Advertising (Donka N)

Advertising plays an important role in business. Ads generate awareness about new products and persuade consumers to buy those products, therefore helping a company make profit.  In the goal of getting the consumer to purchase a product, companies attempt to control where advertisements are placed.  In Sex, Lies and Advertising,Gloria Steinem revealed that many companies who sold clothes, shampoo, fragrance, and food (also referred to by Steinem as “traditional women’s” products) preferred to be surrounded by “complementary copy” or editorials that incorporated their products. Many companies are very conscious of where their ads are placed and since they provide support to magazines, films and other forms of entertainment, they often try to influence the content in a magazine; for example, an editor of New York Woman had to put a model on the cover of the magazine rather than someone who she wanted to profile (wolf pg 81).

In order for ads to effectively sell products they must also convince the consumer that they need to buy the products in order to become successful and happy. In Reading Images Critically towards a postmodern pedagogy, describes how advertisements work: “ads work in part by generating dissatisfaction and by offering images of transformation, of a ‘new you’” (kellner pg 129). In Constructed Bodies, Deconstructing ads: Sexism in Advertising, Cortese elaborates further on how advertisements work: “to be successful, an ad must be persuasive on two levels. First, it should raise your anxiety level. It should persuade you to feel that you need something; it should make you feel guilty, inferior, or somehow “less than.” Second, an ad must provide the solution. If an ad captures you on both of these levels, you are generally hooked.” (Cortese pg 19). In order to make the consumer feel “less than,” advertisements  use masculine patriarchy and the beauty myth.

Masculine patriarchy, a destructive type of masculinity taught to males, is one ideology that is often portrayed in advertising. In order to be a man in the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy you must be powerful and you are allowed to maintain that power through psychological terrorism and violence (Understanding Patriarchy, hooks, 18). The following advertisements glorify masculine patriarchy and provide males with a code of behavior that they can use to perform masculine patriarchy.

In this Dolce and Gabbana ad one of the men is showing a sign of respect to another by kissing his hand.

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The image is similar to a scene in the Godfather, where Bonasera, a man seeking revenge for the assault of his daughter, is seeking help from Don Vito Corleone, an Italian mobster who demands respect and administers justice according to how he sees fit. [1]

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The godfather is a symbol of patriarchal masculinity; he is a powerful man who rules over his territory with violence. By evoking the image of Don Corleone from the Godfather, the image suggests that men who wear Dolce and Gabbana tuxedos will be seen as powerful and will receive respect.

Another Dolce and Gabbana ad glorifies violence between men and normalizes it.

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The man in the middle seems to be prepared to take a beating from two other men (one who has his arm around his neck and the other who is ready to punch). His body language suggests that he would not retaliate or engage in the fight but accept it as something he must go through. He is relaxed and has his arm stretched out while two other men hold his hand and arm. Another man seems to show compassion towards the man in the middle by placing his hand on this man’s knee. The body language of the male models suggest that this is not just a fight but an act of sacrifice, almost like a hazing ritual that one must go through in order to become a man. In this ad  jeans are associated with violence, which, according to the ad, is an acceptable behavior for men.

It is also important to note that the men in this advertisement are shirtless and muscular and that the only thing that they are wearing is jeans. This type of ad might appeal to men who feel no sense of control over their economic status. In the system, men gain power through wealth and if a man is not wealthy, what could he do to assert his power and express his masculinity? According to Cortese, “working-class males, who have less access to more abstract forms of masculinity-validating power (economic power, authority on the job), the physical display of power, often through violence, is a way of asserting masculinity.” (Cortese pg 71).

Guess is another interesting clothing brand. It often promotes a limited standard of beauty through its models, which are often white and blond, like Marilyn Monroe. The models in Guess also display youth (no lines or wrinkles), good looks, sexual seductiveness, and perfection (no scars, blemishes or pores) (Cortese page 10)

To imitate sexual seductiveness, women in Guess ads copy Marilyn Monroe’s body language: the downcast eyes, slightly parted lips and upturned head or the look of anticipation often shown by the model slightly covering her mouth with her fingers (almost as if she is biting her nails or about to bite her nails).

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Marilyn Monroe is no longer a person but a representation of the beauty myth. Her image is eternal and does not age; photographs of Marylin Monroe past age 36 do not exist. Furthermore, her image is associated with sexuality; she is best known for roles in films such as Some Like It Hot, where she is pursued by two saxophone players and The Seven Year Itch, where she plays the neighbor of a married man who is tempted by her character’s seductive personality.

It is also important to note that African American women are not often shown in Guess ads. I have found it difficult to spot African American models in Bebe ads as well.  There seems to be a pattern where a majority of female models are white. It is clear that the beauty myth perpetuates the idea that dark skin is unattractive and this may encourage women of color to purchase products that may make their skin lighter.

Both of these representations are limited ideas of what it means to be beautiful and what it means to be a man. These ads associate the products (jeans, tuxedos, etc.) with certain lifestyles and values.  Gala Darling, a blogger, wrote “ clothing can transform you into anyone you want to be…..It reminds us that we can do whatever we please, that we can dress like our idols if that’s going to help us become more like the people we admire, or the person we imagine ourselves being.”[2] The ads suggests that we need to buy Guess clothing in order to feel as sexy and glamorous as Marilyn Monroe and men need to buy Dolce and Gabbana suits and jeans in order to feel like powerful, strong men.

The representations of beauty, power and masculinity are limited in these ads but there are alternative ads that provide a wider view of what is beautiful and portray women as more than just sex objects. The 1996 ad for the apple Powerbook does not objectify a woman and turn her into a sex object, but portrays her as a regular person with interesting hobbies and interests. Martina Navratilova, a professional tennis player, is being presented as a regular woman in an advertisement for the Powerbook; she is wearing a jacket with pants and sneakers; the clothing is not sexual and she seems comfortable in it. It is almost as if this is something that she would wear herself. She is facing the audience like the man beside her and displays confident body language (shoulders back, facing the audience with a smile). The copy on the ad reads, “What’s on your PowerBook?” and her side of the ad lists realistic things that might be on her powerbook, such as “game plans, chess game, list of favorite hotels, homeopathic doctors;” things that anyone can have on their Powerbook (regardless of whether they are a man or woman). This ad successfully sells a product without objectifying a woman.

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Link to twitter: https://twitter.com/NycDn


[1]  J Geoff Malta, “Mario Puzo’s The Godfather,” the Godfather Trilogy, March 1st 2014, http://www.thegodfathertrilogy.com/gf1/transcript/gf1transcript.html.

[2]  Darling Gala, “What does your clothing say about you?” Gala Darling the Radical Self Love Project, March 1st 2014, http://galadarling.com/article/what-does-your-clothing-say-about-you

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