A study of the representations of men in male cosmetic advertising with specific reference to “Gillette” and “Lynx” adverts Introduction By definition all media texts are re-presentations of reality because all have to be composed in some way by a producer before it gets to an audience. However, representations are a two way process because we, as an audience, have perceptions that mediate our view of the world. “Producers position a text somewhere in relation to reality and audiences assess a text on its relationship to reality” Representation theory – www. mediaknowall. co. uk.
The producers of a text put out their advertisements with coded messages, in the knowledge that their target audience – if no-one else – will have the experience, and intertextual references, to be able to decode the messages and anchor them to their own stereotypical representations of what they are shown. These particular advertisements are in direct competition with one another in the male cosmetic sales market – a sub-category of the advertising industry as a whole. “Advertising is any form of communication intended to promote the sale of a product or service, to influence public opinion, or advance a particular cause”
McRoberts – Media Workshop P170 As the quote says, the primary reason for the billions of pounds that is spent on advertising each year is to attract a potential target market away from competitors. Advertising has changed in recent years to reflect a more sophisticated public lifestyle and has become less influential as people take increasingly negotiated or, even, oppositional readings of the text. As this study later shows this can have positive or negative effects. As a category of products, the male cosmetics market has been one of the fastest growing markets as men are told to “dare to care” (Nivea For Men advertisement – summer 2002).
Nivea have paved the way for companies like Gillette and Lynx, as they put more emphasis on advertising, because now men have accepted that it won’t be frowned upon if they want to take care of their appearance. A poster campaign from Nivea, which was seen mainly above urinals in men’s toilets, had the strapline, “it will give you smoother skin, it won’t make you talk through the whole match,” This shows how important masculinity is to men when buying products and how humour can be used as a selling tool.
Masculinity is a concept involving a pre-determined list of stereotypes and attributes that people have come to accept as a perfectly “male” personality and look. Masculine males are seen as strong willed; having no need for conformity or any feelings of want and need from others. Adverts from companies like Lynx and Gillette challenge that perception with their positioning of females within the narrative scenarios. Men are being increasingly encouraged, the way women have been for years, to aspire to role models given to them by the media.
The new wave of male cosmetic ads is a perfect example, with a stereotypically “buff” male figure with a tanned, muscular body, chiselled jaw and good looks. The fact that the man in the Lynx adverts (travelling through different eras of the 20th century) isn’t the muscular, tanned figure is perhaps playing on the mediated sense of reality that all of their target audience aren’t going to be stereotypically perfect males, but they can still achieve their goals; self actualisation, as Maslow describes in his “Hierarchy of Needs”.
Whether that is achieving a feeling of pride and well being around themselves, or the prize of a partner, is the two ways these types of advertisements try to target their audience. The Lynx ad has exchanged the very ‘male’ figure with a regular looking man to broaden the audience appeal. The fact that viewers see the total opposite to a stereotypically good looking man still getting the girl just increases the satisfaction that any man can still get the beautiful woman. These two readings are what this study seeks to either prove or disprove.
Do men want to buy the products to feel better about themselves, because they want the woman to want them, or do the women want to buy as a gift to change her man to the, stereotypical, “body beautiful”? Textual analysis First of all the Gillette advertisement gives us a perfect example of the “perfect” masculine figure looking in a mirror. The ad now starts to take the form of Todorov’s narrative model. “A narrative is a chain of events in cause/effect relationship occurring in time” Stuart Price, Media Studies The first stage is the equilibrium where everything is in order and the man has a smile on his face.
The mirror is the only other thing in the shot, apart from the man, and as he looks straight into it, it connotes a conflict. It’s as if he is looking within himself (at himself in this case) to seek approval. The MALE voiceover almost lectures the audience about the technology of the razor; something that the stereotypical, masculine, male will feel pleased to be able to understand. The next stage in the narrative model comes when the male is shown to have irritating stubble that, we later find out, is keeping away his dream woman – the disruption.
As an experienced audience, people will now, automatically, intertextualise with other narratives that have been disrupted, and wait for a resolution. As the man brings his hand to his face the next narrative stage is reached – the recognition. He has realised that this stubble is the problem keeping him form achieving self-actualisation and enticing the female back to him. Next, the sentence, “Do It For Her”, takes up the whole screen with dark, bold print to emphasise its importance. This is a clear sign to tell the potential customer that there is one reason, and one reason only, why he should buy this product.
We then see the product fly, quickly, across the screen and a mans hand grabbing it out of mid air. We automatically know that this is the same mans hand as we have previously seen because that is the way the human brain makes sense of a narrative scenario. That use of juxtaposition will make it so that, until we are told otherwise, we will assume any character is the same. This razor flying through the air is the fourth of Todorov’s narrative stages – repair. The razor is the “weapon” with which the male “hero” is going to solve the disruption and get to his girl.
Only after we see the new equilibrium created to we see the man smiling and a female character appear. A hug, and kiss on the cheek, from the woman to the man, is the final resolution that anchors the reason for the need of repair in the narrative. The audience have now decoded the message in their heads and the woman’s intimacy towards the male connotes a relationship. The producers have constructed the story in such a way as to make people believe that, without their product, the new equilibrium wouldn’t have been able to be established.
As well as this particular Gillette advertisement, all others have an element of typicality and the same basic narrative. The man is seen on his own, he uses a product, then a woman appears and they are both seen with big smiles at their newfound relationship. This particular Lynx advert has the same basic narrative as the above Gillette advert, above. The male starts out with no female partner, uses the product, and then has the enigma developed until he finds that partner.
Although the man is dressed differently, with vastly different hairstyles, the audience see him as the same person, in the same way they associated the mans hand with the person they had seen just previously. The fact that the character doesn’t seem to age from the 1950’s to the present day makes no difference because of the preferred reading we take towards this text. We take what we are shown as the man, almost travelling through time (even though we know that that wouldn’t be possible) because that is what we are told to do.
There are periods in between each clip that we know nothing about, yet we can still keep in touch with the narrative like the producers expect us to. “We often create the story ourselves by decoding the clues given and filling in the gaps to create the story” O’Sullivan, Dutton and Raynor – Studying The Media With the character being the same generation in each scene there is a greater sense of audience identification. It would be much harder to understand the narrative if the central characters change to frequently, but this way enables there to be no confusion.
With the above quote in mind we can fit this adverts narrative to the model of Brannigan, which is based on how, he says, the human brain reacts to a story. He states that the first stage is introduction, and we get that here with the voiceover giving the advert a title – “The Lynx Trials” – and a main character. Straight away the brand recognition will kick in to whoever is watching and attract their attention. The first scene shows a male and female together before she jumps from the boat they are sharing and away from him.
This is accompanied by an anchoring voiceover, which says, “too weak”, and that tells the audience exactly what “The Lynx trials” are. The problem, for this male, is getting a girl and the trial is to find the perfect formula for attraction. Now the audience understands the problem and the enigma has been established for the male character to overcome – just as Brannigan says in his theory. The second scene, where the formula is too strong, and the third, where it is slightly too weak are the complication stage of the theory that states that the established enigma gets developed even further.
The outcome is found in the next scene, on the beach. As the female embraces the male with a smile on her face the voiceover emphasises its importance and says, “Just right”. This leaves the audience in no doubt as to what the aim of the product and this male character in particular, is and was. The reaction stage of the applicable narrative theory is delivered to the audience in the form of a recognised strapline – “The Lynx Effect”. The producers of the advert are pushing home the point that this outcome wouldn’t have been a happy one without the intervention of their product in the males life.
Knowing what the product does through the characters in a narrative scenario, as these both do, is the argument used by Len Masterman when he said that the reader is meant to link the product with the use that is made of it; i. e. the products in this case are used for getting females to pay males more attention. This also links into work from theorists Leiss and Klein who asserted that adverts were no longer about the product and all about their social and ideological values.
These two adverts fall into 1 of their 4 categories – lifestyle advertising. By attributing the products qualities they don’t physically have, and anchoring the images with their expected use (in this case attracting a woman) the target audience is now drawing its importance from their own ideology. For example, our modern society has a large emphasis on finding and keeping a partner and that means that the men watching these ads will take the ideological subtext and think, “This is an essential product for me to achieve my aim in society and life”
Both adverts have proved the idea that the message both companies try to get across is one of the males needing their product in order to be successful in finding a female partner. If we now consider that our definition of masculinity was having no need for conformity or pining for attention from others, the men that by these products are saying to people that they are just the opposite. If they are taken in by a mainstream television advert and buy the product then that can only be seen as joining the norm in society.
On the other hand, that could mean the definition itself is now outdated in an age when male cosmetics are getting so popular. This isn’t necessarily a negative point. The fact that the previous definition of masculinity no longer seems accurate in today’s society instead means a new advertising tool. The males in the adverts have success in relationships with the gorgeous female characters and this is an aspirational feeling to all the men watching. So now our definition of masculinity is the good looking man, who has managed to attach himself to a good looking and willing female. Audience reception
The two companies in this study are in direct competition with each other, and as a result have a very similar target audience. However, although there are many similarities there are a few subtle differences in demographic categories, such as age. Gillette are more widely known for their ranges of shaving equipment, whilst Lynx seem to put more emphasis onto their line of deodorants; although both do sell the others ‘speciality’. As successful companies they have obviously tried to cover as wide a range as possible to maximise profits, but also, like successful companies, they specialise in their main targets.
All are men, but Gillette, by pushing their shaving equipment, are targeting form the ages of 18 – 40. This is compared to the slightly younger target market of Lynx, which is from about 14 – 30. This is evidenced in the main television show that Gillette sponsors – Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday. The younger of the males, which make up the difference in lowest target ages, are more likely to be out on a Saturday afternoon with other friends rather than sitting in watching the T. V. Gillette would also be targeting slightly higher in the class demographic, and again the Soccer Saturday sponsoring can help explain why.
The ordinary ‘Joe Public’ from groups C1, C2 and D are the more likely to be the people out at the Saturday afternoon matches (SHOOT magazine November 2002), with groups A and B sitting watching for the results, on their expensive Sky digiboxes. Psychographic profiling leads to grouping the audiences for both products into the same category of two American theorists, Young and Rubicam. They came up with four groups to categorise “cross cultural consumer characteristics”, and the target markets for these two products are in the mainstreamers group.
This is because they will mostly be brand buyers that find security in conformity. The two companies here are brands so it is likely that the customers will be drawn in by brand recognition and awareness from other top names to. The frequency with which these adverts are seen are important in getting across the message of their brand, product and particular campaign. David Morley’s theory of audience reception suggests that many audience members are completely passive readers of any media text, accepting its preferred reading.
However they could take texts one of two other ways. They could take a completely oppositional reading of the text to what was intended by the producers or compromise and take what is shown to them in context whilst integrating their own ideologies and stereotypes. It also means that the message will get drummed into a person if they see that advert long enough. Lynx doesn’t seem to do this very well but Gillette does it in a number of ways. Firstly, most times the aforementioned advert is on it has a follow up ad in the same break between programming.
This second ad is much shorter, has no narrative and just hammers home the brand name, and product with a voiceover, slogan and pack shot of a logo that is instantly recognisable by any member of the audience that may be watching. Secondly, with the sponsorship of Soccer Saturday, every time there is a break in the programme the company name gets flashed onto the screen and stays there for a few seconds. With 20+ breaks per show that means the Gillette name will be seen 40 times in a six hour period.
As mentioned earlier, both of these adverts play on the men who want to have a similar muscular and tanned, fit looking, although sensitive body. It also however, appeals to women, who may think ‘I want a man like that’ or (more subtly) ‘If I buy my man the product, he’ll turn into a man like this’. We know that it would never work like that but advertisements work on our fantasies, desires and longing for wish fulfilment. Arthur ASA Berger, in his book Media Analysis Techniques, identified 24 Uses and Gratifications that readers of any media texts can find within its ideological subtext.
This desire could be matched to: “To obtain outlets for our sexual desires in a guilt-free context” The Gillette advert blatantly tells its male audience to “do it for her”, but more significant is who says it. The voiceover is a male, and that is a most sophisticated way of giving the audience a sense of conformity. If it were a female voiceover it would carry less weight behind the request/order, because it would lose the ‘friend down the pub’ element. If a man is asked to do something by a male then he may do it to be part of an accepted group, a need Abraham Maslow called love and belonging.
There is less chance that the male audience members would listen to a female voice saying the same thing because she would have no sense of conformity to offer if they did buy the product. All these persuasive devices that the companies use are only significant, and useful to them, if they take into account the ideological standpoints of their target markets. Depending on the ideologies of men the tools would make no impression. If we again refer to A A Berger’s Uses and Gratifications then we can attach one to each of the two advertisements. For example, the Lynx advert plays on: To believe in romantic love”
If the male character in the advert had not resolved the disruption he faced then this may not have been the case but it managed to live up to audience expectations, and when audiences guess an outcome correctly that makes them feel good about themselves. The Gillette advert plays on a different one of Berger’s gratifications: To find models to imitate” It gives the audience an aspirational figure to look up to, in a number of ways. Firstly the male character has the stereotypical “body beautiful”, and secondly a gorgeous woman hugging and kissing him afterwards resolves the enigma. Conclusion
With reference to the three possible theories mentioned earlier, as to how exactly males are represented, it seems that they are represented a lot like teenage girls in their magazines. By this I mean that they are encouraged to buy a product for the reason that they could attract a partner and keep them with them. Gillian Murphy stated that teenage girls are obsessed with finding and keeping hold of a partner – a theory that is cemented with the male only being happy in these adverts when a female character appears to show an interest. The two different adverts show a different type of male character in the lead.
This shows a different stereotype and perhaps a leaning, by Gillette, to trying to attract women to buy the product for their man. Their advert represents men as only being real men if they have the muscles, tan and good looks – stereotypically masculine. The Lynx advert has a completely different male character pivotal to the story. He is not the definition of masculinity, but just a plain man who would just blend into a crowd walking down the street. That makes his transformation to irresistible, after he uses the deodorant, even more of a selling point to the ordinary man looking for a female partner.
However different the male characters are, they still seem to be represented in the same basic way – they need the product to get the sense of self worth, conformity that leads them to become attractive to the opposite sex. This is a direct challenge to the definition of a perfect masculine male, but that seems to make no difference to the target market when they buy the product. This challenge of the stereotypical male is readily accepted and understood in modern times because of a change of ideology in society in general.
The producers of any media text, whether it be an advert or not, now have any male lead solving a disruption and finishing by “getting the girl”. That hegemony is what we as viewers and readers have come to see as the norm when we have been subjected to the same scenario again and again (as David Morley has suggested) just dressed up with different central plots. This change of ideology in society has led to a change in advertising, which is central in enforcing any of these newer ideologies, and that is why these two particular ads work so well in representing males as the majority of viewers have been brought up to see them.
Bibliography and Reference
Gender, Race and Class – The association of muscularity with masculinity (P138-139)
Media Analysis Techniques Arthur Asa Berger