Husband and I were watching a youtube video the other day which was critiquing various advertising/commercials as being sexist or racist, and our thought was- "wait. Yes, that ad was sexist/racist/classless. But- why do ads like that work?" I think ads like that work because they are a reflection of a society that still has sexism, racism, classless, demeaning crudities, etc embedded very deeply. I truly think that corporations' advertising strategies have one goal, and one only- money. They want to sell something. Yes, they can be very unscrupulous and irresponsible in the way they go about selling, and it would benefit society if they tried to counteract social ills instead of reflecting them. However, ad campaigns are reflective of what successfully sells a product, and what appeals to certain demographics within society, so I see one really sure way to combat them- change society. That, and boycott the campaigns, companies, and/or products being marketed inappropriately. We as consumers are not helpless pawns in some corporate game; they do what they do because they believe we want it/it appeals to us. If we can demonstrate that that is not the case, we can effectively eliminate objectionable advertising, whether it's sexist girls' lego ads, beer commercials that objectify and stereotype, or ads that set up straw men to denigrate races, religions, socioeconomic classes, or geographical regions. We should be critically analyzing and both our own actions and prejudices, and those in the media we expose ourselves to.
When it come to children and advertising, it is very important that we as parents realize that we, not the corporations that shower our children with a barrage of media, are the most important element in shaping their worldviews. My children don't really watch tv, so we haven't had to deal with this much yet, but when they do watch we watch with them, discussing what we see and what assumptions and representations are being made in the media in question. It's also important to realize how much our choices in the toys we purchase for our children affect the toys that will be produced and marketed to them. If parents did not purchase or steer their children toward toys, movies, etc that represented inappropriate assumptions about gender or race, for example, I sincerely doubt whether those products would last long. Yes, I find many commercials very offensive. But rather than censor the messages advertisers are allowed to send, I'd rather advise society to 1. Critically evaluate the media to which we are exposed, 2. Critically evaluate our worldview, assumptions, and how our consumer choices reflect those things, and 3. Limit our children's and our own interactions with the constant barrage of advertising most Americans deal with. I think this is one instance in which "ignore them and they'll go away" is actually appropriate- I think that's exactly the way to deal with annoying, sexist or racist advertising.