Peter York On Ads: You've come a long way, baby. And now you have to worry about dying

Well Woman Plus

It's quite a thing, being a woman. A more elemental kind of destiny than being a man, that's for sure. We know this from Edna O'Brien. By the late 1960s, as Tom Wolfe pointed out, the women's movement and its rhetoric meant that women started to regard gender as a mission that was intrinsically fascinating and tremendously important in itself. Just like men used to. We laughed ourselves silly at Iron Men - quite rightly, but "I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman" is simply authentic.

After years of being less than a dog or an armchair all this was a decided improvement. And advertisers were quick to run with the idea that a particular kind of biology was destiny. Virginia Slims and "you've come a long way baby" was a patronising way of selling cigarettes as fundamentally girlie as a multicoloured Balkan Sobranie. And all kinds of 1970s advertising flattered women with vignettes of the "silly daddy" or "human Labrador" teenage son kind. Those commercials degraded men for a purpose.

By the Nineties it'd all moved to cars. There were cars developed for girls - like the Ford Ka - and commercials targeting their new feelings, like the Volkswagen Polo and the Ford Fiesta. And later service advertising that said we'll give you special treatment because you're a better bet for loans or insurance, less likely to mess up, more likely to pay up.

There's another story now, which is mum as breadwinner, divorced, the equal or higher earning partner. So those traditional insurance ads which used to ask hyper-responsible man what would happen to the widow and her mites if, God forbid, it all went wrong, are starting to be recast for women. What if mum was ill?

The new American Life insurance commercial works this seam. There's a young mum at a school sports day - evoking Diana in that race - saying she's glad she's fit enough. But every day thousands of women are diagnosed with a female cancer. How would you cope? Well Woman Plus from American Life (would that brand have come out differently configured if it'd been made in Britain you wonder?), could pay up to £27,000 the instant you're diagnosed. And lots of other hedged-about "up tos" per day and week. "Helping your loved ones cope while you concentrate on getting better." When Evelyn Waugh wrote The Loved One in 1947 it was a funny grating bit of American hucksterism. Now it's practically standard English.

It gets wincingly worse for an old Brit sensibility though. The worst; what if the worst happens, though survival rates are high? Your family could receive life cover payment. But if you haven't claimed after 20 years, you get back every penny (after they've harvested it for interest and its worth hugely less in real terms).

It's all very precise and tremendously responsible: the target age group - 18 to 49, the range of mainstream mums in modern Britain - the first free month, the free gift and website. There's no directorial cleverness, no humour or overblown technology. The presenter reminds you of the new Davina McCall, redeemed by motherhood. The situation's entry-level, middle class, rather than the call-centre formula of the underclass loan consolidators. And though they're showing a nuclear family, you have to wonder who they're really targeting.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

BI Analyst

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency in Central Lo...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little