Connotations and Gender in Ads

Seminar Paper, 2004

23 Pages, Grade: 2,7



1. Introduction

2. Linguistic in Advertising
2.1. Connotations
2.2. Denotation
2.3. Connotation versus Denotation

3. Gender and Advertising
3.1. Women and Advertising
3.2. Men and Advertising

4. Polls
4.1. Connotations to Words
4.2. Connotations complete Adverts
4.2.1. Female Ads
4.2.2. Male Ads
4.2.3. Unisex Ads
4.3. Short Comparison of Results

5. Conclusion

Advert: BOSCH

Advert: Miele

Advert: bebe


Advert: CASIO

Advert: MasterCard


1. Introduction

In this paper, I want to point out the characteristics of connotation and denotation and their relation to advertising. First, I will concentrate on connotation. I want to work out the structure and the way it is used and then go into its role in advertising. The chapter about denotation is supposed to give an overview of denotation. Just like the part about connotation I want to point out what the term denotation means and the usage of it. After that, I want to compare both aspects in an extra chapter. The last part of this chapter then illustrates the differences of connotation and denotation to make clear in what way they are related. Chapter number three then is related to the topic of Gender in Advertising. First, I will give a general overview about the topic and analytic possibilities. Later I will go on with the topic of women and men in advertising. In chapter number four, I will come up with the hypothesis that women and men have different connotations to specific terms or advertisings. To achieve that I made two different polls, whose results are presented here. The aim of those polls is to clear if there are any differences in the connotations of each sex to simple words. Later I will go on with a poll I carried out with several male test subjects. This poll was done with printed adverts and its objective is to answer the question if men are able to assign ads to the right target group and what they associate with the respective advertisements. Another important and interesting question that I want to answer in chapter 4.2. is if men tend to feel adverts as sexistic or not.

2. Linguistic Aspects in Advertising

This part of my paper is supposed to show two important linguistic aspects that appear in advertising: connotation and denotation. The first part of this chapter treats connotation, its structure and the way it is used in advertising and how it works. The second part is about denotation. Here I want to show up its aspects and usage as well, supported by a table with a few examples. The last part of this chapter is to clarify the relation of connotation and denotation. I want to make clear, how they are related to each other.

2.1. Connotation

Connotation is a very important linguistic aspect of advertising. A connotation is the special, often emotive, sense of a word or object. It is the meaning “beyond the dictionary: the associative meaning”[1], An example is given by Nina Jahnich in her book “Werbesprache Ein Arbeitsbuch”[2]: For instance when we think of a mother, the words “care” and “love” usually come to our minds. Connotations consist of those associations that are evoked by one single word in addition to its literal meaning. Longman Web Dictionary defines it as “a feeling or an idea that a word makes you think of that is not its actual meaning.”[3] According to this definition, a connotation is the association one might have when you hear or read a word. Therefore, “Bermuda”, would have the connotations of sun, sea and sand. Greg Myers supports this thesis. In his text “Puns, Associations and Meanings”[4] he also says that a word can have more than only one single meaning, sometimes even more than two. Those meanings are often used by advertisers in the form of puns. I will come to this point later. Meyers also mentions that the meaning of words might become different if the sentence structure is changed. The full utterance of the sentence can be interpreted in different ways. Therefore, the words “players” and “please” can have different meanings: First, the sentence “Players please” (said by the advertiser) suggests that the respective product named “Players” pleases the customer. The connotation of the whole slogan therefore is that it is a good product. If you then change the word order to “Please Players”, you get a second possible way in which the words can be interpreted: Here, the speaker is the customer himself, ordering the product. The meaning then is slightly different from the first one. Since someone wants to order the product, the connotation still is a positive one according to its quality, but as I already mentioned, the meaning is different.

Just like Myers (and Longman’s definition), Guy Cook mentions the meaning of the word. He says that advertisers have a preference for using more than the denotation of a word. Although connotations are not very precise but instead variable, they are very important for advertising. Cars for instance are usually connected to men. Although a car is not very cheap, it is seen as an expensive necessity. Perfume on the other hand, is luxury, although it is cheap.

There are still not many ads for cars with a woman in it. On the other hand, perfume is combined with women.

Cook deepens his thesis by saying that connotations are community-related. They can be valid for a whole speech community (like the inhabitants of an entire country or city), smaller groups (a family, class, groups, etc.) or even just for one individual. This theory is based on the fact that each person makes his or her own experiences. Furthermore, connotations arise from the mood, age and character of a person and the respective education someone received or still is receiving. In addition, the root of the word itself influences possible connotations: its etymology, the diachronic history and other aspects - all of them play an important role. Therefore, there cannot be one definite connotation of a word. Because of this, Cook defines connotation as “variable and imprecise”.[5] Nevertheless, there can be some connotations among native speakers, based on socio-cultural aspects, which are hard to shake. A white wedding dress for instance symbolizes innocence for Europeans whereas in China it is said to be a sign for bad luck.

Guy Cook gives an example for this on page 107 of his text: Perfume is often marketed in another country than it is produced. Therefore, the consumers do not always know the definition of its name and create new connotations based on the origin, whereas the consumers of the respective (producing) country have those connotations that are usually related to the word. A French perfume with the name “Ma Grasse” is first connected to the definition “my designer label” by a French consumer. The second meaning is “my claw mark” and at last, it is connected to the perfume itself. The connotations depend on the denotation. The first term creates the connotations of “elitism”, wealth” and snobbishness”, the second one “selfishness”, “sadomasochist” and “sexuality”, while the connotations of the last meaning follow from the first ones. A consumer in England, who does not know the origins of the name, has different denotations and connotations. The first meaning of the name is unknown, since he or she does not understand French. So the indexical of it is “Frenchness”. This creates those connotations that people from other countries but France usually connect with it: “romance” or sophistication”. The second meaning that comes to the consumer’s mind is “the perfume”. The connotations of it are equivalent to the first ones. The naming of a product therefore can also be very effective.

Connotations are composed of the affective and social meaning. Edward Finegan mentions this thesis in his book “Language its structure and use”.[6] The affective meaning is meaning that is associated with a word that is based on the audience’s emotional response. It consists of the content or context of the expressions. Myers refers to Leech and defines affective meaning as “the attitude of an individual towards the referent”.[7] Just like connotations, the affective meaning may differ from person to person and reflects makes it possible to draw conclusions to his or her character and the social background.

man – guy – bloke – chap

The expressions “guy”, “bloke” and “chap” are all related to a male human and are more colloquial. Furthermore, the word “guy” is an American term, which suggests, that the speaker comes from the United States.

The social meaning is the other aspect of connotation. It is the information that is transmitted about social characteristics of their producer and the situation in which it is produced. According to this, connotation is not only influenced by personal opinions or experiences, it is also the situation which is important. A broken washing machine would not create the association of clean clothes; instead, it is more likely that it causes the thought of an expensive repair. Social meaning is therefore very important for advertising. It is necessary to use the right elements to support the actual product. An advert for chocolate that is combined with a picture of an angry-looking fat woman does not evoke the same association as an ad for the same product combined with a happy and healthy looking woman. The message of the advert would be different and in the case of the fat woman, it would not have a positive effect that encourages people to buy the product. Every possible connotation needs to be considered before it is used for promoting a product.

Puns are one exception of this thesis. According to Greg Myers, puns are very useful in advertising and therefore used very often. They help to attract the attention of readers, who are bored by a flood of adverts. Puns often appear in the form of homonyms. Those are two meanings of a word that are not related. The word “shoot” for example might be interpreted in two different ways: The first, most common connotation is to use a gun. The second one is “to take a picture”. A second example is the word “to freeze”. The first polysemy that is mentioned in Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary is “change or be changed from liquid to solid by extreme cold”.[8] Most of the following definitions are similar in their sense. So the connotation usually picks up that sense. The slogan “First shoot your dog then freeze it” therefore creates a very odd association. You might think the advertiser tells you to kill your dog and then put it into the freezer. But connected with the picture of a jumping dog combined with a camera, it becomes clear that the second meaning is more likely to be valid. The adverts want the reader to buy that camera so they could take a picture of their jumping dog and so keep the moment forever. This example shows that puns are used in a more comic and ironic way and disarm scepticism. On page 4, I mentioned it was necessary to check, what might be associated with the picture or the slogan to avoid negative connotations. Puns however work with them. They want the reader to misunderstand the intention of the ad or slogan at the first moment and use words that create negative connotations on purpose. The wrong connotation is evoked on purpose to catch the reader’s attention. Since it usually is connected to a picture, the addressee though is able to understand the advertiser’s intention.

Another, more common aspect of connotation is polysemy. Longman Web Dictionary defines it as ” a polysemous word has two or more different meanings”[9]. Myers also mentions it on page 66 in his text. It is the use of meanings of one word that are related to each other. You can find polysemy in every dictionary, because they are the numbered senses of a generic term. For instance, the polysemy of “advertising” is:

1. action of advertising [attrib] a national advertising campaign. 2. business that deals with the publicizing of goods, services, etc: He works in advertising. ○ Cigarette advertising should be banned. ○ [attrib] advertising revenue.[10]

In advertising, they are also used in form of puns, but are less surprising than homonyms are. Their intention is that the reader has a certain connotation to the phrase at first and after that switches to the other one, supported by the picture. (I already mentioned the example of the dog that should be shot above.) That switch is quite effective, because it makes the reader reflect his first connotation.


[1] Myers, Greg (1994): Words in Ads. Suffolk/Bristol. p. 68.

[2] Janich, Nina: Werbesprache Ein Arbeitsbuch. Tübingen: Narr, p. 101.

[3] 19.07.2004

[4] Myers, Greg (1994): Words in ads. Suffolk/Bristol. p. 62.

[5] Cook, Guy (1992): Discourse of Advertising. London/New York: Routledge. p 101.

[6] Finegan, Edward: Language its structure and use. Fort Worth u.a.: Harcourt Brace. p. 585 and 595.

[7] Myers, Greg (1994): Words in ads. Suffolk/Bristol. p. 71.

[8] Cowie, Anthony (Ed) (1992): Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 492

[9] 21.07.2004.

[10] Cowie, Anthony (Ed) (1991): Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 18.

Excerpt out of 23 pages


Connotations and Gender in Ads
Technical University of Braunschweig  (Englisches Seminar)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
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Connotations, Gender, Proseminar, Advertisements, Werbung, Assoziationen Werbung
Quote paper
Denise Ellinger (Author), 2004, Connotations and Gender in Ads, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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