Sep 6, 2015

Coursework Cross Post: Week 1: Madge the Sage

Originally published to a blog maintained for the Rutgers course Web-Based Multimedia Design for Educators.

The Madge commercials caught my attention as a child. Washing dishes was an evening chore, one that included all of the women in the family. Even at the age of 5 I knew about dishpan hands. Thankfully, Madge had a simple solution:



This commercial is for dishwashing soap, part of a larger print and television campaign that ran from 1966 until 1992. The advertisement tells us that Palmolive does more than just wash dishes clean, it also softens the dishwasher’s hands.

We meet two women: a manicurist and her client. The client, by the very nature of seeing a manicurist, demonstrates at least mild vanity as well as the means to tend to her appearance. The manicurist notices the damage to her client’s skin and suggests using a dish soap that is more gentle on the hands. The client is surprised to learn that the manicurist is using that same dish soap as a tool during the manicure.

The banter between the women show a familiarity that permits frank discussion and the sharing of real solutions. These women trust one another. The audience is not looking from a distance, the camera angle brings us in close -- we are confidants. Later, we are within earshot on a busy street as the client shares her positive experience with the product.  A friendly male voiceover tells us that Madge is being truthful about the product while sharing the dishwashing benefits. The manicurist focuses on the beauty aspect, while the male voiceover extols the cleaning ability of the product.

This commercial tells the “average” woman that they and the homes they maintain can be presentable to others with very little sacrifice.  Also implied is the idea that just because you wash dishes doesn’t mean you have to look like you wash dishes.  A further implication is that women’s hands should not look rough -- they should have a softer appearance.

The commercial, through casting, indicates that the “average” woman is white and middle-class. These women do not have someone else to wash their dishes, and likely do not wash other people’s dishes. While those “other” women might benefit from use of this product, they are not the people represented. Men who wash dishes are also not represented, perhaps because soft hands is not considered a priority for them.

These American middle-class women are spending a great deal of time maintaining their homes, families, and selves. This product allows them to make a small change with big improvement. The video format allows to see and hear women, the friendship, and the self deprecating attitudes. We are invited to listen in on the sage advice shared by the friendly manicure professional.