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An Observation into the representation of males and female in British advertisements Assignment

An observational study was conducted to test the hypothesis that there is a marked difference in the way men and women are portrayed in British advertisements. A total number of 52 advertisements were recorded and observed for the following categories: sex of central character; sex of background character; type of argument given by central character; credibility of central character; role; product type and location. There were only slight differences in the way men and women were portrayed. The observations were compared using the chi-square test, however the differences were not significant.


The media plays a vital role in our society, especially in developing people’s opinion and their attitudes. It has an intensifying effect on its viewers, which in most cases is children and sets the trend as to how everyday life should really be. Advertisements are also a powerful source of information. One can see that the advertising world “labels” many people. Advertisements emphasise the point that if you buy a particular product charm, comfort and cheerfulness will be yours, whereas this is highly unlikely! The media not only develops people’s opinions but advertisements also portray images, which reflect society’s attitudes.

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Murray et al (1972) note that television is an important agent of socialisation, hence television advertisements are likely to play an active role in shaping cultural values (Manstead & McCulloch 1981). Advertisements publicise products, therefore the best way to do this is to produce advertisements, which reflect society, and it’s values (Millum 1975).

Thus, the present study centres on sex role stereotyping in British Television advertisements. The analysis of television advertisements should support Millum’s notion that advertisements represent the cultural values of society. In general, ‘sex stereotypes’ s indicate a ” structured set of beliefs about the personal attributes of women and men” (Ashmore & Del Bora 1972, p.222). It is these stereotypes which have distressing effects on individuals. For e.g. women in advertisements play the roles which the product demands. They are seen as slim, attractive, successful and happy with men. In society, girls and women worry about not accomplishing and achieving these roles. This can lead to and result in depression and lack of self-confidence. This may also explain why today, many women are concerned with dieting and slimming and why anorexia and bulimia affects a large Number of teenagers.

Bandura argued that our environment influences behaviour. He believes that modelling, that is observational learning is very important. Bandura maintained that observation is vital in learning. He emphasises that through observing behaviour and the consequences of particular behaviour, humans learn how to interact. He conducted a number of experiments to test whether children who watch powerful or attractive models behaving in certain ways are more likely to behave in similar ways themselves.

Bandura (1985) also put forward the notion of vicarious reinforcement, which states that the imitation of behaviour depends on whether the model’s behaviour is rewarded or punished. In addition, Bandura stipulated that human behaviour is self-regulated. Individuals develop behaviour standards or moral codes through observation. Through self-regulation, the individual will analyse their behaviour against these standards. If their behaviour fails to reach the standard, it is evaluated negatively. Yet if their behaviour complies with the standards it is evaluated positively.

Durkin (1985) also emphasised the importance of role models. He argued that television models are particularly salient to children for sex role socialisation. Durkin (1984) conducted a study where young children watched a selection of television material, which showed male and female stereotypes. Durkin interviewed the children about the material and concluded that children are able to develop ” scripts of sex roles, which are often consonant with the stereotypes perpetuated in television.” Nevertheless, Durkin emphasises that extensive research is required in order to investigate this connection. Durkin (1985) has also analysed British television advertisements. Durkin (1985) found that men and women were portrayed very differently. In general, women were not shown as frequently as men were. Moreover, they were less likely to have leading roles.

It has also been found that usually women are shown as a mere “addition” to men or portrayed as subordinate to men (Hennessee & Nicholson, 1972; Manstead & McCulloch, 1981). Hennessee & Nicholson (1972) also note that women are shown in a dim manner and portrayed as sex objects. A number of studies have found that men are more likely to be used for ‘voice-overs’. One reason for this may be because the ‘voice-over’ provides authoritative information which is an essential feature of advertisements (Dominick &Rauch, 1972; Pyke &Stewart, 1974; Culley & Bennett 1976; Maracek ET al, 1978; Knill ET al, 1981; Manstead & McCulloch, 1981).

Manstead & McCulloch (1981) wanted to investigate sex roles in British society, today; hence they analysed a sample of British advertisements. They found that men and women were shown in remarkably different ways. Manstead & McCulloch (1981) stipulated that this suggests that these differences found in the portrayal of men and women correspond with the traditional sex role stereotypes. Their study was an extension of McArthur & Resko’s (1975) analysis into the content of American television advertisements.

McArthur & Resko (1975) noted that in american advertisements only 14% of women were “experts”, in contrast with 70% of men who were shown as “experts”. Moreover, of the central figures who appeared in occupational settings, only 11% were women (McArthur & Resko, 1975). They compared this to the American labour force where women comprised 37% of the labour force (1969).

Harris and Stobart (1986) conducted a study which was an extension of Manstead & McCulloch’s (1981). They made small changes to the categories, and also added two new categories to the original data sheet used by Manstead and McCulloch (1981). Once again, Harris and Stobart (1986) found that there are many deviations in the way men and women are portrayed. Moreover, these differences are consistent with the traditional sex role stereotypes. In addition, they noted that this phenomenon is much more evident in the evening when compared to the daytime. Harris and Stobart (1985) concluded that this phenomenon is unusually complex, in that the way men and women are shown change during the course of the day.

Peter Golding has conducted more recent research into the general election of 2001 at Loughborough University; he reported his study in The Guardian (2001). Golding et al concluded that during the first three weeks of campaigning, women were rarely shown. Their data summary is as follows:

* 91% of politicians were male- 9% female

* 17% of politicians relatives shown were male- 87% female

* 50.5% of celebrities shown were male -49.5% female

* 92% of city/business people shown were male- 8% male

* 81% of the other professionals shown were male -44% female

One can argue that society still constrains women to adapt to certain roles. A role of the housewife or the mother whose only priority is to ensure the house is clean and the meal is at the table. The media creates a deceptive appearance of equality, yet it still continues to support women’s traditional role at home. Consequently, the aim of the present study is to replicate previous studies like Manstead & McCulloch (1981) and examine the portrayal of males and females in British television advertisements.

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