People are exposed to hundreds of commercial messages everyday. To stand out in the visual pollution, advertisers expose consumers to ‘images’ that connote sexuality. By turning someone into something, objectification encourages the use of such images to arrest the human intelligence. John Berger’s text, Way of Seeing, places due emphasis on the objectification of women in traditional oil paintings and how it has now come to advertising photography. Susan Bordo further exemplifies the gender ideology that plays in most ads.
With rapid advancement of technology, the world is becoming a global market place where people have common basic needs, wants, desires and dislikes, no matter where they live. Advertising began with word of mouth publicity. Over the years, the word ‘advertisement,’ which initially meant information of any kind, has evolved into a business announcement crafted with the help of social sciences like sociology and psychology and research tools like motivation and operations research. The mass media has further augmented the reach and influence of ads. Apart from generating awareness and influencing the buying behavior, ads are also capable of persuading people to think in a certain way. By capturing their feelings and emotions, ads lead potential consumers into buying the product.
New products use puffery, or exaggerated and impossible claims that usually appeal to some hidden psychological needs in humans, to influence human psyche and to stand out in the competitive market. Weasel claims contains the ‘weasel word’ that negates the claim. For example, “BEANO- Helps stop gas before it starts.” Here the word helps acts as the weasel word. For many products, there is no difference between one another. For example water, cigarettes, soaps, etc. These are known as parity products. They rely on creating a non-existent difference, a matter of perception. Images have the ability to clearly and quickly show the customers what the advertisers want them to see. They easily get linked to the value or the promise the product tries to sell.
It is what advertisements do to people rather than what the product does for the people that makes the purchasing decision. More than products, advertisements sell promises and hopes. Buyers imagine themselves transformed by buying the product and crave for this transformation which ultimately makes them buy the product. There is generally an affinity towards products that depict women in their advertisements. From cologne, toiletries, automobiles, dress materials, etc they endorse 80% of the advertisements. The reason why women have become indispensable to advertisements is the glamour that they portray in the ads. The success of the ads that use women may be an answer to the prurient desire.
Naomi Wolf, an author and political consultant, in her book, The Beauty Myth, relates the ideal of beauty to the Iron Maiden a torture device that encloses its victims. Like the Iron Maiden, the ideal beauty tortures women all over the world. Bleached white teeth, blemish free skin are often an illusion created by photographers. By making women compare themselves with the glorified perfection of the Iron Maiden, the ads lower their self esteem and offer it back when they buy the product.
To think of or represent an idea or emotion as if it were something that actually exists, forms the basis of objectification in ads. Portraying women as objects of desire is perhaps the most degenerated form advertising. The display of women’s bodies to sell products is essentially a cheap ruse of marketing strategy that tries to create a strong emotional connection. The graceful attractive figures are employed to capture attention which the advertisers expect to be transferred to the product. The ads of Calvin Klien, a range of clothesline, tend to objectify woman by portraying them in suggestive postures. It more like saying, buy the product and get the girl. Women’s bodies are equated with objects and are presented as rewards for consumption. Through objectification, these advertisements devalue women as people and encourage sexual exploitation. Advertisements take the dehumanization of women further by focusing on body parts, where women are reduced to a mere assemblage. The nudity of women has also proliferated in ads. A nude model was featured in an anti anorexia ad in 2007. Women are depicted in a quite different way from men-- not because the feminine is different from the masculine -- but because the 'ideal' spectator is always assumed to be male and the image of the woman is designed to flatter him. (Berger 63-4)
Berger suggests that sexuality is used, either explicitly or implicitly, to sell things. The message it conveys is that being able to buy is the same as being sexually desirable, or loveable. The perfume ad of Sean John’s Unforgivable Women exemplifies gender inequality, the male dominance and female objectification. Ads like this reinforce the idea that a woman’s body is an object. Men’s bodies too are no longer immune from exploitation. Feminine elements have also being added to the concept of manliness. This kind advertising has corroded the value system of the society. It tries to sell illusion instead of products. An individual is always trapped between what he is and what he would like to be. The advertising makes him dissatisfied. When the advertisements portray a product as something that is likely to fulfill his ‘what he like to be’, it clicks. The use of art in advertising promotes two almost contradictory things, cultural refinement and consumerism. Advertising understands the link in oil painting between the work of art and the spectator-owner and uses these to flatter the spectator-buyer.” (Berger 1972).
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Both John Berger’s and Susan Bordo’s work has been interpreting and preserving the art, understanding it and ensuring its right usage in mass production and dissemination like advertising. They both have tried to construe how people see and read images.
In Beauty (Re)discovers the Male Body, Susan Bordo writes, “Think of [advertisements for men] as advertisement[s] of what it means to be a man,” and with regard to women “it’s the “business” of all of us to be beautiful.
Bordo examined the depiction of gender in advertising and concurs that men are usually portrayed in a muscular and powerful manner. Male bodies take over in the ads. For women, the focus is on elegance, poise and attaining a feminine ideal of beauty and the women’s beauty being judged. She presents an argument that the gaze and position of men in advertising give off a message of masculinity. She describes the gaze, and how it can show dominance. The male models are the objects in the advertisement and meant to create a certain reaction depending upon there position. There is the “face up, face down, and stare down” (Bordo 182).
Our understanding of the male and female roles is molded by the irresistible influence of advertisements. Berger states, “The way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe…we never look at just one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves” (Berger 1972).
Ads reinforce the attitudes that exist about women and men in a way that they reflect our social world to us, confirming social categories and relationships that are familiar to us. Advertisements direct the formation of attitudes in that they are an omnipresent influence on the development of an individual’s social consciousness, both competing and cooperating with all the other sources of social knowledge, such as family and school. Being aware, of what attitudes are communicated through advertising images, and how they are communicated, is a crucial step towards countering the effects of these images both in our own lives and in the communities that we serve. (Hawkins 2004).