Gender and sexuality are represented in advertising
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This essay will be discussing how the issues of gender and sexuality are represented in advertising. For many years, imagery of traditional male and female stereotypes have been used by companies in the advertisement of their products. Many adverts for products from the early to mid-twentieth century show women in a negative light (usually to be more shallow and less intelligent than men) or being subservient to men, for example a 1953 advert for what appears to be tomato sauce shows a picture of a woman with a surprised look on her face with the caption ‘You mean a woman can open it? and also a 1952 advert for Chase ; Sanborn coffee features the image of a woman laid over her husband’s knee being spanked with the caption: ‘If your husband ever finds you’re not “store testing” for fresher coffee … if he discovers that you’re still taking chances on getting flat, stale coffee… woe be unto you! ‘ Although sexism in advertising to these extremes has gone out of fashion since second wave feminism in the later part of the twentieth century, and would probably receive complaints if they were introduced today, there have still been some adverts that are offensive towards women.
A 2007 advert for the fashion brand Dolce and Gabbana, that was later on banned in both Italy and Spain, showed a scantily clad woman being pinned to the ground by a man with four other men standing around and watching, considered to be a portrayal of a gang rape. Some advertising for products aimed at women in recent years has trended more towards men looking foolish for example the Maltesers adverts often show women pulling pranks on men to make them appear foolish.
Lynx adverts (male cosmetics brand that specializes in body sprays, hair care products and shower gels) often show an average looking man using the product and attractive women finding him irresistible. In 2011 six Lynx adverts where banned in the United Kingdom as the Advertising Standards Authority received over 100 complaints about them being: “sexually suggestive, demeaning to women, and inappropriate for public display because it could be seen by children” (BBC, 2011).
The current Lynx advert for the new “2012” range shows what appears to be the start of the Apocalypse and a man building an Ark and women entering it in pairs with the slogan ‘get it on for the end of the world’, a take on the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark. Impulse (a female cosmetics brand specializing in similar products to, and owned by the same company as Lynx, Unilever) have a similar advertisement campaign with the roles reversed.
Impulse adverts from the late 1990s adverts shown a woman walking through what appears to be a gay village and a homosexual man with his boyfriend being attracted to her and another heavily suggested that a male life model at an art class got visibly aroused in front of the class as a female student was wearing Impulse body spray. The adverts followed with the caption: ‘Men can’t help acting on Impulse’ and had a very similar tone to the Lynx adverts.
Modern Impulse adverts are much more subtle and more traditionally feminine, with the men giving the women lingering looks and smiling at them and adverts from the 1980s and early 1990s were still full on but more on a romance ordinated theme rather than a lustful one, showing the women out and about on their normal daily business and being given flowers by strange men. This could possibly be due to the “ladette” culture of the late 1990s were it was fashionable for women to behave in a more masculine fashion.
Also In the late 1990s Diet Coke ran an advertisement campaign that showed women booking appointments at an office building to admire a muscular, shirtless window cleaner drinking a can of Diet Coke on his break and another advert showed women working at an office taking a break to look at an attractive workman out of the window. The company later on ended the campaign and tried to make the product appeal to both sexes but weren’t successful so introduced Coke Zero in 2005, a very similar product to Diet Coke, but marketed at men.
They then reintroduced a modernized, slightly more subtle version of the campaign in the early part of 2007 with the man keeping his T-shirt on and working as a lift engineer and three female office workers getting into a lift and pressing the emergency button, even though they don’t need to, so he can come to help them. Carte Noire (a coffee brand) currently have an advertisement complain aimed at women featuring attractive men coming out with stereotypical phrases that appeal to women such as “I’m going to clear out the spare room to make more space for your giant handbags”.
There are four different men each with an alter ego relating to one of the four different favours of coffee the brand produces. In recent years more representations of homosexual men and lesbians have been used in advertisements, although heterosexuals are still pronominally used. Companies which have used these adverts have included British Airways, IKEA, Cartier, French Connection, Coors Light and Dolce and Gabbana.
In 2010 an advert for a dating site aimed at homosexual males, showing two men watching an American Football match on television then kissing, was submitted to be shown during the advertisement break of the Super Bowl, which is a major sporting event in the United States, but was turned down. The television company, CBS, claimed that the reason for this was because the advert being a low quality production and also due to the company that owns the dating site, Mancrunch, having poor a credit history. Mancrunch however believed that the advertisement was turned down as CBS was discriminating against homosexuals.
Images of sexually attractive people, more so women, have been used in advertisements for many years. The use of attractive promotional models is common in trade shows and outside nightclubs and bars to help entice more customers in. The manufacturers of cars are well-known for using attractive, scantily clad female models at their shows to sell cars. Women’s magazines contain adverts of attractive women for example: In the November 2011 issue of Company, which is aimed at women in their 20’s, although the adverts are for products aimed at women (e. . perfume, skin and hair care products) many of them feature sexualized imagery of females (i. e. : scantily clad women). Although it doesn’t contain sexualized imagery, an advert for hairspray featuring the singer Cheryl Cole has the caption “Nothing holds me like it” which could be considered to be sexual by some. It may be possible that adverts like these are put in women’s magazines as advertisers are trying to get the message across that if women use these products that they too will become sexy and desirable to men.
Magazines aimed at men in the same age group (for example Zoo and Nuts) tend to have far less adverts and the adverts they do have tend to be for electronic products, DVDs, computer games, cars and car accessories and also are much simpler. The few adverts there is for cosmetics tend to use an athlete, usually a footballer, or another male celebrity who is considered to be popular. Since the late 1960s it seems that companies have been more aware of how they represent women in their adverts.
This may possibly be due to both second wave feminism and more women going out to work and generally receiving more equal pay to men, and therefore being the targets of advertising themselves. Previously, many of the adverts that can be said to have been aimed at women, were often advertising household products or white goods. Arguably, they were therefore indirectly aimed at men anyway, as men in many families of the period would control the finances. Although gender stereotyping still exists as an advertising tool, it is has become less prevalent and less extreme even when compared to relatively recent times.
Even then it is frequently used – for example – to portray men as incompetent in matters such as housework, or ignorant of aspects of family life: for example, the recent Boots advertising campaign portraying a man who is incapable of buying presents for his family members being rescued by women hiding in a darkened room. Again, the Maltesers advert mentioned above is a good example of this shift in advertising focus. Despite these changes in advertising fashions and increased sensitivity towards using gender roles, it is still a useful tool for those wishing to sell products.
However, it is fair to say that within this, there has been a significant move away from patronising and sexist images since the later part of the 1960s. In the same way as it is difficult to imagine a cartoon character such as Olive Oyl being created in the twenty first century (being portrayed as constantly needing to be rescued and being physically pulled back and forth between two men) , a campaign perceived as being sexist is highly unlikely to reflect well on a product.