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Essay on Advertising and Gender Stereotyping

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This sample essay illustrates how advertising agencies have helped perpetuate gender stereotypes, problematic for a society trying to become more accepting of diverse opinions, sexual orientations, and ethnicities. On a given day many different companies will bombard a person with many different forms of advertising. On the television, on the Internet, walking down the road, listening to radio, or entering any retail store, some form of advertisement will inevitably confront a person. This would likely be an essay found in a marketing or sociology course.

Gender stereotyping in advertisements

The advertising industry spends countless hours and millions of dollars developing marketing strategies and shaping the way and place in which a person will view their ad. However, within the realm of advertisements, there appears to be a fundamental difference in the way that men and women are portrayed. Additionally, the design schemes of ads that are targeted towards men or women appear to be different as well. Advertising companies create gender stereotypes in the design of advertisements in the hopes of appealing to the population at large, which create a cultural expectation for the population to follow that model of how a gender should act and appear.

Advertising 101

Before we can look at specific types of advertisements, it is important to look at some of the fundamental techniques that advertisement firms use when they design their advertisements. By understanding, how certain techniques are used, a deeper appreciation of specific ads can be formed. Some of the basic techniques employed by advertisements include association, beautiful people, intensity, flattery, humor, and extrapolation. Association is a technique that almost all ads use.  It is when an ad links its product to something that a viewer will already enjoy or desire. By doing this, the ad creates a positive idea to go along with the product that a potential buyer will recall when deciding to buy or sell that product. The use of beautiful people within ads helps to create a connection between the product and the buy; specifically, a buyer may be more like the person in the ad if they purchase that product.  

Creating an ad with and intense atmosphere can relate the product in questions related to such events as the ad portrays. Flattery is used in many ads to build up a consumer’s ego about himself or herself, especially if they purchase the product in the ad. Many ads employ the tactic of humor with their product association. By appearing to be fun and getting a laugh from consumers, an ad creates an enjoyable sensation that a person can remember when deciding to buy a product or not. Budweiser is known for incorporating flattery and humor in its ads. Finally, extrapolation is the technique used by ads to get an audience to draw large conclusions about a product when presented with a very little amount of facts revealed by it. By blending these techniques together, advertisements can create a perceived idea of their product without really telling the audience that much about what the product does (Media Literacy Project).

Targeting specific genders

One of the other most important factors to examine the advertising world is the cultural effect that ads have on people’s perceptions of norms in society. Gender roles specifically, are given very specific parameters within many ads in modern times. Men are portrayed as being aggressive. They usually are in the pursuit of power, speed, wealth, or physical domination. The ads that target men tend to show just that. A product that appeals to the male gender more often than not will make claims about maximizing their performance at a specific task. Further, product names can reflect these traits for men. Many products add unnecessary titles to them to give them the characteristic of being faster, stronger, or better. For example, many products will put the title “Mach,” “Turbo,” or just the letter “S” after their name to show that the product is both streamlined and superior.  Products for women take a different role as advertisements have defined the female gender role in a different sense (Brasted, 2010).      

Women are shown in an entirely different light by the advertising world. Instead of being strong, powerful people in ads, women are usually seen in a domestic role. It is not uncommon for women in ads to be seen as a housewife, mother, or simply cooking. They are put into a passive role that usually has them receiving the notice or praise of a dominant male figure. This idea can be seen in the product appeal for many items designed for the women audience. Products often take an appearance that emphasizes being cute and not aggressive. The products that are targeted at women push a message that women should try to look their best and wait for a prince charming like a male to come and sweep them off their feet. They do not themselves possess the ability to go out into the world and take charge of the situation (Brasted, 2010). Cooking, cleaning, and other household advertisements, like Oxo, target women and stereotype them as domesticated.

The Old Spice example

One of the best examples of an advertisement that is targeted directly at men and portrays everything that a man should be is the Old Spice commercial titled “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.”  Right from the title, we can see the use of several of the techniques commonly used in advertisements.  Humor plays a major role in this ad, but underneath it, the techniques of beautiful people, extrapolation, and association. The ad does not directly state that the use of Old Spice will make the user at all more like the spokesperson in a physical sense. It merely claims that a user may smell like the spokesperson. As an attractive male, this ad creates the idea that a wearer will, in fact, become more desirable and gain both charisma and confidence by using the product.

Though never actually stating any of these claims explicitly, the ad nevertheless carries this message. Further, we can see from the title that there are gender roles being pushed on the ideal man. The ad directly says “sadly he (your man) isn’t me,” (Old Spice Commercial).The ad is stating that anyone who is not like this particular man is not a desirable partner for a woman, therefore a man has to buy this product to be more desirable and a better person.  The ideal man is one that is powerful yet charming while still being able to confidently assert himself to take control of a situation. Though this message is targeted at the male population, it is cleverly stated in such a way that it appears to be a message to women. This way it comes off as non-threatening but still carries great persuasion to it. An ad targeted at women takes a completely different approach, however (Old Spice, 2010). 

The Secret example

A commercial that targets the female population has a much different feel to it. One such example of this is the deodorant “Salsa Dancing” commercial for Secret. The media is no stranger to sex appeal, as this commercial shows. This commercial employs the techniques of association, beautiful people, intensity, and flattery within it to create a message for the product. The attractive woman that is the subject of the ad focuses not on finding a man, but rather sitting with her friends and waiting for him to make a move. The couple then engages in a passionate dance that has quite a few sexual undertones to it. The ad pushes the idea that the use of their product will make women more appealing to the opposite gender and protect her from looking unattractive in an intense situation.  The female gender is assigned the role of being submissive to males in this case.  The woman in the ad is not aggressive; rather she waits to be selected by the man and then follows his lead.  This pushes the message that an attractive, confident woman should focus on being noticed by the other gender instead of taking action (Secret Deodorant, 2009).

The advertisements of the modern times have a great effect on society as a whole and make a great subject for essays or research papers.  Overtly they help to shape the consuming habits of both men and women. However, the deeper implications of ads have an effect on society as well.  The presentation of advertisements creates social and cultural norms for those exposed to them.  People see an ad and form the opinion that the society expects them to act in that way, especially when the ad associates the ideas of being more successful or desirable within their product’s message.  This creates a society expectation for the world to behave in a manner that the audience has experienced from being exposed to the ad.  The messages that advertisements send to people are very powerful, and companies should take care to remember that it is not just what they say that affects people but its how they say it.

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Brasted, M. (2010). Care bears vs. transformers: Gender stereotypes in advertisements. The Socjournal, Retrieved from http://www.sociology.org/media-studies/care-bears-vs-transformers-gender-stereotypes-in-advertisements/

Media Literacy Project. (n.d.). Language of persuasion. Retrieved from http://medialiteracyproject.org/language-persuasion

Old Spice. (Producer). (2010). The man your man could smell like. [Web Video]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owGykVbfgUE 

Secret Deodorant. (Producer). (2009). Salsa dancing. [Web Video]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PiUkI5aqGYs&feature=results_video&playnext=1&list=PLB0BF9C3C70BF4ED8

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