Introduction and Background
The language in advertising has not been given much focus by research according to Artz, Munger, and Purdy (21). Advertising language affects gender because of the influence adverts have on the perceptions of the consumers. Adverts are a reflection of the prevailing culture in society, and they tend to include the stereotypes held by that particular society. If sexist language is to be eliminated from society, there is a need to address the gender language used in adverts. The marketing influence exerted by the adverts can be used to teach the society how to become gender neutral in the everyday use of language and in the elimination of stereotypes that pit the males in the society against the females.
The marketing industry influences people’s preferences greatly. This is because the adverts are designed to appeal to the desires of the consumers, and have them feel that purchasing the products marketed to them will make them intrinsically happier. The companies that create the adverts are aware of the stereotypes held by the consumers. The stereotypes have to do with the backgrounds of the consumers targeted by the advert. The adverts tend to support the ideals held by the culture prevailing in the market. The adverts subtly assign gender roles to the consumers especially when marketing products that are predominantly used by one gender. Gender roles are ingrained in the children in their early years.
Adverts Targeting Genders at An Early Age
The adverts for barbie dolls use little girls as models while the boys are used when advertising toys and StarWars figurines. The gender roles promoted by the adverts tend to discriminate against the women by offering them inferior roles compared to men. The prevalent stereotypes regarding the sexes are influenced by the gender roles that were assigned to men and women in the olden days (Racquel par 3). The women were the caretakers at home while the men went out to hunt and provide for the needs of the family. The men often did jobs that required more strength compared to the work that was done by the women. The work for women entailed cooking, cleaning the household, and nurturing the children.
With the stereotypes in mind, companies that manufacture household items often use female models in their adverts for print and television. A female voice-over is usually used to demonstrate that the item will be more beneficial to the women compared to men. Adverts for items that have to do with machinery and outdoor activities often include male voice-overs and models for the television adverts. Some adverts tend to focus on the physical traits of men and women. The men are stronger than women physically, and some marketers blatantly show that in their adverts. For example, some adverts communicate that men are supposed to do the heavy lifting around the house and open tight lids of containers for their women. Ketchup Company used the easy-to-open bottles as a selling point by emphasizing on the fact that it is so easy to open that even women can open it without needing to have a man in the house (Racquel par 5). Even though the observation of men being physically stronger is true, this fact is used to make the women feel inferior to men.
Gendered language is intensely used in informal conversations. The reason for that is the lack of policing of language for these contexts. Most people are used to gendered language in their daily conversations. It leads to them becoming numbed to the gendered language in adverts. The gendered language is the default one for most of the consumers making the adverts appear natural. The efforts to eliminate language in advertisements will continue to get frustrated until awareness is brought to the general public regarding the damaging effects it has on society.
Sexualization of Adverts
When the women are not depicted as housewives, they are presented as sex symbols. Marketers have mastered the art of using sex to sell almost anything. In the early days of adverts, the use of the images of sexy women and innuendos was not rampant. Often, semi-nude women are used together with the products being promoted and suggestive statements made about the product and how it is likely to boost the consumers’ sex appeal and success with the opposite sex. Women are the primary victims of sexualization of adverts compared to men (Lier). Men are always depicted in a position of power and domination in the sexualized adverts while the women are presented as vulnerable and submissive. These adverts have the unfortunate effect of encouraging women to become timid in their relations with men from an early age. This goes to frustrate the efforts made to achieve gender equality.
The exploitation of female bodies in adverts is not limited to their sexuality. Some adverts work by body-shaming women using their version of what beauty should be. Women on the heavier side are shamed of their plus size bodies in adverts that sell beachwear and fitness products (Lier). They are often made fun of in the adverts injuring their self-esteem in the process. Beauty and makeup products use the insecurities of women to sell more by promising the women that they will become beautiful if they use those products. Consequently, the women become so reliant on those beauty products to an extent bordering addiction.
The men are not spared by the sexism found in adverts. They are held to some standards of provision and affluence that most cannot attain. The men who are used as models in the adverts are often tall, extremely fit, and inexpensive clothing, which is a reflection of their financial worth. This makes the men who are not as fit, affluent, or strong feel inferior. The adverts hold people to standards that are often unattainable to make them feel unhappy (Lier). The marketers then convince the consumers that buying the advertised products will give them the happiness that they seek. Selling happiness to consumers seems to be the main strategy used by marketers when creating adverts.
Discussion and Summary
Despite the advertising industry having grown and improved for the last few decades, gendered language and gender stereotyping have persisted in the industry. Each advert is directed to a specific audience. The methods used to target the audience for the advert is often too direct and discriminatory. The nature of the adverts reveals a distinction between masculine and feminine products. Some items such as cars, business products, business services, among others are often directed at men. These are the products that men are expected to consume. The advertisers do not consider the possibility of a woman being interested in the same product. Therefore, the needs of the women are not considered during such adverts. On the other hand, beauty products, household equipment, fashion, and others are directed at women. The possibility of a man being interested in the same items is not considered. If a man were to express interest in consumer products such as makeup, they are likely to get ridiculed because of the stereotypes that have been promoted by the adverts.
The language used in the adverts is also a source of controversy. Some phrases such as “put her in her place” are used to encourage men to consume products that allegedly enhance their masculinity (Lier). These are products such as custom-made suits, beer, cigarettes, and cars. Even though the chauvinistic statements are made tongue-in-cheek, they hurt the efforts that the society is making towards gender equality. The adverts in modern times use a formal language to appeal to consumers but have found that it is hard to relate with consumers using such a tone. This could explain why some of them revert back to gendered language. Informal conversations in the streets and homes of the consumers is full of gendered language, and that might be where the problem lies. Professional circles, politics, and media have succeeded with varying degrees to eliminate sexist language. However, this has proven hard to do in homes and informal gatherings.
Adverts are a powerful tool of education and influencing the minds of the consumers. The sheer power of advertising is demonstrated in the way that brands can use it to develop a cult-like following. An obvious failure of advertising is addressing the sexist language and imagery that is used to promote products. Some items are considered masculine and others feminine. The feminine ones are usually seen as inferior by the consumers. Unfortunately, the apparent inferiority of the consumables is projected on the female gender, frustrating fight for equality. Significant progress has been made in ensuring egalitarianism in the society, and advertising firms should use their influence to promote the same.
Artz, Nancy, Jeanne Munger, and Warren Purdy. “Gender Issues in Advertising Language.” Women and Language 22.2 (1999): 20-6.
Lier, Kim. “Sexism in Advertising.” HASTAC. N.p., 2017. Web. 21 Dec. 2018. https://www.hastac.org/blogs/kimlier26/2017/12/11/sexism-advertising
Racquel, M. “Sexism in Advertising – Understand Media.” Understandmedia.com. N.p., 2018. Web. 21 Dec. 2018. https://understandmedia.com/journals-a-publications/student-journal-of-race-and-gender-in-media/53-sjrgm-vol-2-winter-2014/218-sexism-in-advertising