Whether we choose to recognize it or not, the media plays a large role in how we define ourselves as men and women, whether we are active or inactive, happy, sad, successful, attractive or a dozen other questions regarding who and what we are. These definitions come from the images we are presented with in combination with subtle clues that both reflect and define the social culture of a given time period. Whether it is in the movies we watch, the TV programs that air nightly, the magazine stories or the advertisements that break up the spaces in between, we cannot avoid these images and cultural definitions. Because advertisers are trying to gain the attention of their target consumer group, they work hard to depict the ideals of the society. At the same time, by changing the way they combine different types of visual clues, these same advertisers can help to redefine a culture, to make it more tolerant of ecological issues, for example, or to change the way a society views gender roles. How they do this can be better understood by taking a closer look at some of the advertisements featured in a popular magazine, such as Elle (May 2009).
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To understand how the advertisements are targeted to a specific market, both in the way that they reinforce social concepts and work to define them, it is necessary first to discover who Elle is intended to reach. The magazine is an international fashion magazine with 89 percent of its readership being women. The median age for these readers is 33 with the age range extending from around 18-49. In addition, these readers are in the upper middle class economic group with at least half of its readers reporting household incomes greater than $75,000. More than half of its readers are single and have some college education and 75 percent of them are employed. The advertisements in the May 2009 issue reinforce the concept that the magazine appeals to this audience at the same time that it attempts to steer this audience toward a more ecological viewpoint.
Advertisements in the magazine tend to reinforce the idea that a woman must be young and fit a specific ideal. An advertisement for Olay Professional appears on pages 46-47 that reinforces the need for women to have young-looking skin. Although the ad is intended for the older female readers, it features a close-up of a young-looking women (maybe early 20s) and makes promises that it has strong anti-aging properties. The ad is done in primarily red and whites, giving the sense of immediacy and is formatted to appear scientific. With phrases such as ‘results in 28 days’ and ‘resignal skin’, the ad suggests that young skin is essential, but provides hope that this can be accomplished. The ad is likely effective because it appeals to the fear of women that they will be unattractive. Another skin product is advertised on page 119, this time for skin self-tanning lotion. This is a product designed to give the look of a ‘healthy, active’ tan without any of the ‘worries’ of sun exposure. The ad is done in the same shades of brown or sepia used in the first ad with a completely different effect. This time its used to reinforce the ‘natural’ look it emphasizes in the text and appeals to a woman’s desire to appear fun-loving and active. It offers a ‘revolutionary’ formula that promises ‘no streaks’ and ‘no worries’. The ad is again likely effective because of the evenness of tone seen on the woman’s skin.
Some of these products blend social expectation with alternative message. One product that accomplishes this kind of blend is Esencia shampoo and conditioner on page 173. The ad features the image of a slender and apparently younger woman with wavy long blonde hair facing away from the camera so that only her bare back and the white towel wrapped around her waist can be seen. This reinforces the standards for female beauty. At the same time, the ad features large images of the product and images of the natural ingredients it contains – oranges, almonds, etc. – that reinforce ecological awareness. The dominant colors are brown, green and white, reinforcing ideas of nature and the text reinforces concepts of the environment with continued stress on the word ‘natural’. Another similar product is offered on page 198 in the form of Burt’s Bees body wash. This product offers an ‘all-natural’ means of body cleansing. The dominant color in the ad is green with a pair of brown legs occupying the center of the page in the act of running. Again, there is the sense that they belong to a young person in that they are well-toned legs and tanned and barefoot. The ad reinforces environment with its emphasis on ‘refreshing’ and ‘fresh’ while presenting the information about the product in direct comparison with information about other products on the market. These ads are likely effective in convincing women that they are both taking great care of their bodies and taking care of the environment.
An advertisement for Target stores appears on pages 3-4 of the magazine that might originally seem somewhat odd for the target market described. Target is a general department store that sells a variety of products to the up-scale market. The double-page ad for Rogan Gregory and Scott Hahn’s clothing line is presented in shades of brown, typically referred to as sepia, which evokes a traditional, nostalgic feeling. This is reinforced by the relaxed and dreamy expressions of the models as they look off into space from a position on the beach. It makes appeals to the responsibility and environmental conscience of its market through a moralistic quote printed in the sand at the bottom of one page as well as the need for action in its statement that the line is available “for a limited time”. Key words used to help sell the product are 100% to indicate quality, organic to appeal to the naturalist and affordable to appeal to the economist. The ad is probably effective in encouraging readers to go shop at Target, but not necessarily for the clothes advertised.
Although this is a fashion magazine, a large proportion of the ads are geared toward making women feel as if they need to appear a specific way in order to blend in with this fashion world. The products are for skin care products and body care products that evoke a sense that if they are used, the woman will appear younger and more fun-loving. At the same time, though, the ads work to reinforce the idea that we need to be aware of our environment and the products we use.
Elle magazine. (2009).
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