Introduction to Semiotics
15 November 1996
Gender Issues in Advertisements
Women grapple with their perception of a ideal body because of society s imposed ideals. Goffman analyzes advertisements according to gender stereotypes of men and women. He addresses these issues in a slide show containing advertisements of women in which the body images are unattainable. The male ideal is imposed upon women through advertisements. Women traditionally take on the submissive role and exist solely for the purpose of the male sexual fantasy. The Milk advertisements exemplify a stereotype of women in our society. To promote a product such as milk, the advertisers play on the fears of women as well as their need to be accepted by men to spark a consumer interest.
One of the ways that advertisers depict gender roles is through the use of a famous female model. Models generally have 15% of the national average body weight distribution, therefore making the ideal essentially unattainable. In their frustration, women turn to the product, in this instance milk, for a way to correct their figure, perceived as unattractive. The advertisement does its job of gaining customers, but does it remain morally faithful? Kate Moss s naked body representing milk, a drink most people associate with childhood, attempts to reverse the product s image. Now milk is grown-up and maybe a little sexy.
The sexuality of the advertisement is evident because the model is naked. Her hair is semi-wet, alluding to the fact that she just took a shower. The shower makes her feel fresh and pure, just as the marketing professionals want the public to feel about milk s potential effect. One of the ways of looking at the advertisement is from the standpoint that sex is “in.” This particular advertisement focuses upon trends because Kate Moss, being the spokesmodel for Calvin Klein jeans, exemplifies the trends of our nation s fashion industry. The popular opinion is if Kate Moss says that milk is in who are we to contest it?
Thus, conflicting images of innocence and sexuality pervade the advertisement. Everything about the ad suggests innocence and purity except Kate Moss evident nudity. The letters are typed in white showing purity on perhaps a wedding day or a birth. Milk normally is associated with youth and growing up. Does growing up mean sex? According to the advertisers, sexuality mixed with innocence provides a something-for-everyone effect. The audience is free to interpret the advertisement in any way depending upon their mood, age, or personal values.
The layout of the advertisement determines some of its impact upon the viewer. The black space in the background provides a contrast with the pure white lettering and the milk glass. A camera lighting professional illuminates Kate Moss body giving her an angelic look. She is a sexy angel because of the way her head is cocked and the look in her eyes is provocative. The type face choice helps the viewer identify with a child because the letters are childlike in nature. Block form letters show how simple the choice of milk is.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the advertisement is Kate Moss milk mustache. The milk mustache supposedly brings her down to our level so we can relate to her and then want to buy milk. Relating to her provides an outlet for women who yearn for acceptance into a supermodel s life of glamour and fame, not to mention wealth. So if milk can get me power and grace, why did I stop drinking it as a child? This is exactly what the marketing staff wants the consumer to think about when he reads the advertisement.
Surely the marketers do not want the readers to pick up on the irony in the copy. The advertisement text reads, “Bones. Bones. Bones. Maybe so, but unlike 85% of girls today, there s one way I m taking good care of mine. By getting lots of calcium. How? From drinking lots of milk. 1% ice cold. And besides, haven t you heard that the waif look is out?” What is Kate Moss trying to say here? There is a play-on-words going on in the text. Some people believe that the models are severely underweight so the text suggesting bones, bones, bones is advocating the very ideal that it denies in the last sentence. How can the waif look be out if bones are in? The medium says that you can be thin if you drink milk but if you aren t thin it is okay because the waif look is supposedly out.
Goffman points out that women are treated as objects and must use their appearances to find worth. The advertisement proves effective because no one can ever look like Kate Moss. All the futile attempts will only turn up more business for the milk company. Goffman expresses the idea that women have been oppressed in their role in society where they serve only to please men. They please men in their nudity, their purity, and their body size. Women can never be happy with themselves until the advertising portrayals of them become more accepting of reality. But, if the ads become more realistic, then the advertisements aren t able to sell their self-help images. Essentially the world of morals and advertising, if the two can logically coexist, form a constant cycle.
A catch phrase common to all milk ads captures the reader. The probing question, “Milk. Where s your mustache?”, commands you to answer why you are so ignorant and have not bought milk yet. By insisting that everyone must have a milk mustache, the company instills a fear of incompetence. Soon everyone will be a milk-drinking, sexy, innocent, angel waif like Kate Moss.