Gender Sexuality And Advertising Essay

Length: 5 pages Sources: 3 Subject: Business - Advertising Type: Essay Paper: #36342141 Related Topics: Barbie Doll, Advertising, Sexuality, Gender Role
Excerpt from Essay :

Advertising's most fundamental function is to sell products, but in order to do so, advertising must also shape the values and norms of the culture. One of the most obvious ways advertising shapes social norms and cultural values is through the representations of gender and sexuality. Few products other than adult toys, condoms, and others of an overtly sexual nature offer as much potential to shape, play with, and manipulate gender and sexuality than undergarments. In an advertisement for its line of men's underwear, the company Under Armour promotes an ordinary product by claiming that it has an erotic appeal. The fine print of the advertisement states mainly that the underwear is comfortable and can keep the wearer "cool and dry," but the image speaks more about the way the underwear will confer grand sexual prowess and status on the males who wear it. Although the Under Armour advertisement is powerful and effective, it highlights some of the problematic features of consumer culture including fetishism and chauvinism.

The Under Armour advertisement depicts a male model wearing a pair of otherwise nondescript black underpants. Appearing as a full-page advertisement in a magazine, the image showcases the physique of the man wearing the underwear. His is an idealized male body akin to ancient Greek statues in which each muscle is finely chiseled and honed. The man is broad shouldered and stands stiffly, at attention in an almost military fashion but given the presence of a woman on the bed behind him, the viewer feels as if we have interrupted a private moment. The look on the man's face appears to be something like, "What are you doing here?" Behind him, in the background of the image but no less important, is a woman wearing a silky gown that happens to blend in with the satin pillowcases. The continuity of the woman's garments and the pillowcases suggest that she is simply part of the furniture; the woman is something to be sat on and used. She exists, as the title of the ad boldly asserts, "for the benefit of mankind."

The woman also sits in a provocative pose with one thigh exposed and a gaze that looks straight into the camera. A brick wall implies that the couple is in a sleek urban loft, and the grey minimalist color scheme has a stereotypical American male aesthetic. Given that urban lofts are expensive to live in, the advertisement also bears a potent subtext related to the way sexually attractive men have social status and can use their sexuality in tandem with financial power. Sex, money, and power are intimately connected. The Under Armour advertisement therefore exposes pre-existing gender norms regarding aesthetics and lifestyle.

Moreover, the advertisement exhibits the power and potency of heterosexuality and reinforces gender roles because the man is visibly imposing and looming large over the woman he has just bedded. The title of the ad is "For the Benefit of Mankind," clearly showing that it is "mankind" and not "womankind" that benefits from heteronormativity. The main goal in sexually-charged advertising is, as it is with most "for the benefit of mankind"-style pornography, "power over another, either by the physical dominance or preferred status of men or what is seen as the exploitative power of female beauty and female sexuality," (Kilbourne, "Two Ways," 459). This is why the designers of the advertisement deftly position the huge male figure front and center and demonstratively dominating the woman who blends in with his sheets. He has conquered her via the power of his amazing new underwear.

One of the most striking features of the Under Armour advertisement is the way sexuality is linked with underwear. The company clearly wants to market its product as one that consumers will link with male virility, as opposed to other qualities such as comfort or durability. Ironically, the text printed below the image fails to mention eroticism or sexuality at all. The text printed below the image focuses on the pragmatic traits of the undergarment, such as the "lightweight" fabric that keeps one "cool and dry," when at the gym, and which is stretchy and "breathable." Nothing in the printed text suggests sexuality, and the company Under Armour is much more noted for their athletic wear than their underwear. This particular advertisement shows how marketing "fetishizes products, imbues them with an erotic charge," (Kilbourne,...


The company clearly wants to attract a consumer who goes to the gym in order to buff up and look good in order to attract members of the opposite sex. Under Armour could have opted to peddle its products to appeal to a health-conscious male interested in the technical performance or durability of the fabric, but instead they chose to depict their product as facilitating male gender norms and roles.

Under Armour manipulates the meaning of an undergarment, changing a small and simple article of clothing from a brand not associated with luxury status into an aphrodisiac. As Solomon points out, "American advertisers ... manipulate us into buying their wares," (Solomon 402). It is not just American advertisers, either. All over the world, there are advertisements in magazines just like this one, which appeal to commonly held beliefs about male sexuality, about female roles in the heterosexual relationship, and about the idealized male physique. Just as advertisers have generated an idealized woman that has unattainable features like a Barbie doll, so too have they created a man who looks like the Ken doll such as the one who appears in the Under Armour advertisement. By presenting images of unrealistic body ideals, an advertisement "dehumanizes and objectifies people," (Kilbourne, "Two Ways," 459). The underwear advertisement also helps to foster a sense of deep-rooted insecurity in the viewer, who feels as if his body is not good enough and therefore a pair of Under Armour underwear might help him to better "benefit mankind." In Killing Us Softly, Kilbourne focuses on the ways advertising creates and reinforces body image for women, and the same can be said with the ways men's bodies are presented. Men must be large and muscular if they are to be of any use to "mankind," and if they are to be in the position of being selected by women for procreation. The woman in the bed is the "prize" for looking good, and her selectiveness demands a high degree of physical fitness.

Furthermore, the Under Armour advertisement tacitly spells out much about the role of women in the type of society the idealized man lives in. For example, the woman in the background has idealized Caucasian features, such as being svelte and blonde; she is the perfect Barbie for the ad's Ken. Because she is not fully passive and looks daringly at the camera, she is also representative of a sexually empowered woman who is comfortable with her own body, desire, and ability to choose her own partner. This is not the stereotypically meek and submissive woman, but the kind of woman who likes to have fun with her body. By playing on sexual ideals and dreams, the Under Armour advertisement presents "symbolic associations between their product and what is most coveted by the consumers to whom they are addressed," (Solomon 403). In this case, what is most coveted by the target consumer is sexual attractiveness and the social power that it confers. Male possess the power in the "bedroom" relationship suggested by the image in the advertisement. The advertisement therefore perpetuates patriarchal values and norms.

Under Armour has, as the advertisement's text states, a solid brand reputation that alone could be used to sell their garments. Marketed mainly to men, Under Armour products are a line of budget-friendly and mid-range consumer athletic and comfort wear. The advertisement for underwear could have been straightforward and devoid of overt sexuality or "pornographic" content. Yet Under Armour cannot rely on the quality of its products alone to sell its garments. The company understands that "sex never fails as an attention-getter," (Solomon 408). Using what Kilbourne would call a "pornographic" set of images, motifs, and symbols, the Under Armour advertisement rests on a set of interrelated values including the idealized appearance of both men and women, the heteronormative relationship between a dominant male and a subordinate female, the visibility of the male and the invisible, background status of the female, and the importance of sexual potency for "the benefit of mankind."

Although the Under Armour advertisement remains highly effective at what it does, and is only one of many similar advertisements, its subtext and semiotics are problematic. The main goal in this ad, as it is for most others that use sex to sell, is to reinforce male power vis-a-vis the female. In this particular advertisement, power is suggested in several ways. One way is through the physical stature of the man. He is buff, broad-shouldered, and stands straight with his arms at his side. Obviously physically fit, this is a man who wins fights and can dominate other men. He also…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited

Kilbourne, Jean. Killing Us Softly. Film.

Kilbourne, Jean. "Two Ways a Woman Can Get Hurt."

Solomon, Jack. "Masters of Desire: The Culture of American Advertising." From The Signs of Our Times. Putnam, 1988.

Cite this Document:

"Gender Sexuality And Advertising" (2015, November 11) Retrieved January 18, 2022, from

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