Audience Perception of Female Models in Advertising Messages


In an attempt to study this topic “Audience Perception of Female Models in advertising messages (a study of Always Ultra Commercials)”, for the purpose of this study, some relevant literature will have to be examined and from other works that have already been carried out by some schools in a similar areas of studies which can contribute possibly to the understanding of this work.

2.2    Concept of Advertising

          By now, we must be familiar with the various aspects of journalism and mass communication. In the first course of mass communication programmes, we have had a discussion on the concept of communication news; principles of editing etc. you are exposed to variety of advertisements in newspapers, in hoardings, listen to radio advertisements, on the television. There is also a variety of advertisement, on the World Wide Web. Have you ever wondered how the world of advertisement works? What is advertisement? In this unit, the concept, objectives, and functions of advertising will be discussed.

Advertisements have become an integral part in today’s marketing scenario. In earlier times, advertisements were not given as much emphasis as it is being given today. The institute of practitioners in advertising defined the term as “advertising presents the most persuasive possible selling message to the right prospects for the product or services at the lowest possible cost”. Here we have a combination of creativity, market research and economic media buying.

Advertising may cost a lot of money but that cost is justified if it works effectively and economically. According to Oxford dictionary the word “to advertise” means “to make generally publicly known”. Describe publicly with a view to increase sales. It presents and upholds the ideas commodities and services of a recognized advertiser, which provides as a communication link between the producer and the potential buyers.

Advertising as a concept is a product of the increased commercial transaction, and competitive marketing strategies. Every propagator means to promote a concept or a service is a form of advertisement. It is form of communication like any other process of sending across the message, which can be called medium to reach the masses. Whether in TV, radio, newspaper or magazine, the advertisement is a significant part which could be described as life and blood of that medium. Newspaper or TV programmes cannot be filled only with advertisement. It has to be interjected or interspersed into creative or entertainment activity, depending upon viewership or readership of the returns from advertisement, the media survives and prospers.

Also Read: The Influence Of Television Advertising On Consumers Choice Of Beverage

Justice P. Souwanth and P.K. Bandhyopadhyay, in their advertising law and ethics, traced the history of concept of advertising to: “the simplest form of advertising was that of the street criers and peddlers who went about selling their wares. The pulpit, the platform, the street meetings, and the village gathering were the other modes of spreading the word. The peddler as well as the prophet resorted to it one sold wares, the other his ideas/views. Both had to persuade as large a number of people as possible to take up what they had to offer and were always in need of appropriate means to attract maximum number of people.

Therefore, it is true to say that advertising in its commercial sense was born when trade and industry become an organized activity it was not unknown earlier”.

Referring to positive aspect of advertising the Mac Bride commission appointed by UNESCO for studying the field of communication and its problem all over the world observed that: “It is used to promote desirable social aims, like saving and investment, family planning, purchase of fertilizer to improve agriculture output, etc. it provide the consumer with information about possible patterns of expenditure (in clothing and other personal needs, in house purchase or rental, in travel and holdings, to take obvious example) and equip him to make choices: this could be done, or would be done in much more limited way, without advertising small scale ‘classified’ advertising which in the aggregate, fills almost as much space in some newspapers as ‘display’ advertising by major companies is a useful form of communication about the employment market, between local small business and their consumers, and between individuals with various needs. Finally, since the advertising revenue of a newspaper comes from multiple sources, it fosters economic, health and independence, enabling the enterprise to defy pressure from single economic interest or from political authorities”.

The commission also pondered over the problem of big players in advertising especially imported advertising in developing countries like Nigeria. It says “in this situation code of conduct in advertising becomes more difficult to enforce. Therefore, advertising is seen by many developing countries; it brings too many people alien ethical values: it may deviate consumer demands priorities; it affects and can often deform way of life and lifestyles.

Moreover, the threat to withdraw advertising by private interest or by a government can jeopardize press freedom”. It is in this content the need for regulation of advertising arises.

Advertising may be broadly divided into broadcast advertising and non-broadcast (or print) advertising. One of the most important tasks of research wing of an advertising agency is to select the right media, right region and right language for the advertisement of the good and or service of the advertiser. The commonly used media are:

  1. Newspaper and periodicals
  2. Television channels
  3. Radio jingles and informative talks, discussion etc. aiming at specific target audience
  4. Outdoor signs
  5. Direct mail
  6. Internet

The purpose of advertising is to sell something-a product, a service or an idea. The real objective of advertising is effective communication between goods and clients and increasing awareness. Matthews, Buzzel, Levitt and Frank have listed some specific objectives of advertising which are:

  • To build primary demand.
  • To introduce a price deal.
  • To build brand recognition or brand insistence.
  • To help sales man, by building awareness of a product among retailers.
  • To create a reputation for service, reliability or research strength.
  • To increase market share.

Functions of Advertising

Advertising has many and varied functions or roles. Generally these functions could be grouped and categorized as the following:

  1. Marketing communication: one of the secrets to the success of advertising is it’s continuity in one way or the other. All advertising is aimed at promoting new existing products for example; there are everyday products such as matches, soap, coca-cola etc. which have been on the market for generations.
  2. Educational function: advertising discharge some educational function like getting to know about illustrations, colours and ideas and also how to express specific issues in clear terms.
  3. Social function: advertising is a “socialite” (Okoro, 1995). Advertising exploits the contexts of friendless, partnership, togetherness, etc. to push for the acceptance of product.
  4. Economic function: advertising informs consumers about the quality and availability of product and services, and by so doing, it promotes the spirit of enterprise and competition which in turn leads to advancement on national economy.
  5. Information dissemination: this is the major function of advertising. It disseminates information about product in persuasive terms. It informs the consumer about where to get the product and how to use the product.
  6. Cultural dissemination: the culture of people is simply defined as people’s way of life. Here, advertising transmits certain cultural values across the world. In this dissemination, culture represents the medium which is the message.
  7. Political function: politics is communication and communication is advertising. Since political campaigns have to be couched in persuasive terms to win the electorate over, advertising has a unique role to play in the process of delivery political messages to the electorate.

2.3     Concept of Audience of Female Models in Advertising Messages

Published literature, discussions indicate that there is a significant increase in the advertisements in recent times. Portrayal of female models in these advertisements in various media such as print, television, outdoor is a cause for concern. The commonly made observation are that the women are perceived/seen as glamorous objects, they are shown as dependent on men, are shown in traditional mundane roles as housewife, teacher, nurse, mother. They are rarely shown as decision makers or in power as accomplished women. Some advertisements are felt to be obscene or vulgar and degrade the dignity of women.

In a paper entitled “women in advertising: representation, repercussions and responses” published in November 2009, the authors, Maurice Patterson, Lisa O’Malley and Vicky Story, have said that the representation of women in advertising has been the subject of discussion and debate over four decades with advertisers standing accused of utilizing inappropriate and degrading stereotypes. According to API (Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland) it makes no commercial sense for advertisers to promote negative images of female model/women.

In a recent study to measure the attitudes of young women to sexually objectified advertising, comparison was made with similar surveys carried out in 1991 and 2000. Respondents agreed that females were portrayed as sex objects in advertisements, but were less offended by these showcase than female respondents in 1991. The same study further states that in advertisement sex has become more explicit, more over showcase of women as sex objects. (Henthrone and Latour 1995, Mayne 2000). Results of the study in 1991 showed that women were still critical of the way in which they were portrayed in advertising. Women still thought that advertisements treated them as sex objects, showed them as fundamentally dependent on men and found the portrayal of women/female models as offensive. According to this sample of women, an offensive advertising campaign would have a negative effect on company image and purchase intention. (Ford, Latour, and Lundstom 1991).

In yet another article titled “image of women in advertising: dynamics and consumers perceptions, the author Pruvli say that, the history of images of women in advertising goes back to the 19thannd beginning of 20th century”. Products advertised with the images of women were like cosmetics (talcum powder and soap) or sweets and drinks (tea, coffee, chocolate). The perfect housewife was one of the key figures in advertising though the goods promoted may not necessarily be household goods. The image of women as a sexual figure is more recent. It is also necessary to note that all over the world women in advertisements during the period 1920and 1990 have become progressively thinner. The female models in the advertisements have been extraordinarily attractive and unrealistically thin, as per the same article stated above.

“Thin images among college age women”

Normally, women posses more flesh than men; this is connected with their motherhood function. “For much of human history, this characteristic was admired, sought after, and celebrated in the arts”. Currently women with fat, struggle to fit the waif-model image which has persuaded the media. The most well known effect of the influence of “thin effect” upon the attitudes and behaviour of the young women was published ten years ago in the “journal of communication”. The study by Myers and Biocca in the year 1992 states: “the research indicates that both media messages and the target audience of younger females place a high value on physical attractiveness”. They are constantly company themselves to the unattainable images of the super models. However, as late researchers showed eating disorders and body images are still the main pre occupation among young girls in the western world.

According to Naomi Wolf, “a generation ago a typical model weighed 8 percent less than average woman; more recently she weighs 23 percent less. Models are now thinner than 95 percent of the female population”.

One general conclusion from the US based research is quite sad: idealized images have negative impact on attitudes, perception and behavior among young women. The use of women body in ads is essentially a cheap trick that marketers use instead of making more thoughtful arguments on behalf of their products”. (Jacobson and Mazur 1993).  Many women find the ads disregarding and insulting to their being.

Self comparison with the extra ordinary thin model products dissatisfaction with one’s own body image, increases anger and depression and reduces self esteem. In most cases these investigators used a direct response stimulus model (short term or natural exposure to advertisements containing thin models,( Fang and Wan and Wells 2002).

Media critics argue and research and supports that women are consistently portrayed in narrowly defined rules that over emphasize beauty and sexuality while de-emphasizing intellect ability and occupational reality. (Lazier and Kendrick 1993).

Advertising can be called measure of opinion as if expressed by the heads of the society but at the same time it also forms it.

On the other hand, advertising gurus believe that the so called indecent representation of women play an important role in brand recognition. For example, condom adverts, delta soap adverts, have more impact on the audience when such representation is done as it is provocative.

According to Alan Collaco, secretary general, ASCI, “the complaints against indecent representation of women has gone from about 4-5 a year to only one last year. Advertisers are more sensitive these days. The products against which complaints have been receives are deodorants and inner wears. There has been a case of clothes ware where the ad headline captioned ‘you’ will melt once inside” read in conjunction with a provocative was considered indecent as it was likely to cause grave and wide spread offence. It should always be remembered that any indecent representation of women doesn’t help.

The bold representation of women in advertisements can be done only if it is associated with the brand and is relevant to it. Mostly such advertisements don’t contribute much to the sale of the product and are restricted to brand recognition and recall.


2.4    “Always Ultra” commercials and portrayal of female models

          When we view the “Always Ultra” commercials or advertisements, there is no doubt that they gave a positive portrayal of female models. This could be clarified ranging from the school students (female models) who used full clothes and while moving rhythmically to the beat and one of them stands to look at the girl’s outfit if there was any stain, and the other giving her assurance that there is no check until after 8 hours. In another commercial a student who was walking slowly to school for fear of the tissue paper she put-on falling out, then her friends walked up to her and gave her “Always  pad” to enable her walk well without the fear of it falling out or staining her and she stayed happily “Always”.

The female models which are the students used, give a good light of women/female models in advertising, because public or audience does not perceive them as sexual stimulators but as message disseminators and product brand/brand promoters.


2.5    Review of Related Studies

One key study related to the present study was reviewed on gender role portrayal in advertisements have attracted the interest of researchers and scholars on a global scale over the past few decades. (Nassif and Grunter 2008).

Much research has been conducted on the portraying of men and women in advertising. Advertisers often criticized for portraying stereotypical gender roles, and particularly for depicting women as dependant (such as home makers), or decorative (such as sex objects). The purpose of the study which the article is based was to identify current roles of women in advertising on selected South- African channels. This led to the topic, “The portrayal of women in South-African Television commercials”.

The result of the research indicates that women/female models as a product user was most prevalent in South-African television advertising, as it featured in the majority (25.7%) of the analyzed commercials. The second most portrayed in a career or work related role in fewer than 12% of the commercials as the sample. The role category that was represented, the least often was the sex object (0.8%).

It worth nothing, the relativity large “other” role category (13.0%). This led to the decision to investigate the type of roles identified in this category. This process entailed that any role portrayals that were classified as “other” was provided with a descriptive term. For example, a woman depicted as dancing was termed “dancer”.

Thereafter the descriptive terms were examined in order to combine those that were similar into one category under umbrella term. These descriptive terms were then tested on the basis of specified role criteria. The criteria included the basis of specified role criteria. The criteria include the character (her appearance, manner, focus and action), the props (supporting elements), setting (indoor or outdoor) and the product.

The incidence of the category was also considered in determining the suitability of the category as possible new role. Lastly, new role were identified based on the criteria and incidence.  This process uncovered two more roles namely the client or shoppers and the spokesperson.

The spokesperson is inherently an opinion leader that links the mass audience to comprehensive information on the product, which assists consumers in decision-making as well as differentiation between conflicting brands. The shopper is a portrayal of woman/female model as decision makers often depicted in buying environment.


2.4    Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework as chosen by the researcher for this study I based on the Individual Difference theory. The rationale for selecting this theory variously described by Akinfeleye (2008) as “theories in human development” Aina (2003) as “media affect theory”, is the theory bothers on mass media reactions to the media messages. Since this study examines the audience perception of female models in advertising messages using “Always Ultra” as a study in Enugu metropolis, this theory suits the profile of this research study.

Individual difference theory

This theory was propounded by Henry De Fleur 1970. De Fleur posit that we humans are genetically, biologically, physiologically, and psychologically different and therefore we shall respond and behave differently even as identical twins will still behave differently; no matter the levels and similarities of their identities to media messages (Akinfeleye 2008).

In responding and behaving differently to advertising or mass media messages as the case maybe, individuals consume mass media or advertising messages to satisfy their needs. The needs may be for information (e.g. providing statistics about players and the team), integrative (offering a sense of belonging to a group of similarly interested people), effective (e.g. by providing excitement) or escapist (helping to release pent up emotions).

This theory, according to Onabajo et al (2008) assumes that:

  1. Mass media audiences are made up of different people (i.e. in terms of psychographic characteristics).
  2. Number of mass audience in their psychographic characteristics,

In other words, this theory rejects the notion of uniform reaction to media as far as given by the Laulet theory.

It states that the audience reaction or behavior to media messages differ in attitudes, personal preferences, perception values need and the psychological makeup of individuals.

It clearly points out that people use fare selectively because messages contain stimulus that interact with the specific personality feature of audience, hence creating difference in perception, cognition and responses (Aina 2003).

Therefore, Onabajo et al (2008) states that; “the psychological processes, selective, retention, selective exposure help an individual to decide what to pay attention to, what to see or perceive from that which he attends to”.

What this means is that the audience or viewers of “Always Ultra” commercials based on their biological, genetic, physiological and psychological differences will show different viewership behavior to female models and advertising messages which is the media message in this research.


  • Summary of Literature Review

This chapter review covered the product and area or research from the perceptive of the general overview of female models and “Always Ultra” commercials/ adverts in passing negative or positive perceptions to the audience at large in Enugu metropolis as the area of focus.

From the literature review, the study done by the researcher reveals that as at 1991 the perception of the female models advertising were negative but in recent times they now see the female models as trying to pass positive information, irrespective of the way it is being portrayed.

Many Africans especially us, Nigerians, see these adverts as expository and not viewable, but for the present time it should be seen that the product companies like “Always Ultra” has been able to prove that it is not only expository but passing knowledge or promoting the brand and goods and services.

The researcher also believes the new area of study should strive to find out the possibility of new and positive mass media message design that could be equally responsible as they are informative.

In conclusion, the review centered on the “mass communication theory”, individual difference theory as it has direct bearing to the study which is “Audience perception of female models in advertising messages (a study of Always Ultra) commercials in Enugu metropolis”.

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