Example Of Essay On The Use Of Gender Stereotypes In Advertising
We are used to thinking and behaving in terms of our gender. Our gender determines whom we make friends with, what toys we play with, what profession we choose, etc. We follow a certain type of behavior because people around us do the same. So, we do something which is normal and not out of place. The question is, however, if it is what we really like and long for. In most cases, these are only stereotypes foisted on us by our family members, friends, teachers, society, mass media, and all the others that surround us in our everyday life. The fact that we are stereotyped in our behavior and preferences can be used against us, for example, in advertising.
Advertising is the sphere that has been most actively developing in recent decades. Ads, commercials, billboards are omnipresent. Even if we wanted, we could not avoid seeing/hearing them and, thus, being influenced by them. Advertisers are aware of it and, therefore, try to do their best to lure us into their traps. Their techniques are varied; but most of them are based on stereotypes we (consumers) have or programmed to, gender stereotypes being most powerful of them.
The funny thing about stereotypes is that they do not always reflect the reality but just beliefs of a certain group of people about something. It is widely admitted by numerous researchers of the problem. In reference to it Malgorzata Wolska (2011), for example, says that “if certain arguments allow to refute a stereotype, people would rather treat it as an exception that proves the rule, than change the way of thinking”. People are afraid to change something that they are used to; they are afraid to go against the rules and stand out in the crowd. Therefore, most of them agree to common rules of the game even if they do not like them. They follow the rules and get accustomed to loving the things everybody loves.
The existence of stereotypes in the society is beneficial for advertisers as they can use these stereotypes to their best commercial advantage: people want to fit the existing stereotypes and advertisers offer them the things that can assist them in achieving the result. Men want to look masculine while women naturally want to be as feminine as possible. Advertisers play on these desires of their customers and make special emphasis on gender benefits of their target consumers.
A perfect illustration of this technique is the work “Having it His Way: The Construction of Masculinity in Fast-Food TV Advertising” by Carrie Packwood Freeman and Debra Merskin. The authors demonstrate how fast-food advertisements efficiently play on masculinity thanks to the stereotyped view that these are men who are the key consumers of meat (red meat, in particular) which is the basis of fast-food menu. The examples presented by Freeman and Merskin show that the main appeal in most fast-food ads and commercials is aimed at men. As a result, not only men’s love for meat is emphasized but the other things that men are supposed (again according to the existing stereotypes) to like. These things are women, leisure, no necessity to work, and abundance of food available.
Often in depicting these ideas advertisers tend to exaggerate the things and deviate from the reality. But they do not mind it because their aim is not to depict the reality; they want to satisfy the customer’s desires. The stereotype is that men are dominant. So, men want to keep up this feeling of dominance, they want women to be subdued and ready to do anything men ask them to. As a result, advertisers of fast-food products use this image of subdued women in their ads and commercials. Freeman and Merskin’s research found out that “in all but a few ads women are presented as silent and willing objects of the male gaze” (284). It means that even though men love women, they do not want women to overpower them. Men want to maintain their dominant position (at least in their minds) and their masculinity.
The combination of the things the customer likes and seeks in one ad (commercial) conflates the things in the mind of the customer. Men love women, eating, leisure, bikes and all the other “men’s” things. If they see all (or some of) these things they like in one commercial which advertises fast-food products they automatically assume they like this kind of food because it goes along with the other things all men love. This is the way stereotypes work; this is the way stereotypes are produced, and this is the way advertising uses stereotypes.
The reality is, though, that gender roles have greatly changed recently and men are no longer dominant; they are rather partners than leaders in a couple. However, the reality does not change stereotypes because these stereotypes are kept alive by mass media and advertising in particular. Malgorzata Wolska in her article “Gender Stereotypes in Mass Media” confirms this idea: “Nowadays the differences between male and female roles are smaller; however mass media still perpetuates traditional gender stereotypes”. Sticking to stereotypes makes it easier for advertisers to manipulate their potential customers.
So, as it has been mentioned above, men are traditionally positioned as leaders, providers, home-owners; therefore these properties of theirs are emphasized in commercials where men are the target audience. Commercials targeted at women consumers emphasize the traditionally accepted role of a woman – “loving wives and mothers, responsible for raising children and doing housework” (Wolska). Consequently, women are likely to be shown in domestic environment while men are seldom depicted at home, more often outdoors or at work. It should be noted that all these stereotyped qualities of both genders are extremely exaggerated in ads and commercials and these extremes make people (both men and women) even more willing to follow the example which is actually the aim of the ads.
Of course, there are some examples of advertisements that go against the traditional views of the things. In these commercials advertisers want to show the reality and, perhaps, in such a way, make consumers believe in the “goodness of their intentions”. Wolska mentions non-stereotypical Dove campaign commercials depicting “women at every age and with different kinds of figures” and British Ajax commercials presenting “handsome men cleaning kitchen with the product” (Wolska). Unfortunately, the examples of this kind are not very numerous. Advertisers do not want to take a risk by breaking the rules – you never know how it will go and what the result will be like. It is much easier to use the ideas which are well established in the mind of their target audience and therefore are more likely to appeal to them.
Thus, stereotypes die hard and if they are actively maintained they never die. Commercials and ads do their best to keep up the gender stereotypes that effectively help them achieve their commercial goals. Advertisers are great psychologists and they understand that in order to sell they must offer something people want. However, if people do not want what they sell, they must persuade them they definitely need the things. The use of gender stereotypes is a perfect and non-failing technique because both men and women want to be the best in their gender group. And thanks to the existing stereotypes advertisers are sure what will sell.
Freeman, Carrie Packwood, and Merskin, Debra. “Having it His Way: The Construction of Masculinity in Fast-Food TV Advertising.” Self-Reflection in a Fun-House Mirror. 277-293. Print.
Wolska, Malgorzata. “Gender Stereotypes in Mass Media. Case Study: Analysis of the Gender Stereotyping Phenomenon in TV Commercials.” Krytyka.org, 9 Jan. 2011. Web. 13 Feb. 2015.
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