Television advertising is an art like so many other genres and the way this has been portrayed over the years shows a subtle tendency for advertising to be geared towards particular channels of an audience during particular times of the day. It has also been proven that advertisers and product marketers know that their product will sell when channelled towards certain sections of the audience so for example an advertisement which contains certain sexist elements and which portrays a woman in scantily clad attire will definitely attract the male sex and will cause interest and inquiry into the product. In his article Steve Craig (1991) argues that the stereotyping of gender in television commercials is nothing new and will continue to be the case especially as liberal attitudes become more diverse. The thesis statement of this paper reaffirms Craig’s argument.
Advertising strategy based on gender bias
We have all seen TV for short or long periods and become accustomed to what is being shown as we observe. A typical example is the morning shift when advertisers tend to include domestic style advertising for women who stay in watching popular soap operas. You are bombarded with adverts on all sorts of cleaning and decorating techniques and magical new products which bring a shine to the house or improve your cooking no end. There’s no need to guess at whom these products are targeted and that’s the female section of the audience.
Oddly enough this strategy changes drastically in the evenings when the audience tends to be more male oriented. Adverts become more sexually explicit and during prime time TV shows, these are definitely intended to attract the male part of the audience who are always more numerous in the evenings. Craig (1991) argues that the stereotyping of gender is an essential evil which is dictated by the economic structure of the industry. This is due to the fact that the major advertisers and their respective agencies use studies which are based on the relevant demographics and which in turn show that the age and sex of the consumer is the most important indication of purchasing behaviour.
With today’s computer programmes and other scientific strategies, it is quite easy to come up with results showing that purchasing is related to television viewing habits. Thus experience has confirmed that there is a profile of a man’s ‘man and a woman’s ‘woman’ as argued by Craig (1991). This enables advertisers to concentrate their budgets on the particular TV programmes which the audience as profiled is most likely to watch. Thus Craig argues that the most economical advertising purchases are those which are inserted where the target audience is the most concentrated and which is the likelier to make that purchase.
If one had to take a typical case, it is a known fact that adverts for products which are women oriented never appear during a male oriented programme, for example a football match never includes adverts for such products as diapers. On the other hand, one never sees an advert for beer or other male oriented products during a morning soap opera. This inevitably creates the stereotype that women are suited to products dealing with babies and children whilst men are attracted to drinking beer. The way the respective adverts are produced also reaffirms traditional gender stereotyping, the woman is usually portrayed in a gentle and caring pose whilst the men are in some sort of macho pose, and this continues to create a typical stereotype. It subtly means that men can’t change nappies and it is not suitable for women to drink beer.
So Craig concludes that the best time to reach women if one has to place an advert is in the morning if she is a stay at home mum, whilst the best time to reach men is in the evening. However with the changing views of women who work, the evening is becoming an important time to reach the working woman too. Here the advertiser is faced with a dilemma since advertising for sexist products may cause disdain among the more liberal and independent opinionated woman. This balance is perhaps redressed during the transmission of telecasted sports events which take place usually in the evening and which are ideal vehicles for male oriented products such as shaving foam, cars and other similar macho stuff.
Craig’s analysis of the four commercials chosen is also instructive and interesting. Here he develops the argument of Men’s Men and Men’s Women, Women’s Men and Women’s Women. The advert for the Acura Integra is a typical case in point since it shows the stereotype of the blonde bimbo making a case for a flashy car. This commercial was transmitted during a sporting event and was thus aimed at the male section of the television audience. Everything points towards the gender stereotyping which is present in our society, the way the woman leans longingly out of the car, the rock music in the background and the exciting imagery of the car which continues to reaffirm the attraction to the male sex. The advert is certainly not aimed at the woman purchaser. The way the two young men and the blonde woman go out for a spin also reaffirms the traditional gender stereotyping where the male is largely the target of car advertisers and the woman tags along as a kind of picture postcard. Craig (1990) also found that a staggering 29 per cent of commercials which were transmitted during the weekend were related to cars and other automotive products. This reaffirms the fact that automobiles still remain very much a male provenance and the decision maker regarding the purchase of cars is made by the male member of the family.
The adverts for deodorant, weight watchers and beer continue to reaffirm Craig’s arguments about the definition of gender stereotyping in adverts broadcast on television.
Thus one may conclude that the gender images in television commercials provide an intriguing opportunity for study. Adverts are carefully constructed and portrayed to appeal to various gender stereotypes with advertisers attempting to exploit fantasies and thoughts in their bid to attract more purchasers from the audience. And the way advertising is going does not indicate any sea change in perceptions of the advertiser regarding gender stereotyping. In fact Craig insists that these have become far more subtle and creative in their effect continuing to expose the innate stereotyping of men as economic decision makers and women as pin up postcards or domestic drudges.
Craig R (1991), Men's Men and Women's Women: How TV Commercials Portray Gender to Different Audiences; Issues and Effects of Mass Communication: Other Voices, ed. by Robert Kemper (San Diego, CA: Capstone Publishers, 1992), pp. 89-100.
Bretl, D. J. & Cantor, J. (1988). The portrayal of men and women in U.S. television commercials: A recent content analysis and trends over 15 years. Sex Roles, 18(9/10), 595-609.
Craig, R. (1990, December). A content analysis comparing gender images in network television commercials aired in daytime, evening, and weekend telecasts. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service Number ED 329 217.)