Over the years, advertising has gained in power and taken place in people’s lives in a way no one could have ever imagined. Indeed, the modern consumer society is constantly surrounded by advertising in such numerous and various ways that it isn’t even noticed anymore and has become a part of one’s everyday life. Whether its form is a billboard on the street, a TV commercial, a radio broadcast or a magazine ad, advertising follows the consumer everywhere and cannot be escaped. Millenials more than any other generation are targeted by advertisers at any corner of the street and even followed home by social media ads. Knowing this, it can be wondered to what extent female gender stereotypes in perfume advertising are harmful to young adults ?
This question is a present-day issue and focuses on the advertising of a particular product. The work will focus on the impact it has on young adults in order to narrow the target. An answer to this question will be provided, but first the terms of the subject will have to be explained.
First of all, the central theme of this work is advertising, which can be defined in many different ways. A first defintion could be that « modern advertising seeks to promote not so much self indulgence as self doubt. It seeks to create needs, not to fulfil them; to generate new anxieties instead of allaying old ones … it addresses itself to the spiritual desolation of modern life and proposes consumption as the cure” (Lasch, 1978). However, this definition is forty-years old and thus it can be contrasted with a more recent one. Advertising can also be defined as a “brand-initiated communication intent on impacting people” (Dahlen & Rosengren, 2016). The first definition is more focused on the psychological effect of advertising on people’s behavior. It is described as a means to create the urge of buying goods endlessly without ever being satisfied. The second definition is more basic. It explains the aim of advertising and underlines that it is used by brands, a notion which has not been used in the first definition.
This work will yet focus on perfume advertising. In this way, perfume is a « fragrant liquid typically made from essential oils extracted from flowers and spices, used to give a pleasant smell to one’s body » (Oxford Dictionary, 2018). Although this product was first aimed at women, nowadays perfume is used by both genders, therefore being widely advertised. This famous product can directly be linked to gender stereotypes which are commonly and massively used to create the urge for the consumer to buy a particular product.
Indeed, “gender stereotypes are general beliefs about sex-linked traits and roles, psychological characteristics and behaviours describing women and men” (Browne, 1998). Gender stereotypes are imposing people how they should behave and are conditioning their lifestyle. However gender stereotypes can be both masculine or feminine, this study will only focus on female gender stereotypes. Women are supposed to behave in a certain way according to what gender stereotypes are suggesting and advertising is imposing them standards to follow.
This impact affects young adults more than any other generation because they are particurlarly vulnerable to the image they are conveying to other people. They allow a lot of importance to how they behave or what their wear because they want to fit in. «A young adult is generally a person ranging in age from their late teens or early twenties » (Wikipedia, 2018). Moreover, this work will underline how harmful these female gender stereotypes used in advertising are to young adults and how it impacts them.
The word « harmful » expresses a negative effect that someone or something has on another and is especially relevant when used to describe one’s health. This word was chosen to emphasize the negative aspect of advertising.
I chose this subject because each and every one of us is concerned by advertising, which makes the topic very interesting. It has become a part of people’s lives in such a prominent way that we don’t even notice it anymore and we stopped asking ourselves questions. However it is essential to be critical on things we consider normal. No matter where we are or what we do, we are constantly targeted by advertising, even unconsciously. Whether it is at home or outside, we cannot escape ads : TV shows and radio broadcasts are constantly interrupted to make room for advertising, our private mailbox is filled sometimes with over a hundred commercials a day, and even our social media is flooded with personalized advertising ; If we decide to go out thinking we will have a break from advertising, we are wrong again : the streets are filled with it. Times Square, one of the most visited places on earth, is well known for its huge electronic billboards covering bluidings from bottom to top. It is no wonder that we are impacted by advertising given how often we are exposed to it. It has even been proven that babies can recognize brand logos at the age of six months.
Moreover, I chose to focus on female gender stereotypes because it concerns me personally. Women are expected to behave in a certain way and if they don’t, they are considered as outsiders. People are not even beginning to realize how stereotypes in advertising are impacting their everyday life, perception, and behaviors. This is why I find it important to question the role of advertising in people’s lives.
In order to properly answer the question, a series of aims and objectives have to be determined. For this piece of work, the following aims and objectives are relevant to develop :
– Contextualisation (of female gender stereotypes)
– Advertising’s techniques
– Direct impact on health
– Consequence on the male behaviour
First of all, it is important to shed light upon the context of this phenomenon. Advertising emerged at a time when the press began to expend and understood that the price of newspapers could be decreased by including ads. Immediately, this phenomenon grew even more and big companies started to promote their products in the press. The invention of television also quickly became a means for advertising to target an audience.
At first, advertising was almost seen as a form of art and it even became a part of culture. Its influence grew bigger during the 50’s, a time when people saw their buying power increase and could start buying new things. At this time, women were almost always depicted as housewives and even as objects whose main roles were to keep the house clean and satisfy the needs of their husbands. Ads with slogans such as « I’d probably never been married now if I hadn’t lost 49 pounds » (The dangerous ways ads see women, 2014) were already spreading and imposing beauty standards for women to fit. Gender stereotypes and espacially female gender stereotypes have been massively used in advertising since that time. Perfume ads are no exception to this phenomenon. Women are constantly portrayed in the same ways, whether the perfume is aimed at women or men.
Moreover, it is essential to determine how advertising makes use of female gender stereotypes. Indeed, its goal is to sell a massive number of products to the highest number of consumers. In order to do so, many techniques have been developped, for example including « a statement that attracts the right type of reader, and include at least one benefit in the heading to pull the reader into the ad » (Suttle, 2018). This method is called semiotics, meaning using the right words to convince the consumer that he needs to buy a product. This is why ads have to be catchy in order to create the urge for the consumer to buy one good or the other. They have to attract the more people possible and therefore need to be appealing for the consumer.
Another widespread technique is selling through sex. Many perfume ads are staging sexual relationships in order to attract the consumer. Perfume is supposed to have a pleasant smell and therefore if one buys a particular perfume, women will be attracted to him. Indeed, « when ads are more sexually provocative, men in particular are irresistibly drawn to them. It’s simple genetics. Men respond to sexual images. And if your ad creates a sexual situation, it will get the desired response » (Suggett 2018). This shows that advertising developped a technique based on the human reaction in order to sell. It does not sell reality, it sells what people want.
3.3. Impact on health
Furthermore, female gender stereotypes in perfume advertising have an impact on women’s health. Ads are constantly showing women what the perfect body should look like, even if it is physically impossible to have. Indeed, ads are always photoshoped to make a model look flawless or thinner, which is not always obvious for the consumer. One of the most shocking examples is a Ralph Lauren ad showing a model whose head is bigger than her pelvis, which is « an anatomical impossibility » (The dangerous ways ads see women, 2014). The constant use of photoshop to make female models look slimmer created an obsession for women to be increasingly thinner.
Not only is it unhealthy, it also contributes to the increase of mental disorders which are directly connected to the abusive seek of weight loss. The spread of anorexia was built up by advertising and its culture of the « I’m not good enough ». This disease has indeed become common among teenagers, as “sadly, research has shown that one of the main wishes for adolescent children is to be thinner and “fit”” (Objectificationofads, no date). Apart from anorexia, « 50% of teenage girls will engage in unhealthy weight control behaviors » (James, 2017) which include bullying or binge eating for example. Advertising is devastating, especially for young girls because they begin to have a low self esteem from a very early age.
3.4. Consequence on the male behaviour
Although the impact of female gender stereotypes in perfume advertising seems mostly to impact women, the hidden part of the iceberg concerns the male behaviour. Indeed, men are conditioned since the youngest age by advertising to think in a certain way. The constant exposure to female gender stereotypes in advertising changed men’s behavior towards women. As a matter of fact, women in perfume advertising are often objectified, depicted as sex objects or as trophees for men to grab. It is common to see slogans such as « real men get more » depicting a naked woman engaging a sexual relationship with a man because she was attracted to the perfume’s smell.
These marketing techniques led among other things to the rise of despicable behaviors towards women. In this way, it can be argued that “the mass media has become the lens of mankind… through which men see; the medium by which they interpret and report what they see. It is the semi-organised source of their very identities” (Vigorito & Curry, 1998). Men are exposed to these sexualized ads from a very young age, which condition their future behavior towards women. In this way, female gender stereotypes in advertising not only have an impact on people’s health, they also play a huge role in the behavior one follows in his relationships.