Conceptual photography is something that generates meaning and is used a lot within advertising and media. There are many things used within conceptual advertising, however, that is highly argued and complained about, things such as sexism, ageism, exploitation, false representation and many more.
The media and advertising is used to shape the lives of people as well as selling a product. For example, children are highly manipulated by the media, with young girls thinking that everything is about the body and physical appearance. This is due to the “model” and “Barbie” look that is promoted often in the media. The women body sells in advertising so is often exploited to grab the attention of the audience.
Sexism isn’t just within the advertising, but behind the scenes only 3% of women have a high job role in media and only 16% are writers, showing the media to be dominated by men. This could explain why women are so highly exploited in the media. Adverts use violence and derogatory actions towards women which could influence domestic violence against women. One vogue magazine cover projects this idea, with the man grabbing the woman’s neck. If he had positioned his hand a little more downwards towards her shoulders it wouldn’t have projected such strong connotations. The posture of the woman shows a slight uncomfortable feeling which enhances this idea further. The pose on the man’s face is almost seductive which can also add connotations of sexual abuse.
“The Representation Project” is a charity that tries to equalise the genders. One video – the mask you live in – shows the sexualisation and misinterpretation of men, showing that it isn’t always women being exploited. It explains how boys can’t show emotion as it is seen as being not masculine enough. It shows how the pain and anger of the boys bottles up because of this and essentially causes them to lash out. The problem is that they try to follow the same postures as each other to prove to be a man following the large amount of pressure to do this.
There is also a lot of dominant and submissive in advertsing. Women are sexualised and made to look weaker, whereas men look smart and more dominant. There are three main ways of showing this: through occupation, for example showing a man doing intelligent jobs such as doctors or strong jobs like firemen, and women doing motherly and more domestic jobs like cleaners; domestic, showing a woman being the perfect housewife and mother; and appearance, showing a muscular chiselled man against a dainty small female. Magazines such as GQ and Rolling Stones show these ideas regularly, often showing the woman in a sexualised, minimal clothed nature and the male in a suit with a powerful posture and pose. This shows the different ways the genders are used to sell a product but also a lifestyle, linking back to the idea of how young girls are manipulated to think everything is about looks.
There was a large uproar about Christmas shopping ads during
2014, as they showed the build up to Christmas being largely organised by the woman of the family. The companies received many complaints as to why the male was involved in the advertising, so the next year the same concept was used but with the male instead. This, however, could be argued as being petty due to the fact that realistically it IS the female doing most of the work at Christmas but because the idea is stereotypically true, it is frowned upon to use within the media.
Children stereotypes are also heavily seen within advertising. The most common way of showing this is using pink for girls and blue for boys. The sexism between the two genders is also shown within children’s toys – girls toys are often very traditional, with toy kitchens and cleaning appliances. There is also a large amount of toys such as “vanity tables” which enhances the idea of beauty and popularity. Dolls and baby dolls also promote the idea of a woman being a motherly figure and staying at home, showing how these ideas are projected to young girls from a very young age. Similarly, boys toys encourage attitudes of speed, power, strength and destruction, with things like cars, building tools, and competitive games. They are also shown to dolls in the form of action figures, which also have the muscular and chiseled structure of the stereotypical man.
A lot of sexism is also seen by the words used within advertising which creates a sense of which gender the advert is aimed at. Bold, angry and powerful words often represent adverts aimed at males, whilst softer, more playful words often appeal to females.
Sexism is being drowned out in more modern advertising by the introduction of androgyny, pan-sexual and liquid gender advertising, which essentially equalises the genders and still sells the product or service.
However, some people believe these to be ideas that people jump on to be classified as part of a certain community. I believe ideas like this are based on personal interpretation rather than the advertising of that particular look. But even these ideas are being penalised in advertising. One of Paddy Powers adverts asked viewers to guess if the race ladies were ‘stallions or mares’, showing discrimination of the transgender society. The ad showed a series of brief shots of people at the event while the narrator attempted to guess their gender. In one scene a woman was shown holding a dog while the narrator stated ‘woman’ then hesitated while the shot changed to show a woman walking out of a men’s toilet and stated ‘dog, I mean man’. This created a high level of controversy and was banned from the tv.
Racial representation is also a large problem within advertising. Dolce and Gabana showed black figurine earrings with a tribal dress on a catwalk which was largely complained about to be racist. I think this is also a matter of interpretation as you could see this as trying to interlink cultures and show influence from cultures in fashion. But the negative connotations of this is that fashion within cultures can be shared more appropriately and not so boldly. The figurine earrings could be seen as similar to a “gollywog” doll, which is a very racist object in modern society.
Similarly, Ashton Kutcher stared in a tv advert for crisps which seen him play different characters. One of the characters was a stereotypical Indian character which was complained about for being derogatory to the Indian culture, which essentially seen the advert get banned. Some people would have watched the advert and seen the humorous side of this character and known that there were no malicious connotations to this. However, with racial discrimination being something so widely frowned on in modern society, people jump on such small things in order to prove a point.
Another racial image in the media was the front cover of Vogue featuring LeBron and Giselle – a basketball player and a model. This image was criticised for the “king kong” stance of LeBron, showing the racism, with the damsel in distress, which is also sexist as the female is made to look weak. The racial dispute is that LeBron looked like a “wild savage”, which essentially goes back in history to the idea of evolution and slavery etc. However, other people would see this image and say that as a basketball player, LeBron is used to being in the knee-bent posture with the angry face which is seen on the playing field, whilst Giselle is smiling showing no sense of fear.
Race leads to culture and culture appropriation is also something within media. Fashion brand ASOS put bindis on their website in the Halloween section which immediately gives connotations of the indian culture almost being evil which isn’t helped by the events going on in the world with terrorism, enhancing the idea of fear and evil.
Religious appropriation is also considered. Federici ice cream made an ad showing two gay priests and a pregnant nun. This was seen as derogatory to the Christian religion as being homosexual is not “accepted by GOD” and a nun is pure and a virgin. This is almost mocking these ideas so was widely criticised.
However, the product was still selling which makes you question if it is actually a bad idea to use such controversial ideas within the media as it could go either way – it’s a risk that some are willing to take.
Ageism is another characteristic shown in advertising and media. Anti-aging products are one of the most controversial adverts of all within this subject. These adverts use words such as “fight”, “reveal” and “battle” which essentially shows aging something that you don’t want to happen and can make you look terrible, when actually growing old is natural and should be embraced. The vocabulary also promotes the product by giving the audience false feelings that with these creams they can become younger. The model in these adverts is most commonly a younger looking woman, which can also be seen as false advertising as the product is being used on a person who doesn’t even have wrinkles in the first place. Another advert that was controversial was that by Norwich Union which stated that “worry lines should be a sign of your age, not your investments”. This is false as lines are shown as a part of growing old and not necessarily about being worried or any other type of feeling. Again it is a natural thing that happens to everyone, and this advert tries to promote wrinkling as something that happens due to your lifestyle which is untrue.
Taco Bell produced an advert in 2013 that showed old people breaking the law, partying and having tattoos. This was very controversial and was very mixed on opinion by the audience. Some people thought that the advert was trying to promote these actions as admirable when done by older people and that actually elderly people should be portrayed as wise and responsible. They also said that it was almost mocking the elderly generation rather than celebrating them. Others said that the advert showed how you’re never too old to live life to the fullest and it helped to encourage people to get out there and embrace life. They also said that it inspired them to want to be like that when they get older. I think it’s a case of interpretation and your original opinion on the subject – example if you think old people are boring and don’t do anything, this could make you see the other side of them that you least expected and make you more open minded.
Another ageist advert was one by Spar. It stated that the husband has lost his wine gums and the wife couldn’t find her wool – both very stereotypical things for older people. It suggested that a trip to spar would sort their issue out. The image of the elderly couple is also very stereotypical which essentially gives them a disrespectful connotation by taring everyone with the same brush.
Another derogatory advert was one by Sports Direct, where a man walks up to an airport desk with an older looking woman on his arm, to which the air hostess says “throw away that old bag”. Although this was intended to be humorous, it has connotations of disrespect towards relationships with age gaps and older people.
However in some cases, age is used in a positive way. In a Samsung washing machine advert, an older, grey haired woman is shown to be happy in her modern clothes. Her stance is very confident, modern and energetic which gives the elderly generation a more positive connotation similar to the younger generations of today.
In conclusion, I think overall, interpretation and existing knowledge is key – if you are sensitive to these ideas you will automatically use your negative eye to depict the bad things about the advert. At the end of the day an advert is used to essentially sell a product or service and sometimes controversy helps to do this. whether it’s right or wrong, its grabbing the attention of the audience which is what that advert is aimed to do.