Stereotyping in Ads Causes Disconnect with Young Women

Discussion
May 15, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson


An article on the BusinessWeek web site, says that marketers have gotten it wrong. Creating ads that portray young women with all the negative qualities associated with the weaker species (self-centeredness, aggression, dominating behavior, lack of emotional attachment, etc.) does not appeal to the targeted audience. It makes them question where advertisers got the idea that this is how they see themselves or that it is something they aspire to.


The technique used in ads employed by companies such as Reebok, Sketchers, and Armani Exchange is known in current adspeak as “advancing backwards.”


As the authors of the article (Catherine Small, Heidi Dangelmaier, Michelle Cuello, Victoria De Jesus, Stella Shi, Silvia Faschi, and Dianna Blanchard of 3iYing — a firm specializing in marketing to girls and young women between the ages 15 to 25) point out, “advancing backwards” is advertisers’ attempt “to put an innovative female edge into their ads by reversing and recycling old-school gender clichés”


An example of “advancing backwards,” according to authors, is an ad by Trojan’s Elexa condoms and other sexual enhancement products that position the product from the “female perspective.”


According to the Trojan web site, Elexa products were designed for women to encourage them to celebrate their sexuality while providing them a lifelong sexual journey on their own terms.


The authors argue in using the advancing backwards approach, Elexa ads take the position that women are saying to men, “‘You got yours, now I get mine.’ Elexa girls demand enhanced physical performance from their mates. There’s nothing fun, or happy, or intimate about the Elexa sensual portrayal. It’s really not even sexy. It’s domineering and resentful. It is ‘I’ focused, not ‘we’ focused. She’s a girl version of the guy we would never want to date.”


Moderator’s Comment: Is the portrayal of women in ads and commercials removed from who most women are or wish to be? Do you agree that young women, in
particular, are being portrayed as the female equivalent of the men they “would never want to date?” Are men portrayed any less realistically in ads targeted to them?

– George Anderson – Moderator

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8 Comments on "Stereotyping in Ads Causes Disconnect with Young Women"


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Andrea Learned
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Andrea Learned
14 years 9 months ago

I do think that brands targeting young women, in particular, can default to this “advancing backwards” concept. Marketers have a hard enough time targeting women, in general, and young women are an even harder to connect with. And, I agree with some of the previous comments that even ads targeting young men can be a little much. This sort of sniping humor or “you get yours – I get mine” attitude is the lazy way out. There should be ways to market effectively to any market, without the negativity.

If a marketer is doing the research, and interacting with their consumers – hearing them talk with their friends about various issues, etc.. they’ll do a much better job of connecting with their particular women’s market without alienating everyone else. This is a great discussion to be having.

barbara lilie
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barbara lilie
14 years 9 months ago
As a young woman, I disagree with the Business Week article. I haven’t seen the ads the article cites, nor have I noticed too many in that vein (except one, for a car company, in which a woman vindictively buys a billboard and posts an unflattering photo of her ex on it. That ad, of course, was awful). But what I notice more regularly, and annoys me far more, are ads that are aimed at young men in such a way that I come away with the sense that the company isn’t just ignoring my business — they actively don’t want it. Burger King, Levi and Budweiser are all examples of companies that are clearly courting young men, but could easily pick up a lot of female consumers too, if they just stuck a couple of ads in the rotation that had female protagonists or gratuitously attractive men in them. It especially surprises me, as a former college student, that beer companies (which clearly target college-aged students) run NO advertising aimed at women. And believe… Read more »
Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
14 years 9 months ago

When people (young, old, female, male, of whatever ethnic group) see ads which portray them in ways they don’t relate to, advertising in general becomes less effective because consumers figure that advertising doesn’t apply to them. If the advertising targets a specific market and you are in a position to see the ad often or if you find the ad offensive and you see it often, the same thing happens, you become part of the larger group of disaffected consumers who tune out all or almost all advertising because it doesn’t fit. If there is a debate among those of us responding about whether or not those ads fit the youth of today then what it really says is that none of us really understand all the components of the fragmenting “youth” audience.

Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Guest
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
14 years 9 months ago

There’s a Sex in the City influenced advertising style that has emerged and it has its resonance with the same women that watched Sex in the City. There’s a segment of the female population that seem to be the right target for the type of ads being mentioned. There’s a segment of women that don’t respond well to the advertising. Without any insights on results and responses, it’s hard to determine who is more important to any given brand.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
14 years 9 months ago

Although my point of reference is advertising in the UK, I should say that we see many of the same ads that you do. As far as I have always understood the theory of advertising, they are meant to be tempting and aspirational. Portraying any target audience in ways that are unattractive can never be successful. Unattractive may or may not be realistic but if it is realistic, it is the last thing that an audience wants to have in their face. On the other hand, presenting idealised representations may sell stuff but it doesn’t do anyone any good when people realise that the product advertised doesn’t turn them into the person they saw in the ad.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 9 months ago

Given the insulting portrayal of all humanity (old, young, middle-aged, men, women, children, teens) in a lot of advertising, why should young women be exempt? There’s a heck of a lot of low-quality advertising that isn’t tested for its effectiveness and certainly isn’t worth the effort. Then again, very few brands have to be universally appealing to be profitable. Why can’t self-centered ugly personalities be a profitable market?

David Zahn
Guest
14 years 9 months ago

Not sure I see the problem here as pervasively as the article suggests. There are certainly women that the ads will resonate with, just like there are ads that are targeted towards other psycho-demographics. It is not the ad that I want to rail against, it is the societal movement of selfishness, anger, and personal pursuits to the exclusion of societal/familial/group benefits.

The ad reflects the way “some” people feel. It likely is focused towards a segment of the population that think about the issues differently than the “masses” – but that is the point – trying to be compelling, controversial, and speaking to a segment of the population that has strong biases and feelings that differ from others.

The ad is likely to be effective in reaching that segment – whether that segment is worth reaching is a decision that the advertiser has to determine.

Mike Blackburn
Guest
14 years 9 months ago

The ads to me are somewhat of a chicken or the egg question. Do the ads reflect the image or the image the ads? Having a teenager in the house, I certainly see the correlation with self obsession and the “I want mine” attitude. I think the ads do accurately reflect today’s attitude, but not necessarily who these young women (or men) are or what they really want (which is timeless across generations). The attitude in today’s adolescent is more self centered than ever. It’s in the ads and its in their clothes. Whether its the “juicy” wording strung across the bum on a pair of shorts which are rolled down to reveal more, or the “bitch” wording across a tight t-shirt. 20 years ago, in more modest times, you might only see these types of clothes and slogans on women in a strip joint. Now, junior high girls wear them.

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