Analysis of Women in Advertising
(All advertisements referenced in this document can be found in The Practice of Writing, Fifth Edition published by Bedford/St Martins)
Since the advent of advertising in printed media women have been featured and targeted by various companies as a key demographic. The goal has always been the same, though the methods of reaching women have changed drastically in the last century. The image of women in advertising has evolved from primarily a homemaker into the role of the liberated woman making her own way in the world.
In a 1913 ad for Shredded Wheat we see women being marketed toward in a unique way. We see a somewhat prudish woman in a petticoat with the same hairdo we would expect our grandmothers to have holding up a biscuit of Shredded Wheat. The ad tells us that women have the right to vote for the first time in the nations history, and that theme is used to sell the Shredded Wheat. We are told that a vote for Shredded Wheat is a vote for healthy living and a clean household. The ad clearly views women as nothing more than homemakers, but is using the call to vote in the next Presidential Election as a way to sell its product.
By 1922 the image of women has grown in the popular media and ads seem to now focus more on the single woman . In an ad for Resinol Soap we see a woman wistfully gazing at a fire and dreaming of her own wedding day. The belief seems to be that a woman needs a man in her life to feel good about herself and the ad lets the women know that they will need clear skin to achieve this goal. While the image of women in general has evolved slightly in the 9 years between the first and second ads, we are still shown an image overall that a woman must find a man to be happy.
Our next piece is a Lux Soap ad from 1934. Again, the view of the modern woman has evolved, but not by as drastic of a margin as between the first and second ads. Were shown a career woman who works for a national radio station who is becoming a screen star in the new medium of film. This ad is an early example of the testimonial ad, the woman in the ad was well known at the time and she extols the virtues of the product and makes a claim to use it. This ad also seems to be an early example of todays advertising practice; telling a woman shes below the standard and that this product can make her attractive and desirable. In the ad there is a passage where the woman is told her complexion is just average, that to really be a woman she must use Lux for that Hollywood complexion.
Our next ad for General Electric from 1942 isnt even for a product at al – its just an image of a woman on a beach with her very young son gazing at the horizon. The text is a story of how she dreams of being with her husband whos off fighting in World War II, but this beach is as close as she can come to her beloved Jim. Unlike other women of her time she cant go off to the front and serve as a nurse because of the responsibility she has to take care of her young son. The ad has to be an early example of a public relations ad – an ad that doesnt try to sell a specific product, but seeks only to remind us the company is there and that they care about America and her citizens.
After the Wars end things go back to normal and we are greeted with another ad of a woman being told she needs a man in her life. A 1954 Listerine ad features a hip young girl in a skirt listening to a record player. She is a portrayed to be a nice, sweet, popular young woman, the kind of girl Richie Cunningham might take home to meet Mrs. C. We are told that to be popular, have friends, and most importantly to get Richie Cunningham to be your boyfriend you need fresh breath. What better way to have fresh breath than to use Listerine? Afterall, the girl who doesnt use Listerine will surely end up being on the bad side of a double date sitting next to Ralph Malph all night.
By 1966 the image of women in printed media has taken a dramatic shift. Given the events of the 1960s, the sexual revolution, and the counter-culture revolution one would be very surprised to see anything less than a liberated woman in popular printed media. The ad for Cosmopolitan Magazine shows a woman in what would be considered very revealing clothes for the period in a fairly seductive pose. This ad tells the female viewer she can be beautiful and smart, a woman of the time, a liberated being with her own agenda and goals. Theres no mention in the entire ad about attracting a man, which is strange when one considers that 90% of the articles in Cosmopolitan Magazine revolve around finding and keeping a man.
Our next ad from 1977 comes from Redbook Magazine and gives us a very striking picture of female power. We see an image of a woman getting out of a helicopter on the roof of a very tall building in a large city. She is wearing a stylish skirt and jacket business combination and carrying a briefcase. This woman is definitely a powerful woman and we are to believe that she got to be so powerful by reading Redbook. Images of female power were a hot issue during the era of this advertisement and it looks as if the company is looking to cash in on recent events. As women are now starting to break the glass ceiling and take on more professions once viewed as a mans job, Redbook is here to give the female viewer a guided tour on their own foray into the new and exciting world of Womens Liberation, equal rights, and equal work/equal pay.
In our next ad were greeted with a shot from behind of a woman in business clothing with a briefcase patting a businessman on the rear. The ad is for a perfume called Charlie, and the text simply reads that this woman is in fact very Charlie. The role of the woman has come full circle, no longer is she seen as sexually submissive but now as dominant. Shes obviously being portrayed to be a confident woman whos not afraid to take a chance which is quite a departure from the first ads where the woman was almost told that her entire reason for existing was to find a husband.
Our next ad is again a celebrity placement ad. In this one we see Cindy Crawford dressed in sexy clothes breastfeeding an infant on a bed covered with frilly pillows with a caption that reads Bisou Bisou Nouvelle Couture. The woman is again moving forward, being shown as a mother, but at the same time a sexy and vibrant creature. The dichotomy of the imagery in the ad is genius in its artistic qualities, leave it to a French company to create art using the medium of advertisement.
In our final ad we see an attractive young woman posing on a large billboard to sell Calvin Klein Jeans. The woman has a very man-like appearance but at the same time defined feminine qualities. We see her in a pair of body-hugging Calvins wearing an almost masculine button-up shirt and a pair of stiletto heels. With her hair slicked back and a look that just screams dont mess with me she has a very unique style The woman is definitely being shown to be a dominant femme fatale type of girl, the kind Richie definitely wouldnt bring home to meet Mrs. C. The placement of the woman in the ad is simply because she is sexy, dominant, and alluring, sex sells.
The use of women in advertising has evolved a great deal in the last 100 years, where we first saw women being shown as simple homemakers we now see women being used purely as props to sell a product. Where a woman was once viewed as a respectable mother, wife, and homemaker shes now viewed as an object, mere eye candy placed in the ad with no other goal but to look good and get the attention of the viewer. While the role of women in modern society has evolved enormously advertising agencies seem to actually de-evolved their view of the woman. In the last 100 years women have gained the right to vote, control over their own bodies through the widespread acceptance of contraceptive solutions, equal rights, and equal pay.
Ad agencies on the other hand see women now merely as objects to be used and some would say exploited just to sell a product. Its little wonder that so many women today suffer from esteem issues given the imagery of unattainable standards of supposed feminine beauty they are bombarded with on a daily basis in all forms of printed advertising. Advertising agencies believe women are nothing more than props today, place one in the proper spot and watch the product fly off the shelves, when in reality youve come a long way, baby!.