Women are commonly used throughout advertisements today as an object of attraction. Whether it is a revealing outfit or seductive look, women’s bodies are used in order to sell products to men. When this began, magazines would publish “gendered editions so that food and beverage companies could market certain products that they hoped would appeal more to one gender than the other” (Parkin, 2007). Research by Dahl, Sengupta and Vohs (2008) supported these gendered editions because it indicated that unlike men, women will have unfavorable reactions to sexual advertisements. However, if it is in a manner that is consistent with their underlying values these reactions will be alleviated. Although it is still generally assumed that these advertisements use attractive women in order to sell to a target audience of heterosexual men, if this trend is used in a way that is relatable to women, companies can also target women as they aspire to be like the woman in the advertisement. This trend of utilizing women as objects has become even more pervasive in advertising today because it allows companies to use both feelings of attraction and aspiration in order to persuade both men and women to buy their product.
The advertisement to the left is an exemplification of this trend. At first glance, you notice the woman’s flirtatious look and pose as well as the skin she is bearing. This image of a women wrapped only in chocolate may appear to be targeting heterosexual men. But read the tagline carefully – “Indulge your obsession for chocolate”. This tagline seems to be persuading women to behave like the woman in the advertisement and indulge in chocolate too. Rather than targeting only one half of the population, this advertisement is able to play on feelings of attraction to target men and feelings of aspiration to also target women.
Despite what you may think based on their name, Filthy food company isn’t the only chocolate maker utilizing this theme. The advertisement to the right is one in a series of advertisements for popular chocolate company Godiva. It depicts an attractive woman seductively looking at the audience as she eats a chocolate truffle. The image utilizes the persuasion technique of attraction – heterosexual men who are attracted to the woman will associate the positive feelings of attraction with the product they are selling. Based on what is visually represented in the graphic, the advertisement seems to be aimed at heterosexual men.
The editor of the advertisement uses the attractive woman to appeal to that audience, but look carefully at the tagline, “every woman is one part (go)DIVA much to the dismay of every man”. In modern slang, diva is a word used to describe a successful woman who is both attractive and fashionable. With this tagline, the editor is saying that every woman has a “diva” side – a part of them that aspires to be this attractive, fashionable and successful woman – much to the disappointment of men as it means they may be high maintenance and more difficult to please. The editor intentionally engages with stereotypes about gender roles in the advertisement in order to make it relatable for both genders. However, there are some unintended effects of engaging with these stereotypes. The advertisement plays on this attraction between a man and woman, but neglects the spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations that exist furthering the gender binary and heteronormative stereotypes.
This advertisement is just one example of larger trends related to objectification and gender stereotypes in advertising. As seen in the two advertisements above, attractive women are objectified in advertising because it allows them to appeal to both genders through attraction or aspiration. The Godiva advertisement furthers this trend by playing on stereotypes of gender roles in order to further their appeal to both genders. Women read the tagline and feel empowered to be a successful and attractive woman – to embrace their own “diva” side like the woman in the advertisement and eat Godiva chocolate. Men on the other hand read the tagline and relate to the disappointment they feel when the woman they are attracted to is being high maintenance or a “diva” and needs Godiva chocolate. By engaging with the gender stereotypes that have been prescribed by society, the advertisement is playing into the gender binary and heterosexual norms of our culture.
In contrast to this series of advertisements, we created a new advertisement for Godiva featuring a homeless man on the streets. He holds a sign with the slogan, “every homeless man is one part diva much to the dismay of everyone.” The advertisement not only plays on the irony of a homeless man with a more luxurious product like Godiva chocolate, but also plays on the phenomenon that some homeless people make enough money begging on the streets that they are actually able to afford commodities like Godiva chocolate.
The Godiva series features an attractive woman in order to appeal to both genders, but this advertisement uses a homeless man as a converse to the successful attractive women in order to push back on this trend. Although the advertisement may unintentionally offend the homeless population, the presence of a homeless man in the advertisement is intriguing to both genders without having to objectify women. It illustrates that chocolate companies can appeal to the same audience without having to objectify women and normalize the gender binary and gender stereotypes used in many other advertisements today. It economically makes sense because of the effectiveness of this persuasion technique, but chocolate companies can and should think a bit differently in order to promote their products without having to promote stereotypes, gender roles and societal norms.
Dahl, D., Sengupta, J., & Vohs, K. (2008). Sex In Advertising: Gender Differences And the Role of Relationship Commitment. Journal of Consumer Research, 215-231.
Parkin, K. (2006. Food Is Love: Food Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.