This Little Girl Goes To Market - Little Red Riding Hood Reimagined.


To kick off this venture, I studied practically every version of Little Red Riding Hood there's ever been, wrote an article about how the heroine has influenced modern day advertising and penned a short poem summing up my conclusion concerning the fiery red head. 


The Wolf’s Tale [1]

‘If the story of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ were told by the wolf, it would most likely be read differently’ (Forrestal, Peter, 28) …

The Wolf, now wise, old and good,

When again he saw Red Riding Hood,

Voiced ‘Dear Girl what merciless fictions you’ve spread,

Regarding that night I took you to bed.

You’ve warped the truth through slanderous narration,

And drawn through mud my reputation,

But at long last I can finally say,

That you led me off the pathway that day.


Your cheeks they glowed with a revealing tint,

And your eyes were adorned with a curious glint,

But if that weren’t enough to arouse my attention,

Your saunter on needles did add new dimension.

Perrault’s field of flowers could not quench your thirst,

But you gathered them all till your garden could’ve burst,

And though, ‘gainst smashing your glass the Grimms did warn,

You arrived at grannie’s, cloak tarnished and torn.

We have Carter to praise for exposing your truth,

Not naïve and guileless but lustful and uncouth,

You mocked my virility, sized me up as your kill,

Purposely dropping your baskets’ fill.

‘Deliciously dark’ your hair did tumble,

You had me transfixed in your plea for a fumble,

So as you stripped down to your underwear,

I let out a howl; we made quite the pair.


But fellow wolves hear my cry of warning,

For Little Red Riding Hood was gone in the morning,

She did not stay for breakfast tea,

Instead spread lies about town with glee.

So before you take a maiden to bed,

Remember you can’t trust a little red head.


Rosie May Bird Smith

[1] Peter Forrestal’s deliberations over whether the tale would be different if told from the wolf’s perspective inspired me to write my own ‘Perraultesque moral’, voicing the wolf’s version of events. Each line refers to a different paragraph of my work. 




As every reader subconsciously knows, Little Red Riding Hood (hereafter LRRH) does not venture into the woods to visit her grandma, but to meet the wolf and consequently explore social rules of conduct and her own sexual passions. However, what every reader does not always consider is the extent to which LRRH is culpable for ‘being foolish enough to trust a wolf’ (Evans, 129), veering off the instructed path of righteousness and bringing about her own unfortunate end.

As our most powerful socialising narratives, fairy tales are not only brimming with guidelines on who we are and how we should behave, but they also feature in our daily habits of speech – ‘life is not a fairy tale’ – and even scientific ‘text book’ descriptions of conception are warped by archetypal conventions of the fairy tale ‘romance’. Emily Martin, in her essay on the egg and the sperm, articulates how ‘the picture of the egg and sperm drawn in popular as well as scientific accounts of reproductive biology relies on stereotypes central to our cultural definitions of male and female’ (Martin, 485); while the egg is always depicted as only ever passively ‘drifting’ or being ‘swept’ along the fallopian tube, the sperm is ‘streamlined and invariably active’ (Martin, 489). With this in mind, Gerald and Helen Schatten liken the egg’s role to that of Sleeping Beauty: ‘a dormant bride await[ing] her mate’s magic kiss’ (Schatten, 51) – a damsel in distress anticipating ‘sperm charming[’s]’ (Orenstein, 11) arrival. In reality, the sperm are quite weak and it is the egg that exerts the powerful force. In this vein, this study will explore how LRRH – although ostensibly docile – is no passive sexual component, but an iconic symbol of the seducer who wanders off the straight and narrow path into a field of sexual exploration where she ‘bargains’, flirts and arguably seduces the wolf; ‘the femme fatale, who lures men and thus must bear the consequences of her heedless acts’ (Zipes, Trials, 8). Each year, reincarnations of the story appear in print and on television and in each recreation LRRH features less and less as a victim, and more as a ‘sadomasochistic object’ (Zipes, Trials, 8), eagerly acting upon her subliminal desires. 

LRRH’s ostensibly innocent but inwardly tainted reputation has made her immortal. Her recurrent popularity is evident in the constant reincarnations of the tale in numerous modern day advertisements and therefore, fairy tales – along with LRRH herself - will never become obsolete as advertisers are all too aware that fairy-tale motifs are ideal for spreading irresistible messages to consumers. When the phenomenon of advertising took hold at the beginning of the twentieth century, titles of poetic verses of fairy tales or short allusions to renowned stories began to be used as effective bait for the customer, and almost a hundred years on, copywriters and art directors are still following the same pattern of referring to the ‘canonical’ fairy tales to promote consumerism in a society driven by the desire for the idealistic ‘fantasy-life’. The U.S. Forest Service asked their audience ‘Where would Hansel and Gretel be without a forest?’ and similarly, Utah anti-smoking line used the frank phrase ‘if Prince charming had been a smoker… he’d still be searching’ (Faulkner, Copywriter) to market their brand name. These campaigns’ success stems from their ability to ‘remind us of childhood… when we still believe[d] in magic solutions and outcomes’ (Odber de Baubeta, 38) and therefore convince us that their item is the route back to simpler times. Wolfgang Mieder even compares advertising to the ‘Pied Piper of Hamelin’ himself - ‘playing his pipe ever so sweetly and the consumers following him without resisting his charming and manipulative music’ (Mieder, 3); not dissimilar to fairy tales, adverts are most definitely ‘manipulative’, didactic, and often crafted to teach their audiences socially acceptable behaviours.  Nevertheless, I would disagree with Odber de Baubeta’s claim that all adverts exploiting the fairy tale motif ‘offer [the onlooker] pleasure and reassurance’ (38), as many succeed in hooking their client solely by playing on their unscrupulous subliminal desires. LRRH has always been the latent iconic seducer, but today, modern adaptations portray her as a whorish temptress and in Tex Avery’s wartime cartoon, she even assumes the role of a stripper who works at a lurid nightclub – not only has LRRH become a willing harlot, prostituting herself to ‘wolves’, but she has also started to ‘prostitute’ her body to the industry of advertising. Bournville chocolate, Chanel and Hertz are just three of the many companies that have recycled the LRRH anecdote and regurgitated it in a highly sexual manner, toying with the buyer's subconscious wish to be lusted after by the male populace.   

Bournville chocolate’s ‘Deliciously Dark’ campaign - launched by advertising agency, Ogilvy in 2009 - seduces its target audience by delving into the ‘dark side’ of stereotypically innocent women’s minds, indulging in their ‘naughty’ fantasies and therefore encouraging dark chocolate lovers to yield to sugary temptation. Starring in one of Natalie Shau’s three bespoke, sultry illustrations, - revealing the inside of a woman’s superficially virtuous mind – is, unsurprisingly, the seducer herself, LRRH:

 Figure 1 - Bournville, Ogilvy 

Figure 1 - Bournville, Ogilvy 

Paralleling LRRH with their product permits Bournville to insinuate that their chocolate will tempt the most defiant of hearts, break the toughest of minds, and seduce the boldest of souls – akin to our protagonist, Bournville is the perfect combination of sweet and bitter, pure and wicked. Almost mimicking Doré’s etchings, Shau’s pop-surreal illustrations present a cloaked LRRH, staring hungrily at the onlooker, adorned with a gaze of pure sexual avarice. It is appropriate that Shau ornaments LRRH’s cheeks with an informative blush, – akin to Bettelheim’s book cover – however, in this instance, there is no need to speculate over whether this is a signifier of her subconscious desire, as her ‘bubble-like’ brain is packed with her self-explanatory fantasy of intercourse with the wolf. To heighten this subliminal longing, art director - Ian Broekhuizen, ensured that the work emanated a surreal feel, overlapping digital illustration with photography in order to blur the lines between fantasy and reality. This merging of mediums alludes not only to LRRH’s internal conflict between societal expectation (photography) and subconscious thought (illustration), but also implies that every woman should cast aside day to day banalities and indulge their wayward alter-ego. After all, the head of Cadbury’s Marketing – Greg Banach, suggested that ‘every woman, no matter who she is or how she portrays herself to the outside world, has a deliciously dark side’ (Banach, n.pag); LRRH has become the universal contemporary symbol for the every-woman’s immoral fantasies concerning both food and sex.

Eric Berne gives what he pretends might be a Martian’s reaction to the LRRH tale concluding that the glaring ‘moral of the story is not that innocent maidens should keep out of forests where there are wolves, but that wolves should keep away from innocent-looking maidens… in short a wolf should not walk through the forest alone’ (Berne, 44). This notion that women are dangerous, alluring and almost hypnotic creatures self manifests once again in Chanel No 5’s 1998 television commercial. Canadian model Estrella Warren performs the LRRH role, strutting through a perfume vault, sporting a seductive short red dress and hooded cape and ultimately prevailing over the beast that appears, by defusing the attack with a hypnotic, aromatic swish of her cloak (figure 2) and tender ‘hushing’ (figure 3):

 Figure 2 - Chanel

Figure 2 - Chanel

 Figure 3 - Chanel

Figure 3 - Chanel

Armed with the perfume in her wander through the dangerous urban forest that is Paris, the woman becomes invincible in the face of lechery and possesses an extraordinary power over the wolf, who, as if by command, sits down with a submissive air of defeat and watches LRRH disappear into the night. Although he does in fact obey this temptress, he concurrently omits a despondent, forlorn howl of agony; an outcry of torment at being so bewitched by the seductress that he is literally frozen to the spot where she left him (figure 4).  

 Figure 4 - Chanel

Figure 4 - Chanel

‘Advertising helps… keep the brand modern, not just classic’ (Palma, vice president for fragrance marketing at Chanel Inc) because the LRRH that Chanel broadcasts is no antiquated, naïve Victorian child, but a heroine on the prowl who charms and entraps but ultimately tames the wolf, using her ‘sexual powers to attain [her own] supreme gratification through male sexual prowess’ (Zipes, Second gaze, 87).

Launched in the 1960s, Hertz Car Rental’s billboard gave LRRH sovereignty by placing her in the driver’s seat, completely overthrowing Maria Tatar’s allegation that LRRH is nothing more than a ‘pretty, spoiled, gullible, and helpless’ (Tatar, 38) little girl:

 Figure 5 - Hertz

Figure 5 - Hertz

Fitting in with the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s that sought to free women from oppression and male supremacy, - originally published in The New Yorker - Hertz’s campaign cast LRRH as a glamorous femme fatale ‘riding in [her] little red Hertz’ on the way to Grandma’s. Along with her coy come-hither smile and sidelong glace, the line ‘when you want to get out of the woods’ implies that LRRH was fully capable of escaping the claws of the male libido whenever she wished, while the repetition of the personal pronoun – ‘you’ – ensures the female target audience that in hiring a Hertz, they are reclaiming their identity, steering their way through the androcentric hegemony of the 1960s. In comparison to the conventional little girl who roams and rambles through the woods on foot, Hertz claims to ‘put you in the driver’s seat!’ By displaying LRRH as driving autonomously along the straight and narrow path, Hertz grant her complete agency and also imply that she has always possessed control over both her own, and the story’s destiny.

Catherine Orenstein deliberates over ‘how LRRH has travelled such a long road from the heroine of a chastity and obedience tale to the namesake of a lesbian S&M porn star’ (Orenstein, 209). Along this road, LRRH found that once she had sold her body to consumerism in the early nineteenth century, she easily came to typify the stripper/ prostitute role a few years later; marketing herself instead to the hot-blooded stare of the voyeuristic male. Supplementary to her starring role as a masochist in the pornographic film, The Punishment of Red Riding Hood, American Cartoonist – Tex Avery – also murders the sweet heroine of story book tradition, rewriting her as a Hollywood stripper in Red Hot Riding Hood. Avery was clearly weary of the traditional tale of virtue and demureness – ‘it’s the same old story over and over’ (Avery, 00:54) – and thus, decided to ‘do this story a new way’ (Avery, 01:22), substituting grandmother’s house for a bordello and our unsullied protagonist for a sex object, a ‘red headed ball of fire’ (Avery, 02:36), who was visibly based on the pin-up girls who raised the ‘morale’ for World War II soldiers:

 Figure 5 - Red Hot Riding Hood

Figure 5 - Red Hot Riding Hood

Red Hot Riding Hood steps into the spotlight and uncloaks (figure 5), - promoting herself as a product designed to arouse a man’s lust – she clearly revels in stripping down to her underwear whilst singing ‘daddy you better get the best for me’ and flirtatiously fluttering her eyelashes. Although the subject of her song – ‘daddy’ –ostensibly refers to a father figure, in this instance, LRRH is gesturing to the male audience to which she is performing. While it may seem that her covetous desire for ‘the best’ alludes to material possessions that her ‘daddy’ would source for her – in reality, ‘you better get the best for me’ (02:57) refers to LRRH’s need for ‘a bit of stimulation’ (Avery, 03:32); a bit of sexual satisfaction. Moreover, Avery’s new leading lady may be an ode to lust, but she is no pushover. Not too dissimilar from LRRH’s hypnotic influence in the aforementioned Chanel advert, Avery’s cartoon character possesses an exceedingly powerful hold over the wolf in question:

 Figure 6 - Red Hot Riding Hood

Figure 6 - Red Hot Riding Hood

 Figure 7 - Red Hot Riding Hood

Figure 7 - Red Hot Riding Hood

The wolf’s eyes literally pop out of his head (figure 7) and fly across the room when LRRH comes onstage, exemplifying to perfection what Laura Mulvey refers to as the ‘male gaze [that] projects its phantasy on to the female figure’ (Mulvey, 837). As his tongue unrolls and he levitates into the air and stiffens into a full body erection (figure 6) – a phallic metaphor of his sexual excitement – he adheres to Mulvey’s definition of the scopophilic male, ‘whose only sexual satisfaction can come from watching, in an active controlling sense, an objectified other’ (Mulvey, 835). However, though the wolf may believe he is in control by objectifying LRRH into a sexual article and erotic spectacle, ultimately, his attempted failures to seduce Avery’s stripper only result in his own suicide. Still play[ing] to and signif[ying] male desire’ (Mulvey, 837), Avery demonstrates however, that this autonomous LRRH embodies the new, tougher, self-reliant American woman of the 1940s. Albeit true that she delights in dancing provocatively, mesmerising, baiting and seducing the wolf, in contrast to Perrault’s original where such behaviour would endanger her, the only death at the end of Avery’s version of the tale is the wolf’s – a man consumed by desire. LRRH is once again, the dangerous, bewitching and crisis inducing accomplice to this tale of temptation. 

Many feared that LRRH might some day ‘break out’, and this is what she has done – her various rebellions being indicative of the real changing social views of children, women, and political and sexual domination in the 20th century. The biggest revolt of them all is her ‘contribution’ to the world of advertising; playing up to the consumer defies everything that the reserved, meek LRRH stands for, and she becomes instead, a self-confident exhibitionist, flaunting her assets to the wolf – the ravenous, materialistic client. The longevity of the fairy tale motif in advertising and LRRH’s consequent survival is due in part to Lewis Seifert’s notion of ‘wish-fulfilment’ (Seifert, 97) that is discussed in his book Fairy Tales, Sexuality, and Gender in France 1690-1715, and that has immense relevance in modern day marketing campaigns. He suggests that when reading, the fairy tale reader is in quest of ‘the unfailing (and magnificent)’ (Seifert, 195) essence of the story and, once that desirable attribute is found, he attempts to replicate it in his own life. In this nature, advertisers deliberately set out to charm, bewitch and seduce their audience by ‘relying on traditional fairy tales as symbolic expressions of wish fulfilment’ (Mieder, 5); they appeal to the customer’s object-orientated nature.  Thus, the reader of the fairy tale and the target audience of the advert weave their own personal desires into the story of LRRH and our female protagonist comes to function as the platform for each individual’s unique ‘wish fulfilment’.

Ultimately, although it may seem ludicrous to demand logic from ‘a genre that traffics in the supernatural… even fairy tales have their ground rules, and those rules assure a degree of predictability in the plot’ (Tatar, 36). The ‘predictability’ that materialises in every adaption of LRRH and that every reader subconsciously – or not so subconsciously – determines, is LRRH’s inevitable iconic sexuality, provocativeness and her readiness to instigate intimacy. While fairy tales are about social conformity, they are also about transgression - not only the transgressions of the characters, but also, more importantly, the transgressions of the reader. Orenstein compares LRRH to ‘a prism that refracts light and delivers the spectrum of the rainbow, LRRH splits and reveals the various elements of the human identity’ (Orenstein, 244); arguably, LRRH is nothing more than a projection of an individual’s desire and the image she has come to represent is merely what others have projected onto her. She has been created by the human imagination and is appropriated by different people, cultures and eras accordingly; she is a ‘spectrum’ of fantasies that incorporates both the man’s yearning to suppress a woman’s sensuality and a woman’s desire to break away from the monotony of repetitive household chores and indulge in fast-paced stories filled with bawdy mental imagery. Today, LRRH continues to be a successful advertising motif because the commercial consumer can empathise with her imperfection, her sordid alter ego and vulnerability in the face of temptation. Perhaps this is why LRRH is universally loved, as in the real world, just as in the fairy tale, we are all seduced and flawed, each of us – from time to time – failing in our attempts to ‘stick to the path… [and to] not be adventurous’ (Brownmiller, 343), and instead, surrendering to the ‘big bad wolf’ of temptation. 


Rosie May Bird SmithComment