Positive vs. Negative Gender Stereotypes in Marketing

Marketing uses gender stereotypes to hyper target specific populations. Using gender stereotypes in marketing can be successful when done right. But using stereotypes treads a fine line between acceptable and the unacceptable campaigns. Marketers can choose to either perpetuate or correct gender stereotypes. They can also choose whether to portray negative gender stereotypes or positive gender stereotypes. It is vital for marketers to make a distinction between what types of stereotypes they are using.

By taking a look at 3 different marketing campaigns one can see the positive and negative impacts of stereotypes. The three case studies discussed here are Nine West’s 2014 campaign, Victoria Secret’s “Perfect Body”, and Alway’s “Like A Girl”. All 3 use gender stereotypes in different ways.

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Nine West, which sells women’s shoes and accessories was the first case study analyzed. In 2014 they published a series of ads depicting women in their shoes and accessories in a variety of situations. The ads included slogans such as “Starter Husband Hunting”, “Anticipatory Walk of Shame”, “Copycat Fight”, “Drunch”, and “First Day of Kindergarten”. Slogans such as these imply that the only occasions women have to buy shoes are to impress men, to hide their sexuality, to fight other women, to day drink, and to drop their kids off at kindergarten. Nine West’s marketing department must have been watching too much of AMC’s misogynistic “Mad Men” to come up with ideas such as these. Not only are the ideas outdated, they are also offensive.

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The campaign is what men say about women, not what women say about women. By taking away the power of women and giving it to men, these ads lack freedom and dignity. From the deontologists perspective the ads do not foster, preserve, or respect the humanity of women. The ads instead transform the modern woman into a simple minded, catty, and dated version of a woman.

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In the second case study, Victoria Secret’s “Body by Victoria” campaign is another example of how marketing misrepresents women. The ad depicts 10 thin models as having the “Perfect Body”. They utilized the models to capitalize on the ideal body that men want women to have, and not the actual bodies that women have. Less than 5% of women are the tall, skinny, yet curvy models depicted in the ad. Labeling 5% of women as having the “perfect” body promotes negative body images in the other 95% of women who don’t. Negative body image can lead to issues such as eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression.

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As individuals around the world have taken measures to help promote healthier body image, Victoria Secret has not. They managed to jump from the slogan “I Love My Body” in 2012 to this exclusionary slogan. Victoria Secret did manage to change the slogan to “A Body For Every Body” after realizing the error of their ways. Yet, they still have the same models plastered all over their marketing materials.

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From the Utilitarianism perspective the “Perfect Body” campaign does not provide the greatest amount of happy for the greatest number. The ad makes less than 5% of women happy, and provides men with unrealistic expectations of what women should look like. There were many photos taken in response to Victoria Secret’s photo. These responses are more accurate portrayals of the average woman. While Victoria Secret is not likely to use “plus” size models for their lingerie, if they did they would be making a greater amount of women happier and healthier.

There are other campaigns out there that have fought against negative gender stereotypes like Dove’s “Real Beauty” and Always’ “Like A Girl”. Unlike the previous two case studies discussed, these campaigns are women positive. Women positive means that they promulgate positive stereotypes about women.

For thousands of years women were the “weaker” sex. While men are not built the same as women, women are not any less human than men. There are women that can out compete men, and visa versa. Always asks a boy, a man, a young woman, and a girl to carry out certain tasks “like a girl”. What that half of the ad shows is how “like a girl” can be a perpetuation of the negative gender stereotype that females are “weaker” than males. Then they ask other girls to do the same things “like a girl” and these girls end up going all out, showing that the phrase can be a positive gender stereotype.

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There is the easy way and then there is the right way. Always chose the right way. From a virtue ethics perspective Always succeeded because they did the right thing by taking a negative gender stereotype and turning it into a positive one. The phrase “like a girl” can be detrimental to young girls. Just like there is nothing wrong with being gay, there is nothing wrong with being a girl. And for young girls to hear that there is something wrong with being who they are, based off the fact that they were born is not acceptable. Always caught onto the negative connotation of the phrase and used it to empower girls, women, and sell their products which are all targeted towards females.

All three case studies examined show that marketers should consider their use of negative or positive gender stereotypes. The effects of the Nine West and Victoria Secret campaigns are detrimental to women. With more careful research and thought they could avoid negative impacts on their target market. As for Always, they used the right amount of research and thought to pull off a successful marketing campaign. It is almost impossible for marketers to avoid gender stereotypes, yet they should make sure that they use positive versus negative stereotypes.

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