Lade Inhalt...

Female stereotypes as reflected in English advertising

Magisterarbeit 2003 113 Seiten

BWL - Offline-Marketing und Online-Marketing



1. Introduction

2. Communication and Ideology
2.1 Semiotics
2.2 History of Semiotics
2.3 Charles Sanders Peirce (1839 – 1914)
2.4 Ferdinand de Saussure (1857 – 1913)
2.5 Charles Wiliam Morris (1901 – 1979)
2.6 Post-Modernism and Critical Linguistics
2.7 Ideology
2.7.1 The Mass Media and the New Ideology
2.8 Subjectivity
2.9 Semiotics of Advertising
2.9.1 Roland Barthes (1915 – 1980), Umberto Eco (born 1932), and Codes

3. Advertising
3.1 Economic and Communicational Aims, and the History of Advertising
3.2 Sexism and Stereotypes
3.3 Verbal and Visual Devices
3.3.1 Language Sentence type Sentence structure Words and phrases Sounds
3.3.2 Image Colours/ light Photographic techniques Vectors Circumstances Visual rhetoric
3.3.3 Image and Text Picture Relation Type

4. Analysis
4.1 Material and Method
4.2 Quantitative Analysis
4.3 Qualitative Analysis
4.4 Résumé

Deutsche Zusammenfassung

List of Plates


1. Introduction

The topic of this thesis is Female stereotypes as reflected in English advertising. The main objective of this thesis is to detect both overt and hidden anti-woman ads in magazines. In addition, my research shall focus upon the validity of the different categories of gender stereotypes which will be discussed in section 3.2 ‘ Sexism and stereotypes’. This list of different stereotypes is based on sources published in different years such as Goffman's Gender Advertisements (1979) and Schmerl's Frauenzoo der Werbung (1992). Because of my sources’ different publishing dates, it is necessary to show whether certain clichés are still valid today or outdated. In my opinion, the portrayal of sexist gender roles has already changed a little, but I still think that traditional stereotypes continue to dominate advertisements. The analytical part of my thesis seeks to find out whether the women portrayed in advertisements are in positions of power, or whether their decisions and actions are guided by others, for instance, a husband, a boyfriend, a boss, family etc. I want to prove that the subject status of women is still widely conveyed, and that women are, frequently, presented as being incapable of guiding their own actions. Moreover, another objective of my analysis is to shed light onto the question if different products are being advertised to men and women. If, as Schmerl suggests, personal and domestic products are marketed almost exclusively to women and products that have nothing to do with domesticity – apart from personal hygiene – are being marketed to men.

The first part of my thesis will be a theoretical approach to the aspects of semiotics, ideology, subjectivity, and critical discourse analysis. Altogether, signs represent meanings and are, therefore, the basis of language and communication. Communication is always closely connected to ideology, as language is the means of dominant groups in a culture to remain in power. Ideologies construct and support meanings, which privilege the dominant groups as they try to convince all parts of society that their values are 'natural', that their ideas and ideals are portrayed as 'universal truth'. The effect of imposing the dominant groups' values is that the dominant groups' ideologies regulate the distribution of power, and make the system invisible to those dominated. Nöth, Fairclough, Eco, Schirato and Yell, Gottdiener, Chandler, and Foucault are some of the authors I quoted in ‘Communication and Ideology’.

In the second part, I will give a general introduction to advertising, stating its economical and communicational aims and processes. It is quite interesting how skilled advertisers are in finding our weaknesses, desires, and hidden needs and then using these weaknesses to sell us products – not only do ads sell products, but also values, images and concepts of success, worth, love, sexuality, popularity and normalcy. Sexual allusions are predominant in many ads as advertisers use people's need for sexual reassurance and then create and pressure us into specific gender roles. Some of the sources used in this chapter are Williamson, Myers, Dyer, Stöckl, Vestergaard and SchrØder, and Kress and van Leeuwen.

I expect that my analysis will show that many stereotypes of women are still maintained. An example of such advertising would be an advertisement creating an erotic effect. Although, a person or feeling within an erotic ad may not be present, the sexualism the ad conveys, leads viewers to see women as objects. This objectification of women is further promoted by the idea that women are emotionally motivated and are not rational thinkers like men are. In addition, men are also stereotyped in advertising. They are portrayed with old traditional clichés and, more recently, are pressured to fulfil expectations of youth, and physical beauty. I hope I will also discover ads that are not founded on clichés and sexism and, instead, promote gender equality. I believe finding non-sexist ads will be difficult since the advertising industry predominately utilizes stereotypes, while also distorting and ritualising the relationships between men and women. I expect that what Goffman found in print-ads of the 70's can also be detected in print-ads of today.

2. Communication and Ideology

2.1 Semiotics

Semiotics is the study of signs. Graeme Turner (1992:17) notes that for something to qualify as a sign, "it must have a physical form, it must refer to something other than itself, and it must be recognized as doing this by other users of the sign system". A sign takes the form of words, images, sounds, acts or objects. Such things have no intrinsic meaning and become signs only when we invest them with meaning (cf. Chandler 2002b: Webliography). Signs can also be categorised by their degree of arbitrariness (see section 2.3 ‘Peirce’) or by the relation between signifier and signified (see section 2.4 ‘Saussure’). Furthermore, Umberto Eco (cf. 1972:20-27) assumes that semiotics is not a homogeneous science, but a science that consists of many different areas of science such as zoosemiotics, olfactory signals, verbal-nonverbal and tactile communication, paralinguistics, medical semiotics, kinesics and proxemics, music, written language, natural languages, visual communication, objects, cultural codes, aesthetics, mass-communication, and rhetoric and language.

At the beginning of the twentieth century theories were developed which challenged the way meaning had been understood, namely, as being natural and unmediated. This development of new theories, was called semiology. Semiology claimed that the process of reading signs and making meanings is not 'arbitrary' but meanings are 'read into signs' (cf. Schirato and Yell 2000:19).

2.2 History of Semiotics

The early history of Western semiotics can be subdivided in three periods; firstly the Greco-Roman period, secondly the Middle Ages, and thirdly the Renaissance. As early as ancient times, scientists concerned themselves with the nature of signs. The two most important theses of this time were the triadic model and the model of arbitrariness. Aristotle's definition of words as signs of the soul, and, as likenesses of actual things, provide the outline for the standard order of the triad. Aristotle distinguishes between the sound (phone) as the physical aspect of language and the content of a word (páthema) as the content of awareness. If they are combined they produce a word – a sign. The third component of this triad is the referent – the described thing (pragma) (cf. Nöth 1975:5).

- sign vehicle
- sense vehicle ( which is the mediator of the referent)
- referent (which is the described thing)

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Plate 1: The semiotic triangle (Nöth 1990:89)

Plato's central thesis in semiotics is that verbal signs are only incomplete representations of the true nature of things (cf. Nöth 1990:15). However, the most important contributions to semiotics may have been made by Aurelius Augustine. Coseriu (1970:105) considers him the greatest semiotician of antiquity and the real founder of semiotics ( "[…] obwohl Augustinus zweifellos als der größte Semiotiker der Antike bezeichnet werden kann und zugleich als der eigentliche Begründer dieser Forschungsrichtung anzusehen ist."). Eco takes the same line of argument and describes Augustinus' work in the following way:

With Augustine, there begins to take shape this ‘ doctrina’ or ‘science’ of signum, wherein both symptoms and the words of language, mimetic gestures of actors along with the sounds of military trumpets and the chirrups of cicadas, all become species. In essaying such a doctrine, Augustine foresees lines of development of enormous theoretical interest" (Eco 1986:65 quoted in Nöth 1990:17).

In the next period, namely the Middle Ages, the cornerstones of Medieval semiotics were theology and the three liberal arts of grammar, logic, and rhetoric (cf. Nöth 1990:17). The next period that followed was the Renaissance – for many historiographers it was not a period of important innovation in the theory of signs. During the Age of Rationalism and Enlightenment, however, one of the most important contributions to semiotics were made by René Descartes (1596 - 1650), whose philosophy is the foundation of the theory on universal language. In his view, thought is prior to language, therefore, sounds are variable, ideas are not. In his theory he emphasizes the 'concept' over the 'thing'. Other important figures of that period are Comenius (1592 - 1670), Dalgarro (1626 - 1687), Wilkins (1614 - 1672), and Leibnitz (1646 - 1716). The line of important scientists of semiotics is continued by Wolff (1679 - 1754), Lambert (1728 - 1777), Condillac (1715 - 1780), Bolzano (1781 - 1844), and Husserl (1859 - 1938) (cf. Nöth 1990:21-35). The following scientists, however, are considered the founders of modern semiotics: Charles Sanders Peirce, Ferdinand de Saussure, and Charles William Morris.

2.3 Charles Sanders Peirce (1839 – 1914)

Nowadays Peirce is considered as "one of the great figures in the history of semiotics" and as "the founder of the modern theory of signs" (Weiss & Burks 1945:383 quoted in Nöth 1990:39). In Peirce's revolutionary pansemiotic view of the universe – cognition (thoughts) and even man are semiotic as a thought refers to other thoughts and to objects of the world, therefore, a thought is like a sign (cf. Nöth 1990:41). His conclusion is "the fact that every thought is a sign, taken in conjunction with the fact that life is a train of thought, proves that man is a sign" (Peirce § 5.314 quoted in Nöth 1990:41). He defines a sign as follows:

A sign or representamen is something which stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity. It addresses somebody, that is, creates in the mind of that person an equivalent sign, or perhaps a more developed sign. That sign which it creates I call the interpretant of the first sign. The sign stands for something, its object (Peirce § 2.228 quoted in Nöth 1975:10).

In Peirce's point of view the sign can be seen as a triadic relation. Firstly there is a 'perceptible object' functioning as a sign also called representamen (Peirce § 2.230). Then, Pierce names the 'object' which "can be a material 'object of the world' with which we have a 'perceptual acquaintance' (§ 2.330) or a merely mental or imaginary entity 'of the nature of a sign or thought'" (§1.538 quoted in Nöth 1990:42). Thirdly, the interpretant which in Peirce's definition stands for the meaning of a sign and could be best described as the effect a sign has or as "something created in the mind of the interpreter" (§ 8.179). Peirce's representamen correlates with Saussure's signifier or Morris's sign vehicle (cf. Nöth 1990:42-43). Peirce makes a distinction between the representamen as an instance of 'firstness', its object as an instance of 'secondness', and the interpretant as an instance of 'thirdness'. Based on this theory of the triadic relation, Peirce developed an elaborate typology of signs. The most important signs regarding the semiotics of advertising are, icon, index, and symbol; or as Peirce (§ 2.275) states: "the most fundamental division of signs".

- Iconic signs: Are a very close reproduction of the actual object or event. There is a similarity relationship between signifier and signified, i.e. things, pictures, photographs, traffic signs are icons of the things they represent (cf. Nöth 1977:13). "Icons are weakly motivated or unmotivated – that is, their meaning is only weakly fixed by social conventions" (Gottdiener 1995:12).

- Indexical signs: Their meanings are "not a product of social conventions or codes, they, rather, establish a sign in the mind of the interpretant through experience or pragmatic understanding of the material world" (Gottdiener 1995:12). Indices are related directly to their objects, that means, there is a contiguity relationship between signifier and signified; i.e. association of lightning and thunder, footprints in the snow, traffic signs referring to a place (cf. Nöth 1977:13).

- Symbolic signs: A mode in which the signifier does not resemble the signified but which is arbitrary or purely conventional – so that the relationship must be learned: i.e. most words, a number, a national flag (cf. Chandler 2002b: Webliography).

Peirce lists these three forms according to their degree of arbitrariness/conventionality. In Peirce's point of view, iconic signs are the least arbitrary as they must have similar features with their objects, followed by indexical signs. The signifier of indexical signs is not purely arbitrary but directly connected in some way to the signified. Symbolic signs are the most arbitrary ones as they are not connected to the features of their objects (cf. Chandler 2002b: Webliography).

2.4 Ferdinand de Saussure (1857 – 1913)

It is possible to conceive of a science which studies the role of signs as part of social life. It would form part of social psychology, and hence of general psychology. We shall call it semiology (from the Greek semeîon – ‘sign’). It would investigate the nature of signs and the laws goverering them. […] Linguistics is only one branch of this. The laws which semiology will discover will be laws applicable in linguistics, and linguistics will thus be assigned to a clearly defined place in the field of human knowledge (Saussure 1974 [1915]:16 quoted in Chandler 2002a: Webliography).

Ferdinand the Saussure is considered not only the founder of modern linguistics, but also semiotics. A basic element of Saussure's general theory of sign systems is his 'sign model'. This bilateral sign model is composed of three components, namely, the sign and its constituents signifier (for sound image) and signified (for concept). The relationship between the signifier and the signified is referred to as ‘signification’ (represented by the arrows in the diagram below). The distinctive feature of its bilateralism is the exclusion of the referential object (cf. Nöth 1990:59). According to Saussure, the linguistic sign can be compared to the two sides of a sheet of paper, one side consisting of a concept and the other consisting of a sound image. "Thought is the front and the sound the back; one cannot cut the front without cutting the back at the same time" (Saussure 1916b:113 quoted in Nöth 1990:59).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Plate 2: Saussure's model of the linguistic sign (left) with Saussure's exemplification (right). The concept is illustrated by the image of a tree, the sound image by the Latin word 'arbor' ( Nöth 1990:60).

Another major contribution to the history of semiotics is Saussure's analysis of the terms langue vs. parole and synchrony vs. diachrony. Saussure was most of all interested in language as a system or code, and as a social phenomenon. He opposed speech, which he called la parole to the linguistic system called la langue. Each person uses the social sign system differently and that is what Saussure calls speech (cf. Nöth 1990:63). “Synchronic analysis studies a sign system at a given point of time, irrespective of its history. Diachronic analysis studies the evolution of a sign system in its historical development.” (Nöth 1990:63). Furthermore, Saussure did not contribute much to the general theory of signs as he had little to say about non-linguistic signs. Yet, he can be considered the pioneer of modern semiotics because of his historical influence of heuristics and systematics of semiotics (cf. Nöth 1990:63).

2.5 Charles Wiliam Morris (1901 – 1979)

Charles W. Morris’s impact on the history of semiotics was decisive in the 1930’s and 1940’s. In general, Peirce and Morris (cf. 1946:79) define the theory of signs as the study of signs of any kind, including language and any other sign. In his book, Foundations of the Theory of Signs, Morris agrees with Peirce in that a sign only becomes a sign because it is interpreted as that by an interpreter (cf. Nöth 1990:49). Moreover, Morris defines the term semiosis (originally coined by Peirce) as a sign process – that is a process in which something is a sign to some organism (cf. Morris 1946:16-17). The main difference between the two scientists, however, is that Peirce considered semiotics as a science of man, as opposed to Morris (cf. Morris 1946:17), who included in his behaviouristic theory of signs the sign processing by animals, more generally, by organisms. "Any organism for which something is a sign will be called an interpreter" (1946:17). The sign process involves the following three factors (cf. Morris [1938] 1975:20 quoted in Bentele/Bystina 1978:38):

- Sign vehicle: something, that acts as a sign
- Designatum: something, the sign refers to
- Interpretant: something, that has an effect on some interpreter because it is a sign to that interpreter

Furthermore, Morris not only developed the theory of the triadic relation of semiosis, but also derived three dyadic relations, which he considered “to be the basis of the three dimensions of semiosis and semiotics.” (Nöth 1990:50).

- Syntactics (later renamed Syntax): studies the relation between a given sign vehicle and other sign vehicles
- Semantics: studies the relations between sign vehicles and their designate
- Pragmatics: studies the relation between sign vehicles and their interpreters

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Plate 3: Morris' three correlates of semiosis and three dimensions of semiotics (Nöth 1990:50).

Peirce, Saussure and Morris are considered the core scientists of modern semiotics. They contributed basic theories to semiotics, later semiotic theories are based on their work. Peirce defined the terms index, icon, and symbol, Saussure differentiated between signifié and significant and Morris defined the three dimensions of semiotics – syntax, semantics, and pragmatics.

2.6 Post-Modernism and Critical Linguistics

In the late 1960's, the Saussurean model of semiotics along with Western philosophy was attacked by the French philosopher and deconstructionist Jacques Derrida. In Derrida's opinion it was wrong to assume that analytical texts stand for reality. "Derrida called this a 'metaphysics of presence,' by which he meant that philosophy fallaciously assumed that reality was immediately grasped through representation, especially writing." (Gottdiener 1995:19). Derrida, consequently, criticised Saussure's theory saying that Saussure ignored the problem of representation and the volatility of meaning in his theory of signs (cf. Gottdiener 1995:19-31). It can be said that postmodernism which was mainly concerned with textual analysis and the critique of forms of representation, failed to "engage in critical discourse regarding the articulation between media, or mass cultural forms, power, and material culture" (Gottdiener 1995:31). This failure, however, was compensated by a group based at the University of East Anglia in the 1970’s. This group paid close attention to 'critical linguistics'. 'Critical linguistics' is a type of discourse analysis wherein the determinate relation between ideological processes and linguistic processes (more specifically media discourse) is the subject of analysis (cf. Fairclough 1995:25).

2.7 Ideology

The relation between signs and meanings is not arbitrary. The process of reading signs and making meanings is an ideological process (cf. Schirato and Yell 2000:18). The interest of text semioticians in ideology is obvious as "It is by means of sign systems that ideologies are transmitted and by reflecting on sign systems that it becomes possible to demystify them in their internal mechanisms" (Rossi-Landi 1972:9 quoted in Nöth 1990:378).

In 1796, the term ‘ideology’ was first used by A.L.C. Destutt de Tracy (cf. Nöth 1990:377). During the Age of Enlightenment, ideology had a positive connotation until Napoleon ridiculed this science and it began to acquire a negative connotation. Nowadays, we distinguish between two concepts of ideology. Firstly, the value-neutral concept, which defines ideology as "any system of norms, values, beliefs or ‘Weltanschauungen’ directing the social and political attitudes and actions of groups, a social class, or a society as a whole." (Nöth 1990:377). The second concept is more pejorative. This sense of ideology "goes back to Marx and Engels, who defined ideologies as systems of false ideas, representing the false consciousness of a social class, in particular of the ruling class, the bourgeoisie […]. In this sense ideology is seen as an instrument of deceit" (cf. Nattiez 1973a:72 quoted in Nöth 1990:377). In general, semiotics treats ideology, or rather, the social construction of meanings very negatively.

Meanings are the result of the interactions between readers/hearers of texts and the speakers/writers of texts. They are always subject to more or less closely enforced normative rules (for instance, generic rules), and to the relations of power obtaining in this interactions (Wodak 1995:206).

Language/Discourse is also a medium of domination and social force. It serves as "the means to legitimise relations of organised power. Insofar, as the legitimating of power rules […] are not articulated […] language is also ideological." (Habermas 1977:259 quoted in Wodak 1995:259). Fairclough notes, in addition, that certain conventions frequently drawn upon in discourse express tangibly ideological assumptions "which come to be taken as mere 'common sense', and which contribute to sustaining existing power relations." (Fairclough 1989:77). Ideologies try to convince us that different aspects of our everyday culture, certain values, ideas and activities are 'natural', timeless and ahistorical. The function of ideologies is to 'naturalise meanings'. The core point is that ideologies construct and promote meanings which privilege one culture, or one part of culture – which can be based on class, occupation, race, gender, age religion, nationality, etc. One function of ideology is to create a notion of community; which also includes to convince other groups that their interests are the same as those of the group producing the ideology. Ideologies found a cultural belief that there are different values assigned to certain groups of people and that these different values are natural. In Western cultures i.e. women and ethnic groups are often devalued by dominant groups. Because of ideologies members of privileged groups believe they are naturally superior to other groups. They give privilege to their own position and 'naturalise' the inferiority of other groups. Repetition is an important factor as the repetition of ideas in i.e. the media become so familiar that most members of a culture no longer question those ideas (cf. Bourdieu 1990 quoted in Schirato and Yell 2000:73-74).

In other words, the repetition of ideology across the culture, as Bourdieu suggests, helps to ensure that we forget that ideology. Ideology doesn’t usually criticise alternative ideas – they are normally treated as if such alternatives were unthinkable. And if, for some reason, they are thought or suggested, they are usually disqualified from consideration by being branded as…ideology (Schirato and Yell 2000:75).

Ideology also can be understood as the means by which the dominant class disguises the true nature of its relationship with lower classes and, thus, helps sustain inequality and oppression. It is to say that the controlled groups are made believe that their interests are best served by the dominant group or that the dominant group deserves to rule (cf. Schirato and Yell 2000:81). Furthermore, another important factor is the relationship of ideology and truth: "Truth is linked in a circular relation with systems of power which produce and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which extend it a regime of truth." (Foucault [1977] 1980:133). According to Foucault, truth is based on scientific discourse and the institutions which produce it, the demand for truth is very important for economic production and political power. Truth is also the object of great diffusion and consumption, most importantly, it is produced and transmitted under the control of a few great political and economic apparatuses like the educational system, the army, writing and through the media. Cultural institutions such as school systems, religious groups and the family spread ideology and produce cultural identities for people. Thus, truth is the issue of political debate and ideological struggles.

It’s not a matter of emancipating truth from every system of power (which would be a chimera, for truth is already power) but of detaching the power of truth form the forms of hegemony, social, economic and cultural, within which it operates at the present time ([1977] 1980:133).

The same holds true for scientific knowledge. According to Verón, objective scientific knowledge can never be attained. Nevertheless, "science makes an effort towards a neutralization of connotative meanings by making explicit the decisions that generate them" (Nöth 1990:379).

2.7.1 The Mass Media and the New Ideology

In the 60's and 70's media's role was first discussed. “The part the media played in determining definitions of the normal, the acceptable, and the deviant had become an explicit public concern […]” (cf. Turner 1992:88). Nowadays mass media, globalisation, and general advances in communication help spread the so called ‘new ideology’. The new technology is able to reach mass audiences, and appears to be able to erase time and distance. “New ideology uses this apparent erasure of time and space to pretend to have effected a general erasure of all differences” (cf. Lefort 1986 quoted in Schirato and Yell 2000:84). Nowadays dominant groups use globalisation and the mass media to disguise the fact that differences still do exist (Schirato and Yell 2000:84-85).

For Lefort, dominant groups within a culture perform communication by bringing every possible group – no matter how weird, exploited, disaffected, marginalized or fringe – into the communication network […]. Dominant groups take people’s minds away from differences, oppression, exploitation and wrongdoings by making it seem as everyone’s views are taken into account and everyone is consulted. According to Lefort, this performance of communication doesn’t actually change anything: what it does do is make it look as if things could change (Schirato and Yell 2000:84-85).

2.8 Subjectivity

Althusser called the process of producing cultural identities for people interpellation, "the hailing or calling up of a person as a particular cultural identity so that the person accepts that identity as given" (Schirato and Yell 2000:85). He strongly links interpellation to the workings of cultural institutions. According to Ernesto Laclau, identities or subjectivities are the most important examples of ideological conflict within a culture. He argues that subject positions such as i.e. student, women, feminist, are initially empty, and then filled, and then become meaningful. Subject positions can carry more than one meaning and the positions’ meanings always change. René Descartes' theories about that the human subject is rational, reasoned, and, therefore, his/her identity is certain, were, later, doubted by Marx, Nietzsche, Darwin, and also Freud. Descartes believed that humans potentially possessed themselves and that their "minds were masters of their (bodily) castles!" (Schirato and Yell 2000:82).

Freud claimed that we are not in control of ourselves because our actions are influenced by desires stemming from our unconsciousness. He suggests that we are bound up with firstly, sexual drives, secondly, the Oedipus and Electra complex and, thirdly, the unconscious. For Freud the only love object for the child is the mother. Later in life the child learns to repress these desires and they are rendered unconscious. Through our culture we learn to take on specific subjectivities, by conforming our previously unconstrained sexual drives into 'appropriate' sexual drives – heterosexual activities. We repress our sexual desires because of our culture. These repressed desires 'return' in many ways: "through slips of the tongue, in sublimation (where sexual desire is transferred onto 'higher' activities, such as writing a text), in fetishising certain objects (you can't have the person you desire, so you collect her/his clothes, and make do with those), and in dreams." (Schirato and Yell 2000:88). Our identity is always defined by who we are not. People often desire someone or something in order to fill in gaps in the person’s identity. According to Laclau, the process of producing subject identities is necessarily gendered. For example, women are produced as non-male, as castrated beings. Sexuality is the key issue in understanding and evaluating self-identity (cf. Schirato and Yell 2000:87-91). Subjectivity is a concept derived from psychoanalytic theory and used in cultural studies to replace common sense notions of the self/individual. Subjectivities are the cultural identities produced through discourses and ideologies.

2.9 Semiotics of Advertising

There is a strong relationship between semiotics and advertising, as semiotics "provides the theoretical tools for the analysis of signs and communication processes in advertising" (Nöth 1990:476). The use of codes and meanings on various levels; textual structures; function and typical forms of sign manipulation used in advertising are also important to evaluate. Other disciplines that have taken interest in the study of advertising are psychology, sociology, anthropology, marketing, journalism, visual and mass communication, traditional rhetoric, stylistics, and linguistics. Since the 1960's, advertising has been of major interest for semioticians who especially focus on the process of message exchange. Umberto Eco and Roland Barthes have made essential contributions to this scientific field. One of the major functions of semiotics was to disguise the 'hidden' relationship between ideology and advertising, as in Judith Williamson's Decoding Advertisements (1978). Since Williamson's publication, semiotic means of decoding advertisements have been expanded to other scientific fields. Some of these areas of study are the general theory of signs, textsemiotics, semantics and pragmatics, rhetoric, myths, poetry and metaphors (cf. Nöth 1990:476 - 480).

2.9.1 Roland Barthes (1915 – 1980), Umberto Eco (born 1932), and Codes

In his short article "Rhetorique de l´mage" – "The rhetoric of the image" (cf. [1977]; Adam/ Allan 1995:20-21), which was first published in 1964, Roland Barthes distinguishes, with the help of an advertisement (Panzani), three types of messages which help interpret the meaning of an image.

- linguistic message: depends on the code of language, and consists of the brand name and the verbal commentary
- uncoded iconic message: i.e. photographic images
- coded iconic/symbolic message: connotations of the picture which form the image of the product

The concept of connotation, developed by Hjelmslev, is a key to Barthes' semiotic analysis of culture. Hjelmslev's definition of a sign model consists of an expression (or sign) in relation to a content (or signified). Such a primary sign system can consequently become part of a more comprehensive sign system – a secondary sign system (connotation). The concepts of denotation and connotation have been used to analyse advertisements since the earliest semiotic studies of advertising. The theory of connotation appears to be a most appropriate tool for the discovery of ‘hidden’ layers of meaning in advertising, as these connotations depend on cultural knowledge and are, thus, coded (cf. Nöth 1990:310; 477). Myers (cf. 1994:122) further explains, advertisers try to place their product in a shifting system of meanings, because advertisers want to give their product an image. Therefore, they use associations derived from social attitudes towards the product. When advertisers use these associations they are applying connotations.

Barthes, apart from making the distinction between the three messages, also describes some fundamental relationships between the image, which is polysemous, and the text. He introduces the terms anchorage and relay. We talk about the function of anchorage when the text dominates and serves as explanatory component for the image. Anchorage channels the sender's intended meaning of the image towards the audience - "The text directs the reader through the signifieds of the image" ([1977] 1995:20). The concept of relay is less commonly used as the text and image are in a symbiotic relationship, text and image are fragments of each other and the unity of both "is realized at a higher level" ([1977] 1995:21).

Umberto Eco, developed his influential semiotic theory of codes on the basis of 'cultural convention'. He defines a code as follows: "a system of rules given by a culture" (Eco 1968:130 quoted in Nöth 1990:211). He also enhances the general field of codes to vague codes, weak codes (changing rapidly), incomplete codes, preliminary codes (soon to be replaced) and even contradictory codes. He describes the fashion code as being imprecise, weak, incomplete, and preliminary. Another definition offered by Dyer (cf. 1982:135), is that codes are forms of social knowledge which derive from social beliefs. Codes organize our understanding of the world in terms of 'dominant meaning patterns', patterns which vary from culture to culture and from time to time. Yet, these patterns are largely taken for granted and channel our interpretation of things or how we think about them.

Another important aspect, Eco discusses in his work is the distinction of a verbal and a visual register, the visual register consists of five levels (cf. Nöth 1990:478):

- Iconic level: The iconic level is similar to Barthes' uncoded iconic message.
- Iconographic level: This level is based upon historical, cultural traditions and genre conventions; similar to Barthes's coded iconic message.
- Tropological level: It can be compared to the visual equivalents of rhetorical figures.
- Topic level: The topic level deals with the premises and topoi of argumentation.
- Entymematic level: It deals with the actual structure of the visual argumentation.

3. Advertising

3.1 Economic and Communicational Aims, and the History of Advertising

Advertising is a vehicle of social communication and proves also to be an important industrial factor. Advertisements inform us about products, they entertain us, they make use of symbolism in order to persuade us into buying products, and represent or rather offer a ritual display of our everyday lives. The following section contains a short overview of advertising's main tasks and aims – starting with a definition:

Advertising serves a social function which is closely connected to the foundation of the capitalist socioeconomic order: its job is to assist manufacturers in recovering profitably and as quickly as possible the capital outlay invested in production. It addresses people in their capacity as consumers, trying to catch their attention in order to motivate them to buy the commodities produced by the manufacturer. This function can be fulfilled in several ways, for instance, by providing factual information to consumers about the merits of a given product.[…] It has therefore been necessary to develop advertising strategies which add to the material use-value of a product – or substitute for the material use-value – symbolic or social use-value is presented as the main attraction to consumers (Asher ed. 1994:2415).

Leiss' (cf. 1990:153-158) four stages of the American history of advertising are important, as they not only deal with the American history of advertising, but also give an overall idea of the Western world's advertising aims. In the late 19th century, ads mainly informed the public about a product, later the approach to advertising changed and the emphasis lay on the symbolic character and personalization of the product. The first stage is called ‘The Product-Oriented Approach’. Advertising agencies' main goal was to inform the public about the merits of a product and rationally explained why one should use a certain product. The explanation was usually conveyed by written text, text was later accompanied by illustration and visual layouts. Leiss refers to the second stage as ‘Product Symbols’ as "marketing thought begins to shift towards the non-rational or symbolic grounding of consumption. It is now based on the notion of appeals or motives, putting less emphasis on the product and its uses." (Leiss 1990:155). The third stage is called ‘Personalization’. "In personalized ads, people are explicitly and directly interpreted in their relationship to the world of the product" (Leiss 1990:246). Moreover, professionals realize that consumers are vital to effective advertising and are, thus, turned into the centre of research (cf. Leiss 1990:155). Finally, with the rise of the fourth period called ‘Market Segmentation’, particular importance was attached to targeting specific types of audiences. "Advertising campaigns concentrate not on personality but on activities of different subgroups of consumers, providing some analysis of their use of media, their consumption preferences, and their lifestyle attitudes" (Leiss 1990:158). Nowadays, leisure values are the advertisers' focus.

Schweiger and Schrattenecker (cf. 1995:55–57) define four general aims of advertising. Firstly, advertising serves the purpose to inform about products. The second aim is to maintain and secure sales. Thirdly, stabilisation of the market should be reached and, lastly, the share of the market should be increased. More specifically, Schweiger and Schrattenecker distinguish between economic and communicational aims of advertising. The most important factors for the advertising economy are the financial gain, turnover and business expenses. These criteria are relevant as they affect the publicity value of ads. However, the use of economic figures is problematic as they don't help the agencies to choose the right advertising strategy, nor is it possible – or hardly possible – to measure their impact on the success of the product. Based on these assumptions, it is obvious to substitute the economic goals of advertising for the communicational goals and the persuasive processes of advertising. The persuasive communication of advertising is based on psychological processes. Stöckl (cf. 1997:71-75) assumes that adverts have, as far as the persuasive process is concerned, different communicative functions. Rhetorical style in advertising is aimed to persuade the consumer and to convince people of the advertisers credibility. Stylistic-rhetorical means in advertising are utilized for these reasons:

- Attention: Stylistic-rhetorical means such as capitalization and bold type of the heading, special features of typography of the body copy, questions and rhetorical questions, neologisms and vogue-words, ad-hoc coinage, the usage of pictures in a purposeful manner, disjunctive grammar, and conditional clauses help draw attention to an ad.
- Comprehend: The Recipient should easily comprehend the given facts. He or she should grasp the meaning of the message both rationally and emotionally. To achieve this, advertisers make use of short and concise structures of argumentation, short texts in general, pictures with a simple and concise message, target group-oriented language, rhetorical figures such as antithesis, simile, metaphor, synecdoche, and repetition.
- Yield: This is a central function of the persuasive-communicational process. The recipient adopts certain ideas, assertions, and formulations that are in public discourse into his or her own private discourse. To achieve this, advertisers pitch selected topics, trends, and marketing strategies at the target group's level. Yield also utilizes colloquial language, maxims, proverbs, symbols and emblems, modals, and the presentation of evidence such as authority, exemplification, and comparison.
- Memorise: The consumer will only make the decision to buy the product, on the precondition that he has accepted and memorised the product's ad. The consumers are given compelling arguments, pictures which trigger positive associations, as well as, puns, alliteration, ellipsis, assonance, repetition, allusions. Typographical standards for certain companies should help consumers to recognize certain products, services, or companies.
- Imagine: The recipient is brought into the right mood for the purchase, ownership or consumption of products or services. The devices that are used are metaphors, narrative elements replace reporting elements, use of the present, present progressive, and future tense, use of exaggerated formulations, euphemisms, synecdoche, as well as a directed use of pictures.
- Distract: Puns, irony, parody, understatement, as well as contrast, and alienation from a pattern should distract the recipient from the fact that he or she is being persuaded.
- Please: The recipient should experience pleasure and entertainment in decoding or receiving advertising messages. Stylistic-rhetorical means used in this case are humour, enigmatic phrases as well as the subtle combination of text and image.

3.2 Sexism and Stereotypes

Advertising sells symbols in order to persuade the consumer into buying products. These products offer identification to the owner, and with the possession of them certain illusions are created. One illusion, for instance, is class status. Advertisements portray reality, though, distorted, simplified, exaggerated, and stereotyped, - to attract attention. This is the core of communication (cf. Goffman 1981:9). In real life, people have learned to live with certain patterns, consequently, they have also accepted specific gender roles (see also section 2.7 ‘Ideology’, and section 2.8 ‘Subjectivity’). One important intention of advertising is to reassure men and women of their masculinity and femininity. For this purpose, advertising uses, promotes and reinforces certain images. What is more, the relationship between the sexes is ritualised and the portrayal of gender difference is widely used to transmit certain 'values' and stereotypes, for example, the 'strong' man who protects the 'weak' woman. Consequently, the message in ads is often subtle, devious, ambiguous and with the help of certain symbols or objects an encoded social information is transmitted (cf. Goffman 1981:8 –31). Williamson (cf. 1978:169-177) agrees that there is nothing wrong about symbols as such as systems of signification are necessary and inevitable. Nevertheless, she claims:

Besides the function of symbols in ideological systems, which as I have suggested, is to deprive us of knowledge and create a mystification about history, nature and society, there is also a danger in having people involved as part of the currency in these systems. When people become symbols they need not be treated as human being. This is an obvious point but it is probably little noticed how much of the human symbolism of advertisements carries over into 'real life'. Women are especially liable to this phenomenon. (1978:169)

In advertising, men often patronize and belittle women, as if they were inferior to men. Women are frequently portrayed as the sexual object of male attention. Their purpose is to be sexually attractive, young, and beautiful, and, as a consequence they need many beauty products to appeal to men. Schmerl (cf. 1992:190-198) cites studies (Manstead & McCulloch 1981; Harris & Stobart 1986; Livingstone & Green 1986), which show that men repeatedly are presented as experts and independent and autonomous, whereas, women take on the roles of sexually attractive super-women, dumb housewives, warm-hearted mothers, and businesswomen who seem incapable of handling workplace stress. Moreover, men presented in advertisements advertise for products apart from the domestic sphere and to some extent also personal products. Women in advertisements almost exclusively advertise for domestic and personal products.

One of the difficulties of my research is defining sexism and defining anti-women attitudes in advertising. Especially when it comes to fashion and perfume advertisements, the borderline between sexism and the aesthetic portrayal of women (and recently also men) is not clear cut. Nevertheless, I will summarize the features that constitute sexist and stereotypical ads. Firstly, advertisers are prone to use negative and old fashioned clichés about women. Negative examples exist in the domestic sphere (i.e. the image of housewives is ridiculed or distorted), in the workplace (one hardly sees women in management functions), and in relationships (women are frequently portrayed dependent on men). Secondly, young, beautiful women and also recently muscular men repeatedly adorn the pages of magazines, in sharp contrast to the demographic reality. Thirdly, the female body is exploited, it is misused as mere a eye-catcher and has no relation to the product that is being advertised. What is more, women are equated to the product itself. Sexist or belittling language can be found in ads. Finally, advertisers capitalize on people's fears (i.e. that one is not beautiful enough), or they create false hopes (i.e. cars guarantee the successful seduction of the opposite gender) (cf. Schmerl 1992:280-283).

With my analysis I first want to detect both overt and hidden anti-women ads. Secondly, I also want to research to what extent certain stereotypes are still valid today. Thirdly, the focus will also be on the portrayal of gender-relationships in advertising. And lastly, I hope to find ads working without clichés and sexism or ads that promote gender equality. In order to detect sexism and stereotypes I have listed different categories of sexism and non-sexism. The sources I used are Schmerl (1992:19-78), Goffmann (1981:104-224), and I also added categories of my own.

1. Female sexuality to sell products: Naked, half-naked women and female body parts are used as eye-catchers, although nudity is not necessary to sell a product. It has already been mentioned that fashion and perfume ads could be considered borderline cases.
2. Women who are equated with products or compared to them: Women are reduced to objects. They entertain and provide men – like a product – with pleasure.
3. The myth of women and household: Housework is ridiculed or not even depicted. Women are shown i.e. sunbathing or playing sports in front of various household appliances.
4. Negative clichés about women: Negative clichés of women i.e. childish clowns, shopping addicts frequently occur in ads. Fat women are also negatively stereotyped. They are purposely ridiculed because they do not conform to the popular youth and beauty culture.
5. The cosmetic straitjacket: Ads convey the meaning that women absolutely deserve special treatment. Although, they are allowed to spoil themselves, they are also made aware of the fact that they should look after themselves to appear attractive to men. Thus, the 'battle' against aging should be fought with the help of cosmetic products and surgery. If women do not use these products they are not 'real' women, 'natural' beauty is completely denied.
6. A distorted picture of emancipation: In advertising the idea of 'emancipation' is distorted and biased. Female emancipation in advertising only goes so far, that it allows women to have an expensive taste (which is in the end financed by men), to be slightly unconventional, or to be a female version of a man.

7. Polarisation of gender

a. Superiority, power and authority

This is almost exclusively a male domain. On the one hand, superiority and power of men are characterized by their physical height – they are usually taller than women. On the other hand, another method to express superiority or higher rank, is to put a central figure in a higher physical position. According to Goffman (cf. 1981:120), it is usually men presented in this position of power, rank, and authority. Other examples that express male superiority can be found in images in which men teach women or 'play' with women as if they were playing with children.

b. Rituals showing subordination and inferiority

- Bed and floor: Somebody sitting on the floor or lying on a bed is obviously in a lower position and, consequently, in a position of inferiority. Being on the floor or bed is also a conventional sign of being sexually available. Goffman (cf. 1981:169) states that women are far more often photographed in such positions than men.

- Body language: Women are commonly depicted in 'weak' postures – with their bodies and heads tilted, their knees bend in a certain manner. It can be noticed right away that the female body language often expresses insecurity, willing subordination, subjugation, dependence on others, kindness, and pacification. When there is a couple depicted, women very often seem to be dependent on men. They either are embraced by men, taking men's arms for support, or snuggling up to them. This is not only a way to show that women must be guided and supported by men, but it could also be interpreted as a sign of sexual possession. Women are repeatedly shown partly hiding their faces with their hands or putting their fingers to their mouth in child-like gestures which could be interpreted as shyness and insecurity as well as absent-mindedness. Another common picture is the portrayal of women tenderly touching, caressing, protecting objects or themselves with their hands, this 'female touch' stands in sharp contrast to the 'male' firm and hard grab. Goffman (cf. 1981:224-256) notes that women are often depicted as escaping from a present social situation. They appear to be without orientation and mentally absent and dependent on the protection and goodwill of others, who may be depicted in the picture but also may be outside the picture frame. It is remarkable that if women are in physical contact with men it always seems to be the male partner who is alert and controls the situation for both of them. Furthermore, Goffman continues that women's fashion in ads has a costume like quality which stands in contrast to men's fashion. Men's fashion in advertisements reflect that men wear 'real', 'serious' clothes and not costumes. As a consequence, women have a frivolous image, whereas, men are taken more seriously in social situations. The negativity of the frivolous image is strengthened when the photographed women behave like dressed up children or make faces as if they were clowns (cf. Goffman 1981:197-200).

- Facial expressions: The facts stated above hold also true for the female gaze and smile. In the first place, the focus of women and men is different. Kress and van Leeuwen (cf. 1996:66) note that in pictures were someone looks at something outside the picture frame, women often seem to gaze into the middle distance, as if they have mentally withdrawn from their immediate surrounding, whereas, men have their eyes firmly fixed on far horizons. However, this process can create a powerful sense of empathy or identification with who is represented. Furthermore, women either focus on certain objects or are more often engaged in situations where they express sensations like pleasure, delight, laughter and happiness. This indicates that women are able to fully devote themselves to a present situation or it also shows that they are easily satisfied at i.e. the gift of a ring (something that can be realised in the present). Richard Dyers (cf. 1992:104-109 quoted in Chandler 2002c: Webliography) notes on the difference between the 'female' and 'male' gaze that while the female model typically averts her eyes, expressing modesty, patience and a lack of interest in anything else, the male model looks either off or up in order to express his lack of interest in the viewer. The men barely acknowledge the viewer, whereas the women's averted eyes do just that. In the few cases in which a male model directly looks into the camera, he stares at the viewer. Since Freud, it is common to describe such a look as 'castrating' or 'penetrating'. The female model, on the other hand, returns the viewer's gaze in a smiling and inviting way. Most importantly, "stereotypical notions of masculinity are strongly oriented towards the active […] men are bound to avoid the 'femininity' of being posed as the passive object of an active gaze." (Chandler 2002c: Webliography)

8. Ads that make do without gendered stereotypes and female sexism: Ads that represent men and women as equals or show women in self-confident and independent roles.

9. Man as sex object? Male sexuality to sell products: Naked, half-naked men and male body parts are used to sell products.

3.3 Verbal and Visual Devices

Advertising communicates, by making use of persuasive processes (see also section 3.1 ‘Economic and Communictional Aims of Advertising’). What is more, it spreads ideologies. Consequently, it is necessary to look at linguistic and pictorial devices that help advertising to change people's attitudes. It is important to describe and systematize the devices advertisers use to get their verbal and visual messages across. However, I provide only a general overview, as a detailed list would go beyond the scope of my thesis. Additionally, I added, in some cases, visual examples from English magazines to the verbal descriptions.

3.3.1 Language Sentence type

One basic way of classifying sentences is to look at the way they function as statements, commands, questions, or exclamations. Statements assert facts about the world; commands seek to make the hearer act; questions seek information from the hearer; and exclamations express the speaker's surprise. If it were always that simple, this classification wouldn't tell us much about the style. But we can use it to show us what the advertiser is taking for granted, what is assumed in this type of sentence. (Myers 1994:46)

- Command: It can be said that the most commonly used sentence type in ads is the command or imperative, because it wants us to do something, we are urged to some action. Yet, it has to create a personal effect, a sense of one person talking to another, rather than telling us to do something. The most important aspect of commands used in ads is the lack of politeness. According to Myers (1994:48), "one explanation may be that in our culture we cut out the politeness devices if we are asking somebody to do something that benefits the hearer, not the speaker", i.e. "Take a seat", "Have some more cheesecake". It is the aim of advertisers to present their commands as benefits to the hearer or reader and not as the benefit of the speaker or writer.

- Questions: They, like commands, imply a direct address to the reader. Questions require an answer. On a surface level we take them as requiring a response, on a deeper level, though, the subtle effect questions imply, is: "they can contain presuppositions that are almost impossible to discard if one interprets the text" (Myers 1994:49). One example given by Myers is as follows: "'Why does a woman look old sooner than a man?' The presupposition contained in this question is that 'A woman does look old sooner than a man.'" (Myers 1994:49) Myers’ example clarifies the fact that cultural identities are produced through discourse and ideologies. As a result, it is vital to concern oneself with the role advertising has in this context. (see also section 2.7 ‘Ideology’ and section 2.8 ‘Subjectivity’. Many questions used in ads are rhetorical, they assume only one possible answer, for example, "Do I look like my period stops me wearing what I want?" In case you miss the fact that this is a rhetorical question, the first line of the body copy says "Of course not. That's because I use Tampax tampons." (1994:50).

- Exclamation: This is another sentence type that is proportionately over-represented in ads (cf. Myers 1994:50). It is often used in letters as to suggest personal, face to face contact. Unlike commands and questions, exclamations depend on complex interpretation. In advertising they are used rather liberally, in some cases the convey spoken emotion, in other cases they have an emphatic effect (cf. Myers 1994:46-77). Sentence structure

- Parallelism: It is an unexpected pattern of similarity of sound or structure. (see Plate 4)
- Deviation: Deviation is an unexpected irregularity, breaking of a norm or a pattern of sound or structure.
- Foregrounding: This a phenomenon in which one part of a text stands out for special attention.
- Ellipsis/ Incomplete sentences: Some words are left out in a sentence, but the sentence can be understood from the context. These devices might be used to make the reader turn to the picture to interpret the relevance of these phrases.
- Substitution: A word like ‘do’ stands in place of a phrase and is understood from the previous text. (Myers 1994:209-213)

Example of parallelism

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Plate 4: Colegate Plantinum (toothpaste); marie Claire, September 2000.

This ad for tooth paste is designed like a fashion ad. If it occurs that one text makes reference to another text we talk about intertextuality. We see a model wearing white clothes. The short description of each item, the name of the label and the price sets up a pattern of similarity. Parallelism is achieved by the unexpected description of the model's teeth, as if they were a fashion item and Colegate was its label. The text reads:

White straight leg trousers, Betty Jackson 155 ₤

White knitted polo shirt, Joseph 120 ₤

White patent loafers, Russell & Bromley 89,50 ₤

Teeth, Colegate Platinum 3,99 ₤ Words and phrases

- Puns: Puns are plays on words in which one word has two or more meanings, or one sentence structure can be interpreted in more than one way, such as, "Sunlight is best", with "sunlight" referring to the product name and a word with its own meaning.

- Homonymy: Homonymy is a kind of multiple meaning in which two or more unrelated words are spelled and sound the same, such as ‘light’ as opposed to ‘darkness’ and ‘light’ as opposed to ‘heavy’.

It is a kind of multiple meaning in which the same word has two or more different but related meanings, as in ‘clear’ meaning ‘unobstructed visually’ or ‘obvious’.

When advertisers make use of these strategies, we call it ambiguity. A sentence or a word can have two or more definite meanings. This is opposed to the term ‘vagueness’ where no definite meaning can be pinned down and a vague aura is created.

- Figurative language

- Metaphor: The figure of speech in which one thing (X) is spoken of in terms of another (Y), i.e. "Eat a bowl of sunshine" - sunshine is the metaphor for Kellogg's cereal.

- Simile: This figure of speech compares one thing to another. It is marked by an explicit comparison word such as ‘like’ or ‘as’. "Breakfast without orange juice is like a day without sunshine"

- Synecdoche: This figure of speech refers to a whole by naming a part, such as ‘a hand’ to refer to a whole person in "Lend me a hand". In a visual text it is, for instance, a button standing for a whole suit or a dashboard standing for a whole car.

- Metonymy: The figure of speech in which a thing is referred to by means of referring to something related to it, as when ‘the Queen’ is called ‘the Crown’. Sounds

- Alliteration: The repetition of initial consonants is called alliteration, as in "Top People Take The Times", or as in an Ariel colour ad "colour wherever, whenever, whatever".

- Assonance: Here the vowel sounds are repeated, as in, "Coca-Cola".

- Rhyme: The last sounds of words are repeated, as at the ends of lines of poetry.

- Unpredictable spelling: It is used to draw attention to the written form.

(cf. Myers, 1994:64-130)



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
12.3 MB
Institution / Hochschule
Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz – Geisteswissenschaften, Anglistik
semiotik ideologie werbebildanalyse seximus textanalyse




Titel: Female stereotypes as reflected in English advertising