Thursday, October 31, 2013

Post #3

An ad for Equinox gyms by controversial photographer Terry Richardson
In Gloria Steinem's "Sex, Lies and Advertising" she recounts the difficulty of finding ads that fit and advertisers willing to fit the message of her feminist magazine Ms. She also highlights one undeniable fact about advertising and magazines; magazines need ads in order to remain affordable to readers. Ad revenue is also a sign of a magazine's success. Those textbook-sized September issues of fashion magazines are full of ads and advertisers willing to pay for ad space, sort of like the Superbowl of magazines. Magazines offer access to a large audience of potential customers. 

Advertisers didn't see Ms. mag readers as potential customers. She had to convince companies that women cared about technology and cars and that these weren't things that only men cared about. She even struggled with products typically marketed to women. She recounts a lunch with the president of Estee Lauder when he explicitly tells her that the Ms. woman is not an Estee Lauder woman because Estee Lauder sells the image of a "kept-woman." 

They were also unwilling to alter their ads even slightly for her magazine. She was worried about sexist images because advertisers typically present stereotypical images of masculinity and femininity and lazily rely on sex to sell products. Steinem was extremely careful when getting advertisers for Ms. because of how powerful the messages in advertising can be. Kilbourne states, "They sell values, images and concepts of success worth, love and sexuality, popularity and normalcy. They tell us who we are and what we should be. Sometimes they sell us addictions." The influence and impact of ads is impossible to ignore. Often you aren't being sold a product but a lifestyle. For example, car ads don't just sell you a car, they sell you the idea of luxury, freedom, social status or even safety. 
A controversial Swiffer Ad

Madonna photoshopped before and after for Dolce & Gabbana
When advertisers rely on gender stereotypes, sexism and a narrow representation of men and women, this is when the ads become dangerous. The women of ads are often thin, white, young and photoshopped; this skewers the perception of beauty. Advertisers even rely on sex to sell their products, exploiting and objectifying women and young girls. In ads towards men, women are often objects while men are in roles of power. In ads towards women, women are given a plethora of things to worry about: weight, hair, body hair, pores, eyelashes, lips and so on. The result is that people, from young girls to older women are lead to believe that these unattainable images are how they are supposed to look or be. Magazine covers display "FABULOUS AT 50!" beside an actress' smiling face as if it's some great feat because the women ads present as beautiful are often young; and if they aren't they're photoshopped to look that way. Thin is seen as the ideal body type and a majority of the ads presented towards women are about diet, controlling what you and are rarely about exercising or actually being healthy. 

Our current ad landscape is no different from the one Steinem had to navigate. Advertisers are unwilling to change their outdated methods. Overtly sexist images are still being used to sell everything from cars to cheeseburgers. How can we change this? Advertisers should realize that people are smart and the ads should be smart too and not rely on just sex and sexist stereotypes. They should also realize that people come in all colors, shapes and sizes and want to see representations of themselves. Lastly, if a product is good, people will buy it. 

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