Objectification of Women in Advertising
For decades, women have been constantly oppressed, sexualized, and used simply for their looks. In 2008, BMW released an ad attempting to attract people to buy their used cars. The ad is simply a picture of an attractive young woman with the slogan, “You know you aren’t the first”. The underlying message of this ad is that if a man is okay being with a ‘used’ woman, he should not mind driving a used car. BMW is saying that their used cars are so luxurious that no onewill even notice that they are used. Oddly, instead of advertising their cars with actual photos of them, BMW chose to advertise their cars using sex appeal by sexualizing and objectifying a young woman.
The marketing, advertising, and fashion industry has created a nonexistent woman: the “Barbie doll”. The “Barbie doll” look features a woman with perfect skin, a small waist, dazzling eyes, radiant hair, etc. From an early age, men are programmed to desire these type of women, and young girls are taught that they need to look like her (Suggett). The sole focus of BMW’s ad is a up-close photo of a young woman that fits the criteria of a “Barbie doll”. Research done by Smith and Engel (1968) investigated the correlation of an attractive model in advertising and the population’s perception of the car. It was found that the rating of the automobile was dependent on the attractiveness of the model. People rated the cars as more appealing, faster, etc if the model was more attractive, so it is no wonder BMW attempted to sell their cars with ‘sex appeal’ (Smith and Engel). In BMW’s ad, the young female’s blonde hair is splayed on the ground surrounding herand the dim lighting casts shadows across her face. The brightness of her face contrasts the dark background. She does not appear to be wearing any clothes, and her hand is slightly draped on her collar bone. The ad has a single main caption, “You know you’re not the first”. This statement is assuming that a man would not refuse a woman’s sexual adnvances even if she was ‘used’. Another phrase in the bottom right corner attached to the BMW logo is, “Sheer Driving Pleasure”. This second phrase is indirectly insinuating that woman are only used for one’s own pleasure.All of these elements in the photo create an extremely sexual allusion that is aimed towards men.
The intended audience is immediately believed to be males. Even though both men and women buy BMWs, the ad appears to primarily broadcast to men. Generally, cars — especially luxury cars — are pitched towards men. However, adding the sexual innuendos took away the respect men AND women had for the brand. Women were enraged when they saw this ad, and it was removed. After seeing this ad broadcasteverywhere, women were greatly offended by the sexual innuendos. The girl in the photo is not shown wearing any clothing which indicates to the audience that her body does not need to be valued and it is okay to be sexualize young women in advertisements. The lack of clothing on the model negatively attracts attention to her body. Is there any reason to sexualize this ad so much, especially with such a revealing photo of a young woman? The lady in the photo looks no older than 20 years old which sends a negative message out to young girls that this is acceptable.
In the film, Killing Us Softly, Jean Kilbourne analyzes advertisements that enforce gender stereotypes and unrealistic images on women. The messages in past and current advertisements promote unhealthy images of women and their sexuality. In fact, Kilbourne states that the ads are linked to eating disorders, violence against women, and addiction. She argues that we need to change the advertisements to boost women up, instead of bringing them down on their appearance. Many people claim to not pay attention to ads, and they say that advertisements don’t affect them at all. However, most recognitions of ads are unconscious. Only 8% of an ad’s message is received by the conscious mind (Kilbourne).This means that even if we don’t think we are paying attention to an ad, subconsciously we are, and it will somehow affect us. Kilbourne says that ads sell more than products. They sell images, values, normalcy, and concepts of love. Most importantly they tell us how we should look or act, especially women. Advertisements portray an image of perfection for women and attempt to convince us that we need to spend a fortune on procedures, clothing, makeup, etc to gain the appearance of flawlessness. In these ads, women are held up to impossible beauty standards that realistically only 1% of the human population naturally obtain (Ekern).This could greatly affect young girls that think they need to look like that. In all reality, this is absurd. Even the models in the advertisements don’t truly appear flawless; they are photoshopped to look that way. Instead of portraying a picture of perfection, advertisements need to change to inspire women to embrace who they are and what they look like without physically and emotionally needing to change themselves.
The objectification of women in the advertising industry creates stereotypes and impossible expectations of what women should look like. BMW’s ad could create a false portrayal of what women think is an acceptable appearance in today’s society. Instead of being comfortable in their own skin, they might strive to reach these impractical standards. On top of that, the sexual innuendos included in the ad may cause the younger generation to believe that it is okay to sexualize women like that. Large companies like BMW that advertise these negativities, do not care about the effect they can possibly have on others. They only care about selling their product. Advertisements should be changed to portray women in a positive light instead of sexualizing and objectifying them.