Advertisements are a definitive way to identify cultural norms and expectations in society in the modern day.  Through the use of color, gender identification, and other various methods that help to target certain audiences, ads can penetrate and suffuse the waking hours of individuals in a manner that normal word of mouth and exposure cannot. Even through flashes and glances in which an individual notices an ad their attention will be taken in by the colors, the efforts at emphasizing gender, and the manner of identifying with what society thinks is normal.  Advertisements lend an identity to society that otherwise would not exist.

Femininity within advertising is a huge and very obvious hook that shows up in many different venues, though the message is usually clear and to the point that women in society are not good enough as they are.  Only through purchase and/or use of these products that are being advertised will individuals, women in general, be able to reach their full feminine potential.  Through legitimizing myths that demand that society in general take note it is assumed that those who use such products to their maximum potential are deserving of their current status and prestige (Crymble, 2012).  Throughout the years advertisers have developed a very focused and driven campaign to not only target women, but to emphasize the view that their products are designed to enhance a woman’s feminine beauty and grace and thereby empower them to become happier and more fulfilled.

In both ads taken from the same magazine it is implied that women need to use the

products to stave off very real physical effects that require such beauty aids to alleviate.  Dry

skin, wrinkles, age spots, and other common skin maladies that are a result of aging and hard

living are considered by many in society to be unacceptable and even ugly.  In creating

advertisements that feature not only soothing and calming colors but also a very detailed

explanation of what the product can offer, the Neutrogena ad makes a ubiquitous promise that anyone using the product will experience a refreshing rejuvenation that will leave them feeling content and even revitalized.

With such ads it is necessary to understand how consumption can showcase gender, race, and even class subjectivities that are often used to maintain a patriarchal system that determines how gender is defined and thereby targeted (Sandlin & Maudlin, 2012).  It is possible to note that that consumption has historically the acts of such constructs as shopping and even consumption have been made to be female-dominated domains.  Through use of popular models, celebrity endorsements and other such methods advertisers have sought to reach women on a level that speaks to their role within society.  Displeasure, a need to belong, and even outright disgust concerning how women appear at times tends to drive the need for such advertisements and the products they seek to push upon women.

The effectiveness of these ads tend to be where they are seen and how often they are viewed. In magazines and on television the circulation is often great enough to achieve maximum exposure, though even on the sides of buses, upon the outer walls of buildings, and in other locations that experience high amounts of traffic it is evident how the push towards depicting women as consumers and shoppers has become the overall theme to advertising.  When the ad displays bright colors and appealing images it is likely to become even more popular and resonate with the general public. But when a well-known and respected celebrity is used to push the product that popularity helps to bolster both sales and the likelihood of repeat business.

This is the case of the second advertisement observed for the purpose of this report.  In

the copy one is able to see popular comedienne and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, an icon in

the business that has long been seen as a role model of sorts to women.  With her inclusion into the advertisement the company, Cover girl Olay, is able to reach a broader base of consumers, still women, who are thus better suited to relate to a woman such as DeGeneres.  The reasons being are that she is not a beauty queen, she is not a top model, nor is she considered beautiful by many traditional standards. Yet she is a Cover girl model by dint of being selected to represent the company in such a manner.

Furthermore the ad makes claims that it can reverse the aging process through application, virtually erasing wrinkles and age lines through its new formula that allows the makeup to blend and suspend, not sink into wrinkles.  In any case this supposed anti-aging ad is similar to the Neutrogena ad in that it makes bold claims that are supposedly substantiated by professionals and proven by the scientific process. Both claim to have the ability to refresh and revitalize aging skin, though each product goes about this in its own way.  Yet while the Neutrogena ad uses cool, refreshing color to signify its intended result, the Cover girl ad awash in shades of regal purple that speak of prestige and a vague hint at elitism.

The ideas of what it takes to be a real woman, a desirable woman, within society have

changed quite drastically since the advent of advertising, though between these two ads it is seen

that one of them is more inclusive when it comes to gender while the other is more specifically

driven towards female consumes.  The images conveyed within the ads are suggestive of the

validity of the products being sold, but through imagery and wording it is determined which one

are definitively feminine and which one could be for either gender.  The Neutrogena ad is

essentially neutral as it shows neither men nor women and could be utilized by either, while the

representation of Cover girl Ellen DeGeneres and the mere fact of the company name speaks to

women alone, telling them that their bodies and faces are not good enough has they are.  This in

turn offers up a conceptualized idea of what is desirable (Blair, 1994), all but demanding that women realize that the product will make them more socially acceptable to others.  It is a trap that many women, already lacking sufficient self-esteem, tend to fall into.

Considering that the selected ads are found in O, The Oprah Magazine, it is both a bit surprising in regards to one and completely acceptable to believe in the case of the other.  For Neutrogena it is easy to assume that such a magazine as O would promote such a product, if only for health reasons and not vanity.  In regards to the Cover girl ad it is a bit odd to think that a magazine that glorifies the empowerment of women and the acceptance of their own natural selves would promote a product that is in a sense claiming that women are not perfect as they are.  Yet it is not surprising given that the desired audience is women, and O is one of the perfect modes of exposure available.  The assumption would have to be that very few men read O, and as such it would be a perfect venue to advertise for women.

The contrast that exists between the ads and the magazine itself are not so obvious that they will be picked up on without pointing them out.  Considering the source of the magazine in which they are found both products are acceptable both in context and placement, but it is when one looks upon the fundamentals of which the namesake of the magazine operates that questions begin to arise.  Oprah Winfrey, a longtime talk show hostess, has for quite some time been an advocate for women and how they perceive themselves.  While on one hand she has been seen to declare that women are strong, powerful, and beautiful as they are, she also has no trouble promoting products that can help women to be even more beautiful and confident in their own bodies.  It is a mild contradiction of beliefs in all honesty, but one that has much larger ramifications to society as a whole.

Barring that, the messages given to society through the use of such advertisements varies

in relation to the individual viewing the piece, though there are a few common threads that can help to tie the overall emotions and reactions that are invoked upon viewing such ads.  For many it is indifference, and this includes largely the number of men and even children that read such magazines simply because there is nothing else to look at in that moment.  For others however the ads might only be interesting for a few moments but will carry a greater message that is relegated to long-term memory, allowing it to be retrieved at a later date when it is needed.  When looked at from an analytical perspective such ads are often meant to be seen and considered (Kang, 1997), but ultimately passed over in favor of the magazine content.

It is a tactic that many advertisers use, utilizing color, graphics, and other tools to capture the attention for a few breaths before the consumer moves on to the next object or line of script that grabs their attention.  This is the manner in which advertisers seek to plant the idea that life as people know it is not complete or as good as it could be without their products. In the case of the advertisements used the advertisers are stating that in order to look younger and more refreshed their products are necessary and can bring about the desired results that are described within the text.  What will not be said is that these products are not a necessity for life or peace of mind, as this would be contradictory to what they are attempting to relay to the consumer.  Advertising is another manner by which to increase a company’s profits, and a rather vital one at that considering the level of competition for consumers.

The identity that is granted to society by advertising is typically one that is highly superficial and unnecessary. However, it is more than the needs of the masses that advertisements satisfy.  In reminding society of what is acceptable and what is considered desirable, advertisements reaffirm the social identity that people work so hard to create.  Advertising lends aid to the given identity a society wishes to display.


Blair, K. (1994). Selling the self: Women and the feminine seduction of advertising. Women and

Language, 17(1): 20

Crymble, S. (2012). Contradiction Sells: Feminine Complexity and Gender Identity Dissonance

in Magazine Advertising. Journal of Communication Inquiry, 36(1): 62-84.

Kang, M.E. (1997). The portrayal of women’s images in magazine advertisements: Goffman’s

gender analysis revisited. Sex Roles, 37(11-12): 979-996.

Sandlin, J. & Maudlin, J. (2012).  Consuming pedagogies: Controlling images of women as

consumers in popular culture. Journal of Consumer Culture, 12(2): 175-194.



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