John Millais was a talented artist who lived in the 1800s and was a main part of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. His early art included paintings that were eclectic, compelling, audacious and brightly colored. Over the years, however, his style changed into something much more nostalgic, with darker colors and looser brushwork. Some of Millais’ paintings in his later years were commonly known as “fancy pictures”, a genre of art in which “sentiment takes precedence over evolved narrative.” Emotive paintings such as these became popular during the eighteenth century; at the same time, Enlightenment philosophers were exploring newfound ideas of childhood innocence. Previously thought of as being born into sin, children were starting to be viewed in a different light—they became symbols of hope, innocence and joy.(Smith 125) The Victorian era brought different connotations to the idea of the fancy picture. The corruption found in sexual exploitation and child labor made the concept of the fancy picture a paradox of a sort, illustrating emotion, while also conveying anxiety.
The painting Bubbles by Millais was a good example of these notions and ideas.(Drucker and McVarish 157) Millais originally created this oil painting in 1886, when he was at the peak of his fame. He used his grandson, Willie James, as his model. In Bubbles, the young boy is illustrated holding a bowl of soap suds and a pipe. The young, chubby boy is also seen staring up at a large bubble with an expression of wonder and awe. Bubbles (and its copyright) were bought from Millais by William Ingram in 1886. Ingram was the owner of the Illustrated London News and published Bubbles in the Christmas edition of the magazine in 1887. Thomas Barratt, the managing director of A & F Pears was a clever individual and believed in forceful marketing techniques. Barratt bought the image and its copyrights from Ingram with the idea of turning it into an advertisement for Pears’ Soap. Barratt wanted to create a link between the beautiful child, innocence, purity, and cleanliness, therefore convincing the consumer to buy the product. (Smith 184) In order to do this, however, he had to change certain things about the image. Barratt added in a bar of soap at the bottom of the painting, and added in the text “Pears’ Soap” at the top of the image. By doing so, Barratt successfully created an advertisement by using a sentimental image of a child, provoking an emotional link in the viewer’s mind. This usage of children in advertisements has continued to play a large part in marketing since the 1800s. Since then, large companies such as Merck and Gerber Products Company have used this technique, and arguably even exploited children in order to further themselves financially. Over the years, however, the use of children has spun out of control, and the increase of objectification is significantly more noticeable than in the early years of Victorian beliefs.
Small children inspire trust, hope, joy and a multitude of emotions that attract consumers. In the book, Consuming Kids, psychologist David Walsh is quoted by saying, “Emotion focuses attention, determines what we remember, shapes attitudes, motivates, and moves us to act.”(Linn 51) Marketing strategies have been employed in various degrees over the years, but the fine line between displaying the product in a humanly manner and objectifying humans has been blurred.
In 1959, Joyce Ballantyne Brand drew an ad for Coppertone Sunscreen.This ad was to become widely recognizable as the Coppertone girl icon, which is still in use today. Brand was mainly known for her 1940s pin up paintings, depicting childlike-looking girls caught in compromising positions. In a similar concept of pin up girls, Brand drew her daughter; a girl of three years old in blonde pigtails at the beach.(Brand) A black dog is pulling down her blue swimsuit bottom, exposing her bare backside, which is considerably lighter than the rest of her body. Next to the ad, the words “Don’t be a paleface!” are shown in a loose script. The formal qualities of the Coppertone girl ad are similar to Bubbles in the sense that they are both drawn, giving the advertisement a sweet, soft look. Mass production of this image has made it openly famous and easily recognizable.
There is a dramatic difference in the use of children between the time in which Bubbles was used and the 1950s Coppertone girl. The way it is used in the Coppertone ad, although playful, is also visibly provocative and somewhat sexual. The girl’s exposed bottom is suggestive. Additionally, her pose is reminiscent of a pin up girl, and her surprised, angelic expression is also closely linked to the expressions used in pin up girl photographs and paintings. In this ad, there is a visible change in the depiction of children. In past advertisements, like the Pears’ Soap ad, there was a different tone of “innocence”; the Coppertone girl starts to become less childlike and more controversial. Although Coppertone has since then changed the image to make the girl look less sexual, the fact that adult consumers considered this ad “cute” gives insight to the present issue of increasing sexual objectification of children and the audience’s reaction to these types of advertisements.
Love Cosmetics was a company famous in the 70s for their cosmetic products for women. Owned by Menley & James Laboratories, Love Cosmetics had an advertising budget that went over seven million dollars.(Portals) Marketing was mainly geared towards young women, and in 1974, they started producing a line of Baby Soft products, except these were marketed towards adults. These products seemed to be based on the idea of innocence, and the soft smell of baby powder in their products added to this concept. Advertisements on television and print for the line of Baby Soft products portrayed this idea and emphasized a sense of dreamy, sexy innocence conveyed by their products and models. The ads for the line of Love Cosmetics, similar to Bubbles and the Coppertone girl ad, convey a sense of softness and appeal that is parallel to the “sweet and innocent” message they all attempt to convey.
One of these ads portrays a young girl, staring straight at the audience in a sultry manner. Her hand is delicately placed on a stuffed animal that covers a suggestively skimpy outfit. Her face has soft features, with big blue eyes, rosy cheeks and full lips that are reminiscent of a baby’s features. Her hair is light brown and delicately curled, adding to the childlike appearance of the girl in general. The product is shown in the bottom left corner, with an explanation. It describes Love Cosmetics as a “irresistible, clean-baby smell, grown-up enough to be sexy….Pure and innocent. It may well be the sexiest fragrance around.” At the top, the ad reads, “Love’s Baby Soft. Because innocence is sexier than you think.” The text stresses the smell and concept of the product and continues to mention the “innocence” and “sexiness” contained in the scent of the product. The progression of time from when Bubbles was considered controversial to the Coppertone girl, to the 1970s ads for Love Cosmetics, shows the manner in which children are becoming more of an object for display in advertising. Advertising methods are actively crossing lines and becoming increasingly provocative in order to capture the consumer’s attention and sell the product.
Formally, all of the images contain a sense of softness, achieved by hand painting/drawing in advertisements. This style is analogous with both the product it is trying to sell (soap, cream, and perfume) and it also makes the image appear even more childlike and innocent. The Pears’ Soap ad sets the stage for the advertising done later in the 1950s, 1970s, and even today. Advertisements are everywhere and children are becoming commodities as they continue to become mere props for consumption rather than symbols of hope, joy and innocence. Additionally, no one seems to notice the use of these children and the corruption of innocence that is used in order to gain wealth in society today.
Gallo, Max. Poster in History. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974.
Irwin, Cheri Brand. “The Artist Behind the Coppertone Girl Ad.” Interview by Madeleine Brand. May 18, 2006. NPR. http://www.npr.org/templates/ story/story.php?storyId=5415067.
Linn, Susan. Consuming Kids. New York: The New Press, 2004.
Millais, John Everett. Pears’ Soap Ad. 1886. In Graphic Design History: A Critical Guide, by Johanna Drucker and Emily McVarish. Upper Saddle River:
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Rosenfeld, Jason, Alison Smith, and Heather Birchall. Millais. Millbank: Tate Publishing, 2007.
XI Lifestyle Portals. “Love Cosmetics.” Beauty Tips Hub. http://www.beautytipshub.com/cosmetics/love-cosmetics.html.