, actress, talk show host, and philanthropist. In the face of poverty, racial prejudice, neglect and abuse, Winfrey was resilient and worked hard to establish a successful career path. Her representation in the jammed advertisement allows us to see success recognized in the context of racial diversity. Lastly, it encourages us to acknowledge the barriers to advancement in the economy for women of color. Indeed Winfrey has succeeded, but there are many other women of color who need recognition, further training and education, and more economic opportunities in order to do the same. The jammed version of this ad invites the viewer to ponder over strategic actions that can be taken to bridge this divide.