Examining Race and Gender in Product Marketing

Examining Race/Ethnicity and Gender in Product Marketing

By: Camila Moreno

Brief Overview

My pop culture playlist aims to highlight and examine the use of race/ethnicity and gender in product marketing and advertisement. This stood out to me in particular, and is overall relevant because of how our society functions as a whole. We are part of a very materialistic, and visual society, where looks, advertising, and consumption are extremely important. It is for this reason that I have chosen to examine both film advertisements, as well as print ads. Additionally, I felt that this was an important topic to cover because of how deeply engrained the socially constructed norms portrayed by advertisements truly are in us as individuals. Moreover, it is crucial to emphasize how society as a whole aimlessly accepts these social constructs, never deliberating to question or challenge them, but rather holds them to be absolute truths, and models for establishing normalcy.

White Washing of High-End Brands

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The white washing of high-end brands, such as Burberry in this specific example, serves to demonstrate the direct correlation society has socially constructed between race and economic standing. It is also a great example of the binary that is produced, and how being Caucasian is exceedingly superior to being of any other minority racial or ethnic grouping. By Burberry using only Caucasian models in their pre fall ready-to-wear 2013 look book, the perception and stereotypes of African Americans in particular, are only further perpetuated.

It has become commonplace, as discussed by Hall, that the typical African American can only be described and portrayed one of three ways: the typical slave-figure, as the “native,” and as the “clown” or “entertainer.” In all three of these portrayals, none offer a view of an African American who is financially successful, and more importantly as not being completely human, and thus trivial. By Burberry and other high end designer brands marketing their products specifically to upper class Caucasians, it further reinforces the notion of one race being superior to another, and further creates and enforces invisible boundaries in this regard.

Fast food Companies Tend to Use Minorities More

Fast food companies tend to use minority actors more in their commercials and print ads, which serve to reinforce the correlation between race/ethnicity and economic standing as described previously in the white washing of high end brands example. The commercial shows one Caucasian female for a fleeting moment, who, as described by Mulvey, looks longingly into the camera operating on the lens of male pleasure, and then returns to showcasing and emphasizing only African American actors.  There is also a large emphasis in mentioning the affordability of the new sandwich, making sure to highlight that it is only one dollar. Furthermore, the use of predominantly African American actors, and more importantly, only African American actors who come into contact with the chicken sandwich serves to further bolster the stereotypes of black people loving chicken, which is an example of inferential racism as described by Hall, and maps out the acceptable and legitimate behavior of African Americans as a group.

Objectification of Women 

mcdonalds_china_ad

Jean Kilbourne describes how advertisements surrounds us with the idea of what ideal female beauty is. More importantly, Kilbourne goes on to highlight the dismemberment, objectification, and dehumanization of women in a variety of different advertisements.  As mentioned earlier, Mulvey describes how film texts are produced through a lens of male pleasure, which serves to reassert male dominance over women, even women in power.

This idea provides a sound basis for the understanding of how advertisements work. Women are, as afore mentioned, objectified in many advertisements. They are treated as objects and denied autonomy. Furthermore, they are treated as a tool or prop for selling the product intended, such as this McDonalds’ ad using only female mouths to sell their product, and are in turn made into a superfluous and disposable chattel of sorts.

Over Sexualization of Women 

pine-sol-ad-2


There are certain parallels that can be drawn between this example of over sexualization of women in advertisement, and that of the objectification of women in advertisements example. Both degrade women, and focus on their sexuality, and overall desirableness to sell a product. The Method cleaning product commercial in particular plays off of a woman’s needing to be naked in order to show vulnerability.

Furthermore, it is important to bring to light how the target audience for these products is women, yet as previously described, are shot through the male lens of pleasure and are extremely phallocentric.

Gender Roles

household-cleaning-products-eucalyptus-small-51144

Sex is a biological determinant of whether an individual is male or female. Gender however, is a socially constructed concept of what it means to be feminine or what it means to be masculine as described by Brookes and Hebért.  There are assumed patterns of behavior and roles deemed to be either feminine or masculine.

One of the most obvious set of gender roles, comes in terms of what is appropriate for men to do and what is appropriate for women to do. In other words, there are certain jobs or tasks that are seen as typically male oriented, and others that are typically female oriented. This socially constructed thought functions to create a binary and also serves to subjugate women as a whole. In these specific examples, although the latter a heartwarming and cute example, shows that women are in fact subservient to men, and that cleaning is a woman’s job. If a man is present in a cleaning product advertisement, it is to show the clear distinction between his making the mess, and the woman’s responsibility to clean up after him, and essentially serve him.

Analysis as a Whole

Pop culture is studied for several different reasons. It is important to do so because of the profound effect it has on all of ours daily lives, whether or not we choose to acknowledge it.  Films, TV shows, and all other media texts, including print ads, are carefully and purposefully constructed. Actions and subtle nuances don’t simply appear in texts coincidentally, but rather do so for clear-cut reasons. Popular culture teaches us as viewers what is deemed to be “normal,” and what values we as a society should hold. These texts teach us about gender, race, and sexuality, as well as culture.

Throughout this playlist, it is clear that product marketing is not an aspect of popular culture that can be analyzed through one set outlook. Intersectional thinking tells us that identity categories are mutually constituted, and that through the marketing techniques employed by a variety of companies through their advertisements, we as viewers and consumers are told who we are, and who we should be. More importantly, they tell us how we can be happy i.e. through purchasing said product.

But, it is not only these socially constructed norms and relationships that are at play in product marketing. Race and stereotype functions, as well as gender roles and class perception also play a huge role in advertisements. Stereotypes serve as an ordering process, and a quick way to condense information. They are an expression of values held by a certain group of peoples, and are instantly recognizable. Above all however, stereotypes and gender roles serve to maintain clear boundaries, and map out acceptable and expected behavior of different groups.

As previously mentioned, actions and other subtleties are not random happenstance in popular culture texts. They are purposeful and intentional in the way in which these texts are constructed. They teach us as a society to understand certain codes, which are engrained into us from birth. These are socially constructed elements that we accept and actively participate in without thinking, and blindly accept. Everyday, we are bombarded by hundreds of different aspects of popular culture, through advertisements, TV shows, radio, social media, and a litany of other pop culture texts. These texts can be found in a variety of different locations as well, some quite obvious as in television commercials or newspaper ads, where as some not so obvious locations such as in textbook photos and flyers in the university hallways. We are exposed to and subjected to a vast enumeration of themes and ideas in popular culture texts daily. This pop culture playlist serves to identify some of these blatancies found in advertisement, and further delve into the brazenness of product marketing with respect to race/ethnicity and gender.

Works Cited

“Burberry Ready-to-Wear 2013 Pre-Fall Look Book.” OOOK – Burberry – Ready-to-Wear 2013 Pre-Fall | TookLookBook. OOOK, n.d. Web. 06 Oct. 2013. <http://tooklookbook.com/brands/burberry/ready-to-wear-2013-pre-fall&gt;.

Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Mapping the Margins.” Reading Women’s Lives. Needham Heights, MA: Pearson Custom Pub., 1999. 55-64. Print.

Dyer, Richard. “Chapter 3 The Role of Stereotypes.” The Matter of Images: Essays on Representations. London [u.a.: Routledge, 1995. N. pag. Print.

Gay, Roxane. “A Brief Retrospective of The Pine-Sol Lady.” Thought Catalog. N.p., 29 Apr. 2011. Web. 03 Oct. 2013. <http://thoughtcatalog.com/2011/a-brief-retrospective-of-the-pine-sol-lady/&gt;.

Hérbert, Lisa P. “Chapter 16 GENDER, RACE, AND MEDIA REPRESENTATION.” Gender and Communications in Mediated Contexts. By Dwight E. Brooks. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.

Jahally, Sut. “Chapter 22 Advertising & Popular Culture.” Image-Based Culture. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.

Kilbourne, Jean. “Killing Us Softly 4 Trailer.” Vimeo. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Oct. 2013. <http://vimeo.com/16741828&gt;.

Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Screen (1975); reprinted in Visual and Other Pleasures (Bloomington: Indiana University Press.) 14-26. Print.

Lorde, Audrey. “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference.” Reading Women’s Lives. Needham Heights, MA: Pearson Custom Pub., 1999. 17-26. Print.

McDonald’s. Advertisement. YouTube. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Oct. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2HmAoaQgV4&gt;.

McDonald’s print ad. Digital image. The Wall Street Journal. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Oct. 2013. <http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/AH-AB056_Beefph_20060920160224.jpg&gt;.

Method. Advertisement. ADVERTOLOG. N.p., Sept. 2006. Web. 3 Oct. 2013. <http://files.coloribus.com/files/adsarchive/part_878/8786305/file/household-cleaning-products-eucalyptus-small-51144.jpg&gt;.

Method. Advertisement. YouTube. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Oct. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-k9K8V2-Itw&gt;.

Rossie, Amanda. “AU13 WGSST 2230.” The Ohio State University, Columbus. Lecture.

Swiffer. Advertisement. YouTube. YouTube, 01 July 2013. Web. 07 Oct. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npKgaLNUOYw&gt;.

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