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women in advertising: only charming, or also smart?

Throughout the study of the variety of marketing courses I have attended so far, I stumbled upon the observation of several advertisements that made me wonder whether the commercial storytelling reflects the male universe and the female one in a proper and realistic way.

A comprehensive study

What is the data saying?

According to a study conducted in Italy in 2013 under the appearance of men and women in advertisements, over a sample of 20,000 spots, it turned out there are different categories of representation of men and women, including:

  • Husbands – wives

  • Male professionals – female professionals

  • Sporting men – sporting women

  • Male models – female models

The study showed that 50.97% of the men represented, were a part of the category “male professionals”, 20.71% of the category “male models” and 13.20% were “sporting men”. Therefore, regarding the male universe, advertisements showed a representation close to reality: men mostly focused on their job, they fulfil themselves thanks to their skills and their determination and they dedicate the remaining time to take care of their look.

Unfortunately, it cannot be said the same as regards to the female universe. Indeed, commercials tended to show one single aspect of women: their body.

How women were represented

The 80.27% of women inside the spots taken as a sample, were female models, sexually provocative or “ornamental women”, used just to fill in the empty spots with their beauty. Most women were represented with tempting looks and alluring expressions. The woman played a double role towards the receiver: charmer towards men and ideal beauty towards women.

When the woman was not represented as sensual and charming, she often played the role of a mother taking care of her children or housewife doing housekeeping, it was rare to see her as a busy and fulfilled businesswoman.

On the contrary, it was unusual to see men represented as family men.

Have things evolved today?

Can it be said that this has changed since 2013?

Can it be said that the today’s patterns are equal and reflect the current society?

Nowadays, there is a huge number of stereotypes. The “mother-wife” is still present, even though today many women balance work and family. On the other hand, the stereotype of the sensual and charming woman still prevails on the other categories of female representations.

It is clear that the role of the women inside Italian advertisements is still far from equal. This way of representing women as mean of seduction distorts the female image, diminishing it and confining her to a role of young seducer or charming housewife. A goal for the future might be to show the actual multi-dimensional life of women: they work, they innovate, with different bodies and ages, but beautiful at the same time.

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