Since beginning the discussion on advertising images in our fine class I have found that watching television or reading a magazine has become a different experience. That is because instead of seeing the advertised product I see the advertised promises. Not only will Axe products make you smell nice, but they will attract ladies to you, dissolving your insecurities and therefore all your problems. According to Jean Kilbourne, “Advertisers are aware of their role and do not hesitate to take advantage of the insecurities and anxieties of young people, usually in the guise of offering solutions” (1.) Advertisers bombard us with these images everyday for the purpose of glamourizing products and their promises, making our own lives appear inadequate in comparison, instilling enough envy in us to be persuade to buy the product (2.)
In bombarding us with their images, advertisers also support social norms regarding sex and race that further compel us to purchase a product. Kilbourne points this out when she presents the portrayal by advertisers of males as boisterous and females as passive (3.) Conforming to these socially accepted gender roles attracts consumers because they are familiar. Advertisers avoid combining or reversing these roles because it negatively impacts their image. Gloria Steinheim points out that Lionel trains would not market themselves to girls because “They fear that, if trains are associated with girls, they will be devalued by little boys” (4.) Similarly, advertisers target racial stereotypes to make their product more appealing. In this example from 2007, Intel uses African American athletes, who are viewed as the fastest due to their success in Olympic events such as Track, to illustrate the power and performance their computers will produce (5.)
These images have yielded unintended results. The unnaturally thin and airbrushed women depicted in advertising images wreak havoc on the self-esteem of young girls and women. Desiring to look like these images, and perhaps in an unconscious protest to them, young girls and women develop eating disorders (6.) In addition, stepping out of the gender roles reinforced by advertisers attracts negative attention. For example, men who are not athletic or drink martinis are negatively viewed as feminine or homosexual. Confident and commanding women are given the negative connotation of being “bossy.” The latter in particular has sparked a revolt that is attempting to change these images in advertising.
The Girls Scouts of the USA have recently released their “Ban Bossy” campaign to encourage girls to ignore the bossy stereotype. Their homepages reads:
When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a “leader.” Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded “bossy.” Words like bossy send a message: don’t raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys—a trend that continues into adulthood. Together we can encourage girls to lead (7.)
Furthermore, Pantene recently released their “Labels Against Women,” which addresses “the issue of double standards and the culture of inequality that people have come to accept as the norm” (8.)
These actions by Girl Scouts and Pantene exemplify the alternative strategies that can be implemented by marketers to reverse the stereotypes and idealities imposed upon us by advertising images. By directly addressing the issue and exposing the fallacies of mainstream images, consumers can be made aware of the same marketing strategies we analyze in this class. Another alternative is to portray a diverse range of men and women in advertising and forgo photo editing and airbrushing. A step taken by some marketers already, these images are appealing to consumers because they are relatable and personable. They also ensure that a size 12, freckles, and kinky hair are normal and should be celebrated.
1. The More You Subtract, The More You Add: Cutting Girls Down to Size, Jean Kilbourne p. 129.
2. Ways of Seeing, John Berger p. 43.
3. Kilbourne p. 139.
4. Sex, Lies and Advertising, Gloria Steinham p. 115.
5. Neat Designs (http://neatdesigns.net/22-shockingly-racist-ads/)
6. Kilbourne p. 138.
7. Ban Bossy (http://banbossy.com)
8. Pantene Philippines (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOjNcZvwjxI)