Stereotypes in Commercials


“Stereotyping is the process whereby groups or individuals are characterized in simplified and often pejorative terms, so that all members of this category are seen in one particular way.” (Lawson T. and Garrod J.: the complete A-Z sociology handbook)

We tend to pigeonhole people according to certain perceived characteristics that can be positive or negative. This process is driven by cognitive economy - the desire to simplify complex issues by reducing them to simple terms. In addition, these ideas serve an emotional function when someone adopts negative stereotypes about others in order to feel superior and create a positive identity for themselves. Stereotypes also have a social function, because they help us to create a sense of belonging to a particular social group by attributing distinguishing characteristics to members of other groups. 


According to Jaakko Lehtonen from the University of Jyväskylä, stereotypes are neither bad nor good, “but they can influence intercultural interactions in different ways. An observer tends to favour information that is consistent with existing expectancies, and tends to ignore, or reject information that is inconsistent with the stereotypes.( …) Stereotypes are often resistant to change.” (https://www.jyu.fi/viesti/verkkotuotanto/kp/vf/jaakko.shtml)



Stereotypes about Spain


Stereotypes about Spain and the Spanish are a case in point. They can be traced back to various sources, including the impressions of English, French and German travellers to Spain in the 19th century. In their travel accounts, they highlighted 'exotic' cultural phenomena such as flamenco dancing, the Seville Fair and bullfighting. These aspects are often related to Andalusia, but are presented as representative of the country as a whole, without taking into account its diversity. In addition, biased media coverage, tourist campaigns and the superficial experiences of tourists during their holidays play an important role in the formation of stereotypes. According to the Informe proyecto marca de España (2003), Spaniards stand out for the expressive and 'warm' aspects of life (emotion, vitality, leisure), but not for the instrumental or 'cold' aspects (efficiency, discipline, work). Spain is seen as a good place for holidays, but less so as a place to work and do business. A common and questionable image of Spaniards is therefore that partying and having fun are at the centre of their lives, to the detriment of work commitments. Another important source of stereotypes are cultural products, such as the films of Spanish directors Carlos Saura and Pedro Almodovar, or the point of view of foreign directors, such as Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Spanish and even Latin American pop artists, who are often associated with Spanish culture, also tend to reinforce stereotypical images.


Spanish Stereotypes in Advertising

Cultural stereotypes are sometimes used in advertising, especially tourism and food advertising, to create a positive association between a product and its country or region of origin. These can be auto-stereotypes (an opinion a group has about itself) or hetero-stereotypes (ideas and prejudices used to define other groups). In some previous campaigns, the Catalan sparkling wine producer Freixenet exploited Spanish stereotypes in its adverts aimed at foreign consumers. For its current campaigns, Freixenet has developed a global  advertising strategy that highlights the brand's Mediterranean heritage and conveys an image of "Mediterranean spontaneity and joy".


One of Freixenet’s earlier commercials aimed at German consumers playing on cultural stereotypes is "Der magische Blick" (The Magic Glance).  It is set in the Mediterranean atmosphere of a historic city centre. Dramatic Spanish guitar music accompanies the scenes. In the opening scene, galloping horses enter a sort of arena surrounded by beautiful buildings. They are held back by two dark-haired men. The scene is reminiscent of a bullfight or running of the bulls, although there are no bulls. Bullfighting is one of the most important associations with Spanish culture, but is viewed negatively in Germany, which is probably why the advertisers decided not to show it. In a later scene, one of the men exchanges glances with a brunette woman. An animated rose tattoo symbolises their passion, an association often made with Spaniards, which leads to the end of the advert, which concludes with the slogan "the beginning of passion".


The commercial can be used for a classroom activity about stereotypes. Before watching the commercial, students can be asked to talk about their stereotypes about Spanish people. After watching the advertisement, the following questions can be discussed:


What do you think of the commercial?


What stereotypes are shown?


How do they fit in with your ideas about Spain?

Where do you think these ideas come from?


Can stereotypes have a negative effect on how we interact with others?




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