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Representation Of Women In Advertising Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 4733 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Advertisements are one of the most cultural factors which mould and reflect society. They are a ubiquitous and inevitable part of everyone’s life: even if we do not read a newspaper or watch television, the images posted over our urban surrounding are inescapable. The advertisement translates these statements to us as human statements: they are given a humanly symbolic ‘exchange value’. (Wiliamson, 1976) 

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This paper will discuss the change and contrast or the representation of women in television advertisements. It will deconstruct two British adverts from the 1960s and their contemporary counter parts; as well as examine the idea of different notions of ‘beauty’ for women and stereotypes relating to these notions and identify stereotypes relating to beauty. It will study the ways in which meaning is communicated through the use of these codes and conventions in television advertisements. Therefore I will look at the visual semiotics in each element of the advert which includes language, image and information and its target market and audience, hence analyzing according to semiotics. This paper will analyze the advertisement’s use and manipulation of stereotypes relating to beauty, ideas about body image and the maintenance of an ideal standard of beauty.

Many theorists believe that perceived gender roles form the bases for the development of gender identity and thus it is vital to study the theories used to enforce these gender stereotypes and their shifts. Eagly’s social role theory implies that gender roles based on stereotypes have been developed due to sexual division of labour and societal expectations. Eagly (1987) differentiates among the common and age scopes of gender-stereotyped features. The common character is categorized by elements, such as nurturance and emotional expressiveness, mostly linked with household activities, and thus, with women. The age role is categorized by characteristics such as hostility and sovereignty, mostly linked with communal activities, and thus, with men. Gender roles strongly influence behaviour when cultures support gender stereotypes and build up strong expectations based on those stereotypes (Eagly 1987). According to Deaux and Lewis gender stereotypes differ on four dimensions: traits, role behaviors, physical characteristics, and occupations (Deaux and Lewis 1983). This work is further developed by Berm who stated that Gender stereotypes are implanted through childhood socialization and are reinforced in adulthood. This thought is supported by Berms Gender schema theory, which presents the idea that children learn how their cultures define the roles of both women and men and then internalize the knowledge acquired as gender schema. (bem 1993)

Feminist legal theory is based on the belief that the law is instrumental in women’s historical subordination. There are two elements of the feminist legal theory. First, feminist jurisprudence aims to explain the ways in which the law played a role in women’s former subordinate status and in the latter, feminist legal theory is dedicated to changing women’s status through a reworking of the law and its approach to gender.

According to Gunther women in television adverts prior to 1970’s were not shown to be in paid work, and when they were, they would be stereotypical jobs such as a nurse or personal assistant. Housewife culture declined after the 1950’s, but it was still common during the 1960’s and 1970’s (Gunther, 1995 :34). Content analysis of advertising in television during the 1970s provided strong evidence of the existence of stereotyping. All adverts which featured women showed ‘three quarters were for kitchen and bathroom products’. Men were viewed with powerful authoritative roles and provided the dependable voice-over (Ibid: 35) Research in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s reinforced a continuation of these trends, with men shown at work and women as housewives and mothers at home. Nonetheless, it became more common for men to be shown at home as well, in the role of husband or father, and the range of women’s occupations increased (ibid : 36, 37). This is reminiscent of the Social Learning Theory.

During the late 1970’s women in advertising played a central focus on beauty, cleanliness, family and pleasing others. In the 1980’s TV advertising started to conceptualize the idea of the ‘busy working women’ by offering solutions to the working woman, who was assumed, would still perform household tasks such as cooking and cleaning. Pg 55Through the early 1990’s, a study was conducted of 500 prime-time TV ad’s in the UK, by Cumber batch (reported in Strinati, 1995: 86),and it was deduced that advertiser had seemingly become vary of many years advertisers were reluctant to do anything different from the conservative stereotypical gender roles until in the 1970’s and 1980’s feminists took the protest to roads. Pg 55

Television audience are bombarded with images and slogans through advertisements. In 2000 Nielsen Media Research and Radio Advertising Bureau survey concluded that the average U.S. household, watched more than seven hours of television per day (Albarran, 2000). Audience subconsciously memorize slogans and absorb images without questioning them. This is known as the ‘cultivation effect’ (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan and Signorieli (1980)) .The effect of this exposure produces cultivation, or teaching of a common worldview, common roles and common values. (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan & Signorieli, 1980, p.10).

In order to understand the change in female stereotypes we must apply a semiotic analysis to the advertisements in the contrasting time frames.Williamson (1978) stated that semiotics studies ‘looks at any system of signs whether the substance is verbal, visual or a complex mixture of both.’ (Semiotics and Ideology (n.d) para.2). Ideology is ‘the meaning made necessary by the conditions of society while helping to perpetuate those conditions.’ (Williamson (1978) p.13). We must first discuss ‘intersubjectivity’, (O’Sullivan, Hartley, Saunders, Montgomery, & Fiske, (1994) p.157 – 158) As the audience In order to understand advertisements we must learn how to read them. It is vital to deconstruct them by the use of encoding and decoding. Encoding is performed by the transmitter of the advertisement message and decoding is a process accomplished by the receiving audience. The visual message is the most important element of a television advert because through it, its semiotic system of codes and conventions it attracts potential buyers of the product. Most female personal care products target consumers by offering them an ‘idealized reader-image’ (McCracken (1992 p.20). Thus television advertisements attract the audience by selling them visions of how they would like to see themselves. The codes and conventions on the advert have been transgressed by Dove which as a brand has taken a sharp turn away from traditional conventional ideologies of female perceptions. Advertisements must take into account not only the inherent qualities and attributes of the products they are trying to sell, but also the way in which they can make those properties mean something to us… The components of advertisements are variable and not necessarily part of one ‘language’ or social discourse. Advertisements rather provide a structure which is capable of transforming the language of objects into that of people, and vice versa.

Judith Williamson, Decoding Advertisements, 1978, p.12 (flake doc)

WHAT IS TRYING TO BE SAID HERE!According to Gerbner ; common media learning has increased television viewing is associated with more stereotypical views, especially of gender (Allan & Scott, 1996). Gerbner, Gross, Morgan and Signorieli (1980) argued that for frequent heavy viewers, television virtually subsumes and monopolizes other sources of information, ideas and consciousness. Furthermore, the frequent viewers perceive the world as television depictions . (Gerbner, et al., 1980).

Dove old advert

The advertisements of the early 1960s begin with a male voice over. This man narrates the advert and his claims of Dove being ‘new and revolutionary’ and this is reinforced through female narration. This can be said to be reflective of male patriarchy dominant at during the late 1950s and early 1960.The key word in the advert is ‘new’ and is repeated, in each case before the brand name. The reader’s eye is drawn simultaneously to the model’s eyes and face, and the text onscreen. The Advert emphasized as the brand name and thus the text anchors the connotative meaning of the product but ‘new’ is the first word you read. Cosmetics advertisers aim to reduce competition by conveying that their products are the newest product with the latest technological advances. Emphasis in adverts is placed on the new ‘key property’ of the product. For example, Dove ‘creams and cleanses your skin’ and boasts that other products only ‘cleanse and dry’ ; here, there is a strong implication of criticism of other brands and products and this encourages women to be critical of themselves and their peers in using wearing of out-of-date brands that do not embody the latest key properties or technology.

The beginning of the advert contains a picture of the product’s packaging; this is what the audience is to look for when buying the product. The image of the ‘dove’ represents Greek connotations of Aphrodite, goddess of beauty and love thus representing traditional female beauty and characteristics. Next the audiences see a perfectly manicured female hand , this continues to reinforce female notions of beauty. Once the product is unpackaged the bar of soap is curvy, this could questionably parallel the ‘unpack aging’ of the female body which like the soap is also curvy. The words ‘completely new’ are draw upon the eyes of the audience eye drawn and this point is reinforced by the narrative. The audience is introduced to the product by a male voice over. A Female voice over refers to the cleaning of the product cleaning, a subtle reference to the position of women in the home, ¼ filling of bar may also be representative of cooking. She continues to talk about cleansing, the product cleans and creams and this is repeated and is reinforced to the audience. The male voice then reinforces the positives of the products; his commentary is similar to that of a scientists new discovery. Its can be argued that the mode in the advert acts as a ‘guinepig’ for the experimental use of the product, it is her purpose to serve the male voice over. We are only able to view the models face, and towards the end of the advert her makeup changes as if she were ready to go out, for a date perhaps, and in this transformation she is rewarded by an anonymous male, whose hand we see as he caresses her cheek continuing to reinforce the previous Aphrodite notions beauty and love and desire to please in a patriarchal society and fulfill beauty expectations.

The ad consists of a visual subject which in this case is the soap and an object, the soap bar, while subconsciously portraying the subject as the women and the object as her Female curves. This reinforces traditional gender stereotypes as the objects beauty is acknowledged by male presence.

SANA U relocate this I will now introduce and analyze recent Dove television adverts according to semiotics. I am looking to see how the representation of women is conveyed and to see if the operation of patriarchy is apparent. I suspect that I will be able to deduce that all of these adverts operate patriarchy through similar ideologies presented through, images and articles in magazine about their products. The advert then shows the ordinary women having fun at photo shoot.

In the new television advert the models are relaxed and it appears as if they are ‘chatting’ to their girlfriends. The self-touching conveys the impression of narcissism, admiring ones own body and displaying it to others. Furthermore, in the firming body products campaign we are first introduced to the model via an audition we see ‘real women,’ wearing ordinary clothing, jeans and simple tops and not glamorous silk gowns. They are all different shapes, sizes and ethnicities. The larger women unconventionally and ironically are wearing lower cut blouses. Next the audience views the women using of products in ordinary household environments. The use of a female voice portrays societal liberisation of women and her voice has a relaxed jovial tone as she refers to size 8 women. The female voice of dove, implies that size 8 women note ‘real women’ but merely fictional supermodels. She refers to large hips and pear shape, this healthy fruit are Dove a promoting a healthier fuller figure. Women are in white lingerie this mirrors the color of the dove which is free and liberated. A twenty first century interpretation of the ‘dove’ may be interpreted as the present greater liberation, peace and freedom which is reinforced in Doves new ad campaign. During the photo shoot there is a male voice present in the background. He wears black perhaps because he not as free and liberated as women and is confined to the antiquity of black which contrasts the free soaring spirit of Dove. In comparison to the1960s ad, the earlier is more informative about the product where as the new advert, focus’s on the self in comparison to the prior which focus’s on the product. In the new advert the narrator only names the products and reinforces that their tested on ‘real women’

The absence of obvious sex appeal in this ad displaces the use of the product as a method of attracting the male. Instead the woman’s focus is on attaining for herself the advertised qualities embodied other women shown. The ad uses empowerment to sell the product because the majority of women in their late thirties or early forties who are considering firming products are likely to have already attracted a male. It is the qualities embodied by ‘real women’ that the ad is making desirable, and then attainable through the product itself.

Dove claim they have changed all this by revoloutionalizing societal perceptions of beauty. By presenting ‘real’ women in their lingerie the brand expresses the societal liberation of female freedom and sexuality. Women in their campaign are not presented with traditional sexual connotations as vixens; hour glass body shapes, long hair, large bust, instead the women in the 21st century ad campaign are ‘perfectly flawed’. This campaign ‘broke stereotypical rules’ and took ‘beauty taboos head on’.

The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty (CFRB) textually reveals that CFRB employs feminist signs to reference a key binary resistance in feminist politics discussing liberation and oppression; in the presentation of an ideology of “real beauty.” This message promotes Dove as a mechanism of change to the view of societal perceptions of “limiting and unattainable” female beauty, a position influential feminist’s support in mainstream media and through corporate partnership. This analysis suggests that “real beauty” is a new stereotype within the dominant ideology of female beauty; the attributes of “thin, young, and blonde” are replaced by “many shapes, sizes, colours and ages,” yet the “real” women are presented to arouse public dialogue about their physical beauty while promoting Dove and its products; resulting in sexual objectification of their image. Also as the definition of “real beauty” embraces self-esteem, CFRB produces a demanding, oppressive beauty stereotype for female consumption than the dominant stereotype which emphasizes only physical standards. Ultimately, CFRB support the patriarchal view of female identity as a consumer through the ideological consumption of “real beauty” and fiscal consumption of Dove products. This analysis provides a history of the relationships between feminist’s women in advertising, and the assembly of beauty advertising to observe the construction structure of CFRB.

In earlier decades the aim for women was to attract a man and be in a loving relationship. The focus has shifted, however, and the goal now is ‘to be’ slim, attractive, and happy, regardless of lifestyle, and whether or not an individual is in a successful relationship or not. It is through inter-subjectivity that cultural identity is affirmed. Just as advertising influences culture, so too does it reflect trends and cultural values. Advertising in women’s products represents a utopian view of the world and sells the product by selling stereotypical aspirations to attain the lifestyles or the looks represented in their texts. Henceforth, Margaret Duffy claimed that advertising, “Popular academics have seen it as anti-humanistic, a creator of unnecessary needs and desires.” (Duffy as cited by Manca and Manca, 1994, p.5). Unlike big clothing brands like Gucci or Prada for example, self care products cannot be identified by displaying the brand name in the actual cream or soap bar but instead, advertisements such as this encourage women to look critically at each other’s physical appearance and gossip about how other women look.

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The old dove advert exemplifies elements of both the social learning and the gender schema theory. As we are socialized into our gender roles females’ traditionally have been concerned about their appearance and focuses on trying to please the opposite sex. This is reiterated by dove’s ad campaign buy the males reassuring hand of the womans soft beautiful skin. This social acceptance is reinforced by the gender schema theory which describes women as gentile creatures. Thus these two work hand in hand in a repetitive cycle.

In contrast to this contemporary dove advertisements are influenced by feminist legal theory. The female voice over mirrors social power acquired by women in the early 20th century and after WWII. This is made even more apparent by the partly dressed models that break traditional gender stereotypes of beautiful pin up women as they appear in all shapes and sizes.

FLAKE intro the second ad into the esay

Chocolate seems more decadent than other confectionery because we have been sold this myth. The audience treats the signifiers in advertisements as though they are truths rather than our own constructions, which are enabled by refined publicity teams. This tendency to accept signs stems advertising has signified a cultural scepticism which in return has acted as the signifier for a new system of parody in advertisement which humours the system of unconscious connotations whilst achieving the goal of selling the product within the same system of denotations and connotations which it ridicules. The Cadbury’s ‘Flake’ television advertisements of the 1970’s and 80’s depict young, beautiful white women in romantic dreamscapes, i.e. the poppy field, the Victorian-style bathroom, content in their independence, yet eroticised by the sexual relationship they share with their phallic chocolate bars

The advert begins with the flake girls licking her lips, she then holds up the ‘erected’ chocolate bar which becomes the central focal point for the audience. We are given time to read the name of the chocolate which then is followed by music. As the music proceeds the flake girl begins to unwrap the bar and slowly and places it in her mouth not taking a bite this may be interpreted to mirror the sexual acts. The girl presents traditional beauty appearance, her makeup draws attention to her eyes and lips her straight hair also represents phallic images and traditional beauty connotations similar to that in the Dove adverts of 1960s presenting the beauty of Aphrodite. She places the chocolate seductively in her mouth and as the sun shines behind her she enters into her ‘sexual fantasy’ a beach with a back horse. This stallion may be representative of a man, strong, learn and being lead by a strong female from the 1960s. She finally smiles as she enjoys the ‘creamy’ chocolate. Most prominent in this advert is the female voice over, this being representative of political change. . These images appeal to the consumer, who makes connections between the visual subject, the chocolate and the visual object the chocolate bar in contrast to the subconscious subject sex and the subconscious object the lack of the male penis. The substitution of the chocolate bar for phallic images is all the more erotic when the audience is exposed to close-up images of white females rouge stained or gloss-laden lips wrapping themselves around the brown bar. The attributes of the chocolate; its distinctive shape and texture are connoted into a meaning of sexual desire and satisfaction. These myths then become the ‘Flake’s’ identity.

Flake has removed the idea of the “Flake girl” who traditionally has sensually nibbled the chocolate bar since 1959. The new campaign aims to focus on the “beauty and delicacy” of the Flake bar, as opposed to the Flake girl “succumbing to the mouth watering chocolate”. The ad features Russian model Yulia Lobova and 200 metres of yellow fabric. The fabric twirls around the model as a yellow dress in an analogy of the Flake bar. “For the past seven months the UK Cadbury team have been working on creating a new campaign that helps give Flake a fresh, contemporary approach,” said Phil Rumbol, UK marketing director at Cadbury. “We wanted to focus on the beauty of the product rather than just the sensuality of eating it … we consider Flake to be a truly unique product and it’s still going strong in its 90th year.”

The signifiers in the new advert are the colours purple and yellow from which the audience picks up on the significant code and recognises the brand. The floating women in the luxurious material signify the beauty and luxury of the brand and product. The material unwraps a woman where s previously it was the ale phallic. This advertisement can be used for a global audience, the lacking of language ad simple images sounds and colours relates to a wider audience. The models makeup is also subtle in comparison to previous flake girls. The traditional beauty and enhancement of eyes and lips is not as apparent.

Flake old advert- influenced by feminist legal theory and like women rebels against the societal perception and position of women. This is exemplified by the female voiceover. Ironically this advertisement presents another female stereotype of the ‘sexual women’ and not a ‘home maker. This is a stereotype which was not taught during the early 1960s however female presence in society was seeing a change, perhaps Cadbury were attempting to create a new stereotype or perhaps trying to break traditional conventions and set new set new social learning theoretical perspectives.

New ad- Cadbury has once again created a new stereotype but this time of not gender but of pleasure , presenting their chocolate not with sexual connotations. However Cadbury still use a female who is lost in some form of desire however this advert focuses on the chocolate rather than its The desirable indulgence in this ad is the chocolate itself rather than the subconscious portrayal of a phallic image. The fantasy is constant however the nature of the new adverts emphasizes on the changes of gender stereotypical roles in comparison to the old one.


Having explored the ideals of femininity in television advertisements we can argue that they are revealed to be carefully constructed in their layout, choice of colour, packaging and the product itself, text, language used, and which model has been photographed to represent the brands ideology through the codes and conventions it adheres to. In some adverts consumption of the product is implied to lead to being loved, cared for and protected by a man and this is portrayed as highly desirable in the case of dove. In contrast the new campaign shows a female empowered to stand alone without masculine approval, and to consume the product as a luxury for herself, not to make her more attractive to a man.


In conclusion the advertising has evolved from traditional notions of female stereotypes alternative to that of dove to minimalist advertising which is based on consumers socially acquired knowledge for e.g it will be commonly known for all the audiences the colours of flakes packaging similarly to this the logo of dove and the colours of the packaging.

Even though gender stereotypical roles in adverts have tremendously evolved since 1960’s while performing the semiotics of both the adverts an interesting pattern of similarity lead to decipher a rare connection between the new dove ad and the old flake ad. In the dove new ad the confidence of women to be comfortable with their appearance no matter how they look without male dominance and the confidence of the flake girl in the old advert to have her own fantasy where she leads the masculine horse figure shows power and dominance portrayed by both then dove women and the flake girls. It could be argued that Cadbury has been ahead of times in modern portrayal of gender stereotyping however it still follows the traditional pattern to gender stereotyping showing a stereotypically beautiful white Russian model while Dove has broken this convention and introduced a new form of gender stereotypical role.

Creating new stereotypes.

In addition, many television adverts carry an implication of women being confident, successful and strong. From closer study it becomes clearer that this masks the operation of patriarchy which uses representations of women in adverts to suppress the empowerment and independence of women in real life. Again Dove differs here from other advertising campaigns by showing positive images of women who do not conform to the unattainable ideal standard of beauty shown in other ads and Cadbury create a new implication of female empowerment. However such implications were evident in adverts during the 1960s.

It is obvious that advertising plays a major part in creating and maintaining the consumer culture in which we live. It can be argued that if the public had greater awareness to the negative images in the mass media in reference to women, they would be able to distinguish between their actual needs and those created by factors such as peer pressure, advertising, and low self-confidence. Cash & Pruzinsky (1990, p.51) stated two perspectives which form our appearance, one from the inside and one from the outside. The relationship between these perspectives is central when discussing self-esteem and body image, but it is our physical appearance which provides advertisements with their material. Despite this it is our feelings about how we look from the inside and our insecurities which enable adverts to work. Fiske says, ‘An advert is only the inter textual circulation of its meanings, a set of unfinished meanings in process. Texts are not signifying objects but agents, instances and resources of popular culture.’ (1991, p.124 – 125) It is only when being read or viewed and its meaning interpreted by individuals that the advert becomes ‘whole’ and performs the function of selling a product. Without human interaction an advertisement can only be looked at as a manifestation of the world surrounding it.


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