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Edited by Professor John Ford

Old Dominion University, Virginia, USA

The subject for this issue's Comments documentary films Killing Us Softly,
section is the fine line between adver- Still Killing Us Softly and Killing Us
tisements that are perceived to be sexy Softly 3: Advertising's Image of Women.
and those that are perceived to be sex- We hope that you will fmd their com-
ist. When does an advertisement cross ments stimulating.
the line.? What does this mean for While it is not our goal to solicit
advertisers.? What are the issues reactions to the essays that appear in
involved.? Three experts representing the Comments section, we did receive
advertising research and practice have an excellent response from Colin
contributed their personal thoughts on McDonald, past editor of International
this provocative subject. Michele Miller Journal of Advertising, to those con-
is an author and partner in the market- tributed to the previous issue by John
ing and advertising firm Wizard of Ads, Philip Jones and Tim Broadbent. We
Steve Lysonski is a Professor of felt that Colin's response should be
Marketing at Marquette University, included in the present Comments
well known for his research involving section. Should you have any observa-
sex-role portrayals, and Jean Kilbourne tions that you would like to pass on to
is the internationally recognised us, please feel free to email them to
author and creator of the Cambridge

in the business world. With a copy of

Sexism in advertising and
Betty Friedan's The Fetninine Mystique
marketing to women
in one hand and a burning bra in the
by Michele Miller - Partner,
other, women rose up against the
Wizard of Ads, USA
female images projected in the media,
Sexism in advertising - the phrase especially in advertising. For 20 years
sounds almost quaint now in these leading up to the birth of the women's
early years of our newest century. It's a liberation movement in the US, adver-
term that harks back to the 1960s and tisers had utilised Freud's thesis that
1970s, an era when women were 'anatomy is destiny', and sought to
searching for empowerment and fight- portray a 'fulfilled' woman as one
ing for equality on the home front and whose sole function was to create a

International Journal of Advertising, 24(1), pp. 113-124

2005 Advertising Association
Published by the World Advertising Research Center, 113

Technicolor home for her husband and at Super Bowl halftime or an ad for
family. Post-World War II ads for tooth- Viagra in which a man has glowing
paste offered the solution to catching a horns protruding from his head, how
husband. Beauty cream was marketed can we tell what will work and what
with a magazine advertisenient show- won't? Perhaps it's not so much the
ing a distraught wife looking on as her message that advertisers are trying to
husband talked with a beautiful young convey as the lens through which the
woman; the masthead read, 'Does Your message is viewed.
Husband Look Younger Than You In my view, the most common error
Do.^' A computer manufacturer adver- made in marketing to women is
tised its latest product with a photo- addressing this mass demographic as
graph of a smiling housewife in her just that - an amorphous mass of
kitchen and the headline, 'If She Can female hormones that are wired to
Only Cook as Well as Honeywell Can think in a similar fashion. It is also a
Compute'. Sex itself was absent from mistake to divide this group into 'stay-
advertising, but sexism ruled. The at-home mums' and 'businesswomen',
feminist movement gripped advertis- when in fact there is tremendous over-
ing like a discus and sent it sailing into lap between the two categories. This
the era of 'You've Come a Long Way, should be the first clue that marketing
Baby'. [Virginia Slims] ... and, indeed, perceptions of what is
Now, some 40 years later, there's a 'sexy' vs 'sexist' ... should not rely on
resurgence of the term 'sexism', hut traditional demographic methods, but
with a slightly different defmition. rather the role a female consumer
Today's sexism is more closely aligned occupies when viewing a particular
with sexist, and the implications oi sex- advertisement.
uality in advertising and the media. In Here are some things that I believe
recent years, advertisers have ventured marketers and advertisers should con-
into controversial territory with their sider when marketing to women.
use of female sexual images and a
focus on distinct body parts, position-Gender difference in the hard
ing, language and sex-role portrayals. wiring of the brain. With the recent
At times, they seem to be testing how advent of MRI technology, cutting-
far they can inch towards the bubbling edge studies around the globe are
cauldron of Poor Taste before scalding proving that the female brain is wired
themselves. very differently to that of a man. There
From an American perspective, are four times as many connections
what makes our current era particularlybetween the left and right hemi-
spheres of the female brain, meaning
fascinating is that, at first glance, there
seems to be no rhyme nor reason to that women apply emotional memory
what constitutes a sexually charged and feelings to experiences (including
pain and negativity) in ways that a man
success vs a sexist failure. In this day of
Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives, simply cannot. This is a contributing
Janet Jackson's peek-a-boo performance factor in how men and women might


view an advertisement that features new phase - one that is transforming

bikini-clad supermodels mud wrest- what marketing expert Roy H.
ling over a brand of beer - men might Williams calls a 'me' generation into a
simply be 'enjoying the view' and hav- 'we' generation. Young girls today
ing a laugh at the premise, while actually have more in common with
women may see it as degrading to their their grandmothers than their mothers,
gender and the continuing struggle for and are seeking active, fulfilled lives
equality. that are very much their own and do
not conform to average societal expec-
The purchasing power of today's tations. To them, sexuality and its
woman. According to management exposure is very much like it was 40
gurus like Tom Peters and organisa- years ago - liberating, beautiful and,
tions like the Center for Women's most importantly, an expression of
Business Research, women today either empowerment as a woman. The ques-
directly spend or influence 80 cents of every tion here is, of course, who holds
dollar spent in the US (with similar sta- greater sway in what is deemed 'sexy'
tistics for the UK). So much for adver- vs 'sexist': the young female consumer
tising stereotypically male-based or the advertiser.^
products to men only. Women are now In closing, marketers and advertis-
responsible for 80% of do-it-yourself ers need not abandon 'sexy' advertis-
home products, 75% of consumer elec- ing in lieu of political correctness.
tronics, 60% of automobiles and 80% What is really needed is a thoughtful,
of all healthcare. In the 1960s, automo- comprehensive marketing plan that
bile ads for the Shelby GT asked the assigns 'creative' a back seat to strat-
question, 'Do you trust your wife to egy, focus and finding the essence of the
drive this car.^' Smart advertisers like message you are trying to convey.
Cadillac have turned this on its head LInderstand the roles that women
with a television ad showing a gor- occupy when exposed to your advertis-
geous car taking a fast drive through ing, and only then unleash your creativ-
the mountains (with a memorable, ity within those bounds. Women are
hard-driving music bed courtesy of not afraid of sexy in the right setting,
Aerosmith). The car stops, the door especially when it resonates with who
opens and the long leg of a female they are as individuals.
executive steps out to the ground.
Sexy in a way that makes the female Michele Miller is a partner in the Wizard of
consumer want to be that woman rather Ads marketing and advertising firm, ser\'-
than be alienated by her. ing clients worldwide. She is author of the
audiobook The Naturat Advantages of Women
Difference by generation, not age. and the weblog on marketing to women,
If we look at generational cycles of 'Wonder Branding', which can be found at
society as coming full circle about w^ww.
every 40 years, we are now entering a