Analysis of the 'gendered' advertisements from the perspective of text and visuals

Essay, 2019

6 Pages, Grade: B



Gender representations in advertisements have been criticized as gender-biased and are utilized as a means for enhancing revenue of entrepreneurs. For example, beliefs such as ‘ageing is bad’, ‘fat is bad’, ‘body hair is bad’, ‘natural body odour is bad’ are promoted in advertisements so as to make the audience believe these are true (Benwell & Stokoe, 2006, p.174-175). The companies can then successful increase sales such as anti-aging cosmetics, fat-free food, hair-removal cream and antiperspirant spray. Repetitive brainwashing using advertisements can simply make the ‘actual reader’ be assimilated to become the imaginary ‘ideal reader’ that the advertisement aims to promote the goods/service to unconsciously (Talbot, 1995, p.146).

This essay aims to find out the typical characteristics of a female-centred advertisement and a male-centred advertisement, and how does advertisements usually brainwash audience practically to enhance their sales. Visuals would be mainly analysed and also texts occasionally, using the photographic art critique approach, i.e. to see how ‘vision and visual images are expressions of power relations’ by analysing how the audience see the images and how the producer exert the power of such way of seeing over the audience (Mitchell, 2002, p.172), and Michael Halliday’s Systemic Functional Grammar (Matthiessen, & Halliday, 2009). The Revlon advertisement starring Halle Berry and Noah Mills and shot by Brian Bowen Smith, and the Stella Artois advertisement shot by Annie Leibovitz are chosen for the analysis, which both are found on the internet.

Overview: Revlon – A Female-centred Advertisement

The Revlon advertisement ‘Halle Berry Wears Caramel’ (, 2015), was originally featured in the official website of Revlon and archived by in their database. The advertisement’s layout consists of the left plate, in a lighter colour and larger width, and the right plate, in a darker colour and smaller width. The left plate features the head of a couple with the male kissing and enjoy the woman’s body, in particularly the neck. A quote by the famous erotica writer in the 1930s, Anaïs Nin, appears near the lower left corner of the advertisement, i.e. “intimacy creates understanding…and understanding creates love”, (as cited in, 2015). This quote appeared in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1966–1974 and the original version was much longer, i.e. “I teach the value of personal relationships to all things because it creates intimacy, and intimacy creates understanding, understanding creates love and love conquers loneliness” (Nin, 2014, p.278). The right plate features the new product of Revlon New Revlon Photoready Airbrush Effect Makeup, which is a product of cosmetics for ladies. Text on the right plate can be divided into three parts, i.e. above the products the slogan ‘Intimacy is on’, which is designed specifically for this advertisement, below the product the name of the product and description of the product, and below the description the actual title of this advertisement ‘Halle Berry Wears Caramel’. The logo of Revlon together with the campaign name Love in On is at the very bottom of the right plate and can be deemed as some kind of word art rather than the text itself. All the text components are in capital letters of various size except the product description part, signifying that only the product description is considered as minor and all other texts are used to attract audience and convey important messages.

Revlon – Good Relationship is Largely Effort of the Female

The Revlon ‘Love is On’ campaign seems to be telling one message repeatedly: good relationship of a couple is largely the effort of the female, one Youtube video published by Revlon claimed to have found that 97% of couples have their relationship enhanced if the female do a daily makeup routine (Karsch, 2015). The advertisement concerned in this article, also does the same by cutting the first part of the original quote, which undermines the importance the value of personal relationships to intimacy and love. Relationships are something that requires the effort of both parties as they are something bilateral. The omission makes the audience think that what amounts to intimacy is the use of Revlon New Revlon Photoready Airbrush Effect Makeup rather than good personal relationships. Since it is a product for ladies but not men, it implies that it is solely the females’ responsibility to attract males. The enjoyment of Halle Berry’s neck by Noah Mills also strengthens this point by suggesting that intimacy is created by female attraction to the male, and it is the female who needs to do something but not the male. Interestingly, this approach is quite the opposite of what some scholars have found for what makes an effective and popularly-accepted female-centered advertisement in the era of the third wave of women’s movement. Lazar (2002) found out that female-centered advertisements tend to emphasize that mutual effort should be put into a relationship rather than only by females, because females tend to invest in relationships that contains more resources, i.e. the male’s academic level, wealth, intelligence, and of course including the male’s time and willingness to spend on the relationship. Females are observed to take into account seriously regarding the input on relationship by males. Products which make a fortune from females, however, cannot justify the importance of the product by emphasising mutual input because then the product becomes not a necessity. What female-centered advertisements tend to do, therefore is by first agreeing the importance of mutual effort in relationships, and then by claiming that the portion that the female has to put is much more important than the portion that a male has to put (or ‘asymmetrical gender relation’ as in Lazar, 2002, p.114). The Revlon advertisement seemed to have cut out the first part and targeting mainly on females who already agreed the importance of beauty to a relationship, rather than those who disagrees. It can be said that the advertisement has an aim to remind their current customers to buy new products rather than an aim to persuade and attract potential customers.

Revlon – One Should Look for Authentic Love

The advertisement reveals to the audience that the key to true and authentic love is intimacy, and intimacy is achieved only by good makeup like Revlon New Revlon Photoready Airbrush Effect Makeup. In short, females are told the cruel reality that for intimacy beauty matters in authentic love but relationships do not. The technique of denying one common belief and telling the audience the crueller reality is one typical strategy of female-centered advertisements. What we are taught at school are often too virtuous and when we come into the society we often see a much crueller reality than what it seemed to be. As females tend to be more sensitive to emotions and implications behind words than males, they seemed to realize this reality more than males do in realizing the importance of being ‘resourceful’ for them in a relationship. Females can hardly overlook the fact that many males cheat and have a closer relationship with females other than their original mate, chiefly because their original mate have aged and becomes less beautiful. Some scholars, such as Lazar (2002, p.117), again, realized the comparison of unauthentic love of some sort and authentic love of another sort as a common way for advertisements to make female audiences to believe in what they say. In the child-bearing advertisement produced by the Singapore government mentioned in Lazar’s article, for example, it was mentioned that ‘when it comes to love and marriage it’s all too easy to spend our lives waiting for somebody, who’s just too good to be true to appear and whisk us off our feet’, in which the false love of romance is condemned and the love between a couple maintained by the existence of a child is deemed as authentic.

Overview: Stella Artois – A Male-centred Advertisement

The 2013 Stella Artois commercial (Photo 1 of 2) (Cassidy, 2013) photographed by Annie Leibovitz features a pianist performing on the stage and under the spotlight. A woman holding a cup of the beer Stella Artois and dressed in a mermaid lies on the piano and tries to attract the male with her body. The male, rather than focusing on his performance, seemed to be focusing on the beer or the woman’s body. The upper right corner of the advertisement features the logo of the beer company Stella Artois and with the slogan ‘She is a thing of beauty’. The slogan appeared in a large number of different Stella Artois advertisements and this advertisement can be deemed as one of the advertisements in the She is a Thing of Beauty advertisement series.

Stella Artois – Sexy Woman and the Minor Male Protagonist

This advertisement is male-oriented not because of the fact it is selling beer, which is usually consumed by males, but also because of the use of sexy woman to arouse men’s interest in buying the beer. This method is called operant conditioning, and was first proposed by Skinner (as cited in McLeod, 2018), which states that after something is paired with involuntary responses for a number of times, the appearance of solely the thing paired would also elicit the involuntary response. This explains why after seeing this commercial on television several times, men would have the feeling of sexual pleasure by seeing the beer Stella Artois alone. Men would tend to buy Stella Artois because it gives them the pleasure of sex plus the pleasure brought the intoxication of beer.

While the woman seemed to be the protagonist the advertisement (as she has taken 80% of the width of the advertisement), the role of the male is relatively minor, in contrast with the case of a typical female-oriented advertisement, which very often depicts the female herself as the protagonist. Benwell (2002) noticed this phenomenon and observed that women tended to gaze at advertisements that stars women while men tended to gaze at advertisements that stars not men, but women, due to implications of homosexuality. The appearance of a man, especially when naked, need to be portrayed as heterosexual as possible by the appearance of a woman gazing him (Benwell, 2002). This is exactly what happened in this commercial. Although the man was not naked in the advertisement, the presence of the sexy woman besides him avoided the narcissist intentions that a sole man-containing advertisement tend to contain.

Stella Artois – Objectification of Female

The slogan ‘She is a thing of beauty’ is one typical example of objectification of women. The word ‘she’ is carefully chosen. The pronoun on non-alive items should be ‘it’ rather than ‘she’. The use of the female ‘pronoun’ she here refers to the beauty of the beer as in the beauty of a female. This slogan, however, not only achieved personification of the beer, but also objectification of the female. The fact it is unsure whether the pianist is staring at the beer of the woman suggests that it is equally unsure whether the word ‘she’ refers to the beer of the woman. If the beer is personified as a woman according to the description ‘a thing of beauty’, it also suggests that ‘a thing of beauty’ should be regarded as the original description of the woman (the phrase, ‘a thing of beauty’ is a complement according to systemic functional grammar which describes what the subject ‘she’ is like). Visually, the advertisement depicts woman as a thing rather than a person by rendering her mermaid-like and unmovable by placing her on a piano, which is not a place for a person to be at, and in a semi-lying position. This depiction, however, is favoured by most males. Mulvey (1989) observed that males tend to secure their power by portraying themselves as people, while women as objects, and a typical man likes to be identified as an authority with the power of controlling others, and this of course includes females, which are important for their reproductive needs.


To conclude, as exemplified by the first advertisement example above, a typical female-oriented advertisement features a female protagonist for the female audience to substitute themselves into, featuring very often the disguise of mutual effort in maintaining the relationship, but at the same time the featuring product is essential for the female side of the effort to maintain the relationship in reality, which would amount to authentic love. A male-oriented advertisement, on the other hand, does not very often feature a male protagonist, but mostly a sexy female protagonist. The male actor is portrayed as powerful (as a concert pianist in this case), while the female is portrayed as an object, and this gives the male a sense of power and a virtual ability of control when viewing the advertisement, as an attempt to satisfy them and attract them buying the product.


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Analysis of the 'gendered' advertisements from the perspective of text and visuals
Education University of Hong Kong
ENG3267 Language and Gender
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ISBN (eBook)
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Kwan Lung Chan (Author), 2019, Analysis of the 'gendered' advertisements from the perspective of text and visuals, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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