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Advertising and Gender Roles


There is a widely held opinion among many sociologists and psychologists that advertisement can be considered an inseparable part of our consciousness. In fact, this statement can be easily substantiated by the statistical data, provided by many researches, according to which, an average American citizen is literally hunted by commercials. For instance, recent researches conducted in this field have proved that five out of ten would-be customers base their decision to buy or not to buy some good only on the quality of the commercial or advertising. Probably, this is the main reason why so many companies spent millions or even billions of dollars on advertising. But, the techniques and methods employed in advertising are unknown to the vast majority of people.

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Thus, it is of crucial importance to show the way in which advertisements influence our consciousness, and how it can be interpreted from the point of view of psychology and sociology.

Overall, it is quite possible for us to say that that practically every advertisement is based on the so-called transference of meaning, in other words, a would-be consumer tends to associate some product or commodity with a certain image or probably it would be better to say symbol, and this stimulates his desire to purchase the product (Clark, p. 45).

Media Influences

Mass media, especially television imposes certain stereotypes on our consciousness and the most interesting thing is that we take these stereotypes as examples. People do everything to become closer to these icons. This peculiarity of human consciousness is the cornerstone of advertising industry.

As far as gender roles or gender stereotypes are concerned, we can say that they have always been a very expedient way to stimulate our desire to buy. There are some standards of behavior and appearance for men and women and every person has to meet them.

It is quite possible for us to describe this images or icons that we are so used to worship. As far as the image of woman is concerned, we can say that under any circumstances she must be elegant, tender, and what is more important sexual. This is the most important feature for the advertising industry. The easiest way to make would-be clients to buy some products is to arouse their deepest and most ardent desire (Danese, p. 76).

As regards male image, it is quite possible for us to say that mass media try to impose the following stereotype on our consciousness. According to popular culture, a male must be strong, powerful, and naturally physically attractive.

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Another feature of any advertisement is that it must be pleasurable for our eyes and ears; this is where gender roles and stereotypes become very useful. On the whole, it serves double purpose: entertains the viewer and stimulates his or her desire. This technique, employed by advertisers was eloquently described in the book “Signs of Life in the USA”, written by Jack Solomon and Sonia Maasik. The authors describe it in the following way: “Associating a logically unrelated desire with an actual product can be called the “commodification” of desires”(Maasik, p.146 ). Overall, we can say that advertisements, which use gender stereotypes create some illusion of beauty and sexuality, thus we can arrive at the conclusion that we illusions but not products.

Perhaps it would be better to substantiate this statement by some examples that show, how gender role stereotypes are used in advertisement, and how we are deluded by this technique.

Poster of Dolce and Gabbana

The first commercial, which we are going to discuss, is the famous poster of Dolce and Gabbana. The first thing, which should be mentioned, is that this advertisement represents practically every article of clothing that this company produces. Speaking about its target audience, we say that it mostly refers to relatively young and well-to-do people. This poster represents both male and female stereotypes (See picture 1). Nevertheless, its key feature is sexuality. This mechanism works in the following way, the would-be customer begins to associate the image with the product. Thus, such notions as sexuality and style on the one hand and the clothes made by Dolce become practically interchangeable. Thus, we may see that the main technique is the transference of meaning or false association. This advertisement would not have been so successful if it had not picture icons of male and female beauty. Philosophers have always believed that beauty is a subjective notion and it entirely depends upon the person, but the advertising industry has managed to prove that even beauty can be measure up.

Advertising Lynx shower gel

As we have already mentioned before, the main peculiarity of such kinds of advertisements is eroticism. In point of fact all of these products, if they are not connected with the popular icons have nothing to do with sexuality. For example, if we take the commercial advertising Lynx shower gel (See picture 2), it is quite possible for us to see that it is the image of woman, that makes this product so desirable. Instinctively, every woman tries to copy this image. It seems that buying this gel is one way to do it. Thus, we can observe the same misconception. We simply confuse the product and the image.

Product of Calvin Klein

Such American fashion brand is also renowned for its skillful use of male and female icons in the advertisements. The technique used in this advertisement is practically the same, except one distinctive feature. It is male-oriented commercial. We see the image of powerful, strong and at the same time attractive-looking man, who practically exudes strength. It is not surprising that, men usually take such person as an example (See picture 3). Naturally, every product of Calvin Klein is associated with this icon.

The same principle was applied in the commercial of Abercrombie and Fitch. The male, shown in this commercial can be considered as the modern Apollo, the embodiment of strength and beauty at the same time. He is the person, who keeps everything under control but who can be gentle and tender. Probably, it is a far-fetched conclusion, this is the impression that this advertisement produces. Naturally, every man wants to meet such standard.


Thus, having analyzed the role of gender stereotypes in the advertising industry, we may arrive at the conclusion that this technique is mostly based on the false association or as psychologists may call it transference of meaning. There is a tendency among consumers to confuse the product and the image. We are made to believe that purchasing certain products will help us meet or at least approach certain standards of physical appearance.

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  1. Clark, Eric, “The Want Makers”, Viking, 1988.
  2. Danesi, Marcel. “Understanding Media Semiotics” London: Arnold; New York: Oxford UP, 2003
  3. Sonia Maasik, Jack Solomon. “Signs of Life in the USA Readings on Popular Culture for Writers” Bedford/st Martins 2008.


Dolce and Gabbana
Figure 1. Dolce and Gabbana
Lynx shower gel
Figure 2. Lynx shower gel
Calvin Klein
Figure 3. Calvin Klein

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