<The Gender ADs Project>
How to Read Ads
<Background: Let us consider some of the ways that we can go about reading gender advertisements.
Basic Analysis of the Layers of Meaning in Ads
A Sample Reading of an Ad Using Goffman's Approach
This blurry ad appeared in Goffman's text. At a semiotic level, we may read much about the ad regardless of the context of the product being sold or even the specific written text in the ad. The differences in the positioning of the male and the female indicate clear power dimensions relevant to our society. The male figure, by virtue of his standing above, has more power than the female who is on the ground. Additionally, the positions and angles of the two bodies also offer indications of power differences. The male's body is relaxed and confident, the female's is subservient and open. Her gesture at the male and the composition of her legs may also suggest sexual submission.
Area III: Thematic Analysis of Ads
In Advertising and the End of the World director Sut Jhally focuses on the negative impacts of advertising on our social relations and the environment. He develops a specific analysis of ads that draws the viewer to make holistic conclusions about the totality of the advertising industry. This holistic approach includes considerations of how a majority of ads stress specific visions of society, focus on how products produce happiness in consumers and project a vision of the future. Thus, another way to read ads is to consider the themes that develop in a specific medium, such as a Vogue magazine, or across a number of issues of that magazine or even across a broad spectrum of multiple magazines. This web page is focused on this holistic analysis of the themes that appear in popular advertisements. Jhally's other significant work, Dreamworlds II, also influenced a number of the themes that can be found in both music videos and popular magazine ads.
The theme of normalization is present in ads throughout the historical spectrum of magazine advertising. In practically every contemporary magazine, women, as well as men, are powerful messages about how their bodies should be.
Area IV: Quantitative Analysis of Ads
Quantitative analyses of ads focus on the number of ads that represent a particular theme in the study. For example, one might conduct an analysis of the various forms of representation, techniques of presentation and thematic issues present in male and female sports magazines. A quantitative assessment of the numbers of any of these items would give a relative indication of the social constructions present in the advertising.
Area V: Side-By-Side Comparisons of Ads
This approach to ads would use two or more ads in a comparative sense to understanding differences in the constructions of gender and sexuality in ads. A goal of this form of analysis is to understand content and thematic differences in visual representations.
A Sample Reading Using Side-By-Side Comparison
In this case, we can compare the visual and ideological construction of the woman's image on the left with the same areas relative to the men on the right. You can also view the page related to this technique at the following link.
Area VI: Ethnographic Analysis of Ads
An ethnographic analysis of ads would include (1) interviews with ad or media agency representatives as to the goals of their advertising campaigns, (2) interviews with everyday individuals to assess their understandings of the meanings of ads.
<presented by Scott A. Lukas, Ph.D.>