The portrayal of men and women in traditional roles is very prominent and also very contested in advertising. Characters, both male and female are constantly placed in roles, socially constructed to ‘match’ their gender. Women are repeatedly placed in the kitchen to advertise products such as washing -up liquids or cleaners of some sort. They are often seen as the housewife looking after the children. This housewife role is shown in magazine advert no. 9 and 10 and in billboard advert no.
Men get similar treatment from advertisers. They are shown to have financial control. Men are always the one’s shown telephoning for insurance. They are also often shown to be DIY experts. When has a woman been the main character in an advert for power tools? I cannot recall any except for the appearance of a scantily clad woman holding a power tool and smiling beguilingly. Advertisers play on these traditional portrayals of gender because for the most part, they are fairly recognisable. The percentage of housewives to househusbands, for example, is greater and therefore for many household goods the target audience has been women.
Although the younger generation of adults shares responsibilities, in a lot of households, the man is still seen as the breadwinner, and therefore the decision-maker. With the increase of women in full time work however, this may soon change. A different slant on the portrayal of traditional roles can be seen in magazine advert no. 9. This advert portrays an attractive young woman in underwear advertising a washing-up liquid. The purpose of the advert is to bring attention to the special offer of free rubber gloves. Although the use of sex is still a big part of the advert, the woman is still shown to be the one doing all the washing up (housework).
Sex and Skin Sex sells. Advertisers are aware of this and this can be seen very clearly in the Sprite magazine advert. This shows the legs of a slim model holding a bottle of Sprite. The text on the advert says ‘ we were told that showing a topless model would help us sell more sprite’. This Sprite advert is mocking the tactic of using semi-naked models in adverts, yet still showing the power of sex. Advertisers use sex in a number of ways in order to sell products. There are these adverts that portray sex in a straightforward way in order to sell products. This type of portrayal can be split into the portrayals using more sensual imagery and those showing a plain use of the human form.
Advert no. 5 from my billboard research and no. 3 from magazines show examples of the use of sensual imagery. The sensual portrayal of sex is used to show the product as appealing to the opposite sex and therefore desirable. Advertisers know that men will be influenced to buy a product solely by its image and therefore, by using sex to promote the product, advertisers can take advantage of this. The alternate portrayal can be seen in magazine advert no. 5, which shows a big-breasted blonde woman in underwear (the product being advertised). The advertisers have used this model intentionally to attract the attention of male readers. They know that ‘big breasts equal big bucks’. This type of portrayal is often used to target men. It is very rare to find a woman’s product being promoted by a man. However, a lot of products for men use women. An example of this is shown in Gillette’s adverts for their razors, where a woman is seen admiring how close a shave that the razor gives (advert no. 8).
The final use of sex in advertising is different to the other two. This portrayal does not tend to use the human form as much as the other portrayals. Instead, sexual innuendoes are used to create the meaning of sex. As I said before, sex sells. This does not necessarily mean actual sexual imagery but also sex as a phenomenon. Sexual innuendo is used as frequently in advertising as any other type of portrayal. Advertisers use it in many ways in order to sell a product. From my research I can highlight two prime examples of its use. They are in the magazine advert no. 1 and 2. Advert no. 1 is very blatant whilst advert no. 2 uses sexual innuendo in a more subtle way which is not very obvious at first glance.
8 out of the 9 adverts that I looked at have emphasised the characters in them. The characters in these adverts take up from half to nearly all of the space of the advert. The proportion of the image taken up by the character(s) is high and this is most likely to make them stand out. The advertisers want these individuals to be the focus point of the advert. Role Reversal Advertisers are beginning to pick up on the changes of gender roles in society. The ‘traditional’ roles of men and women are disappearing. Women are becoming more powerful. They are getting the well-paid jobs, earning a lot of money, and attaining positions of power. Due to this, the numbers of men staying at home while the women are going out to work is increasing. The traditional roles are being reversed.
Advertisers are using role reversal more and more in adverts to highlight these changes. These reversals are, however, often portrayed in a sarcastic or less serious than in other adverts. In many cases, other advertising tactics are used together with the role reversal in order to give the advert more ‘pulling power’. Examples of this can be seen in magazine advert no. 7 and 8 of my research. Both adverts portray the woman as powerful and in control suggesting role reversal.
Advert 7 portrays a woman in a PVC cat suit holding a riding crop. This implies sexual dominance. The portrayal along with the words ‘submit willingly’ suggests that towards the ice cream is so good that it is impossible to resist. There are, however, role reversal situations, which are not ambiguous and not muddled by opposing portrayals, i.e. use of sex. This can be seen in billboard advert no. 3 advertising a travel service. In this advert, the only purpose is to promote the service. Gender seems to be irrelevant to it and it just happens to be a woman shown in the advert. The advert portrays a woman in different environments. She is shown as confident, in control and independent. This portrayal is a very modern one. In the past an advert of this sort would never use a woman in it.
Effect of Body-shape The body-shape of characters is very important in adverts. Advertisers use body-shape to correlate their product with, either the market they wish to sell to, or the fantasies of this market. When wanting to match the body-shape with their product’s market, advertisers would usually opt for more average looking models. This would help to let the readers/viewers feel comfortable because they were like the person in the advert (normal). This type of portrayal is usually reserved for more serious adverts like those for insurance, or products for the home.
The second type of body-shape advertisers use is that of slim (and in the case of men, muscular) and attractive. This body-shape is used in order to try to show the product as desirable. The attractive models are used to give the product a good image and attract readers’/viewers’ attention. In one woman’s magazine, 41 out of the 42 adverts which featured a woman as a central figure (whose body is visible) used models of this type. The one other advert featured a more average, possibly slightly overweight woman. However, this advert was for some sort of fitness product. There may be a problem, however, with this type of portrayal. The constant portrayal of people as slim and attractive can be dangerous, especially for girls and young women. It may lead them to believe this image of people is the way one has to look. Girls who are slightly overweight may begin to feel unhappy with themselves and this can lead to eating disorders and illness.
The final use of body-shape is where advertisers are looking to attract men to buy their product. The models that the advertisers tend to use when trying to achieve are slim, attractive women who, most importantly, have large breasts (and very little clothing). Advertisers use these models all the time in adverts that don’t relate to them being included because, as I explained earlier, they know the power of sex. The problem with this, however, is that many feel that women are being exploited when shown in this way. It has been argued that this type of portrayal is degrading and offensive. I feel that, if there are women willing to do it, let them, it works: products are sold because of it. The effect of stereotyped gender roles in advertising on the public I conducted a series of interviews in order to obtain key information from the public about the different aspects of gender portrayal.