Advertisements: Sex, Religion, and Sales

Advertisements, What do they Really Mean?

Sex sells or so many of the magazines, TV shows, and music video producers seem to think. Many messages portrayed in TV commercials, magazine ads, and music videos are degrading to the image of men and women. As well, many falsely advertise by using Photoshop to enhancing people to create the “ideal” image, which slims, sharpens, or altogether changes the look of the person. This false identity of the perfect person is hurting the self-esteem of men and women who try to attain an unattainable look. The increase in the provocative and sexual print advertisements and TV advertisements begs the question of the Christian perspective as well as understanding the messages that are trying to be portrayed behind the advertisements.

The year 2011 proved to be one of the most provocative in the realm of advertisements. After choosing six different advertisements there are definite similarities in all of the promotional strategies and tactics used to portray the messages. The first advertisement showed an almost naked image of the superstar singer Rihanna, which targeted both men and women from late teens to early thirties. In this particular underwear advertisement she is not only selling the product, but the image that comes along with the product. The advertisers wanted to reach an audience to say their products are sexy. With the body posture and the amount of skin being shown portrayed the ideal image of a woman in her undergarments. The gender message depicted in this advertisement showed women are vulnerable and powerless and their self-concept is based on their appearance and body type. To further understand the messages displayed in the advertisement, Jean Kilbourne from the video Killing Us Softly 4, mentioned, “Women’s bodies are turned into objects and of course this affects female self-esteem. It also does something more insidious, it creates a climate where there is widespread violence against women…Turning a human being into a thing is almost always their first step in justifying violence against a woman.” Rihanna’s body became another object in the car and was presented with her bra falling off the arm giving the idea that the undergarments were not meant to stay on the body showing she is ready to be “used”.

The second advertisement analyzed was also from Armani, which featured Rafael Nadal the famous Tennis star. In addition, he was also dressed only underwear, which also targeted the men and women late teens to early thirties market. For a man who views his image as strong, confident, and sexy, this advertisement of a solitary strong man depicts a positive self-concept. The gender message says men are always confident and sexy. Posture has a significant affect on the image of the model in an advertisement. For both these particular advertisements current famous stars were chosen to represent the same brand. This concept is further explored by Judith Williamson, she explained, “The product, which initially has no ‘meaning’, must be given value by a person or object which already has a value to us, i.e., already means. Therefore at this stage something about the product is being signified and the correlating thing or person is the signifier.” Both Rihanna and Rafael created sex appeal and significance for both of the advertisements and changed the concept of underwear into much needed sexy image changing products.

The third advertisement analyzed showed a different message altogether. The magazine advertisement by Ann Taylor targeted an audience for late twenties to upper fifties. Being a women’s fashionable, but professional business clothing store the advertisement placed the model in a city setting, modestly clothed, and in a strong standing position. The gender message provided in this particular advertisement says women can be strong and fashionable in business. As well, it focused on a strong, independent, and self-sufficient woman. Determining the group for marketers to advertise to can be based on many segments, but in particular self-values under psychographic segmentation can be used to determine the goals of the target market. Marketing written by Grewal and Levy discuss this concept in more detail, they stated, “Self-values are goals for life, not just the goals one wants to accomplish in a day. They are overriding desires that drive how a person lives his or her life.” In particular for the Ann Taylor advertisement the viewers need might be to be self-sufficient, a force of change for stereotypes, or self-confident. This particular information is important in knowing where to place the advertisement and the message being sent.

Another aspect of promotional multimedia products includes commercials and music videos. For example, The Axe Effect commercial displayed hundreds of women partially clothed chasing a man with the smell of axe. In addition, the tagline “spray more get more” insinuates to the male audience that with more of the spray the more women will want him and give him more of their body. With the commercial displaying a young age demographic, the target segment would be early teens to early thirties. Williamson commented, “When two things are made interchangeable and hence equal in value, they may be used as currency for one another. Of course, Happiness and happiness are only seen as interchangeable. They provide a currency on the level of signs. Yet this exchange value, because it exists in terms of signifying (Clairol means happiness/happiness means Clairol) comes to have meaning in terms of real buying and selling…It provides an intermediary currency between real money and an emotion, because it has a value terms of both: one, as genuine monetary price, and the other value as a sign, representing or replacing the feeling of happiness or whatever.” Buying the Axe product represents getting multitudes of women, which can lead to happiness meaning the spray is happiness and it can in a sense buy the male happiness.

Furthermore, another commercial targeted towards men, was the commercial by Carl’s Jr. Featuring Kim Kardashian. The slow motion of her eating, her female body parts showing, and her on her bed all target men to think they will receive her if they eat at Carl’s Jr. Targeting young markets who are interested in fast food and quick satisfaction, this commercial also changes the perception of women who eat fast food. Furthermore, it says women are used for instant gratification and sex objects, as well as men are only interest in women’s body parts. Finally, the music video firework by Katy Perry, displays fireworks protruding from her breasts and throughout the video they are the target focus. Her breasts were transformed into objects and as previously stated when a body part is turned into an object it is thought of as a thing not a precious part of the woman’s body. On the other hand, the message promoted is women and men have no limits and they are able to accomplish any of their goals.

With the western 21st century culture becoming more and more risqué there is a difficulty for Christians to determine the line between honoring faith and being a part of the culture. With most of the magazines, TV commercials, and music produced depicting sexual positions, degrading relationships, and increased nudity it is pulling Christians to determine whether mainstream media and Christianity can coexist. I believe we were all called to redefine sexy and the ideal successful leader, while being a mother or father and Christian through our actions on what we watch, buy, and read. Furthermore, it is extremely difficult in our time and age to be able to act in all four of these roles while still participating in society. Although it is difficult, it is also necessary as Christians to be the forces in changing the way society looks at sexy, views parenting, and works in the professional sector. I believe we can participate in mainstream culture without advocating for ungodly practices. When discussing what we can do for change Kilborne commented, “The first step is to become aware to pay attention and to recognize this affects all of us. These are public health problems that I am talking about. The obsession with thinness is a public health problem, the tyranny of the ideal image of beauty, violence against women. These are all public health problems that affect us all and public health problems can only be solved by changing the environment.” As Christians we need to take the first step in changing the environment to show all for aspects can be a part of the culture of today. Ignoring the problem is only making it harder to be a part of the current culture, as well as hurting the generations that are growing up with this as their ideal lifestyle.

Finally, I believe God’s image and message is the strongest force Christians have in combating the tragic happenings of our current culture. First, looking closely into a husband/wife relationship closely centered on God is a prime example of how men and women should act towards each other when supporting each other in society and culture. They not only have faith in each other, they respect the bodies and hearts of each other as if they were clothed in strength and dignity. In addition they stand up for each other without hesitation. In another realm sons and daughters are another prime example of how our actions should be towards one another. Both learn from their caretakers above them and they are able to reach a point where they have understanding and respect for those above them. I believe this is extremely important and necessary when defending God to the world. I believe as a group we need to represent the church in larger ways than just meeting at a building, we need to keep others accountable in the workplace and at home.