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Analysis of Women in Advertising

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Analysis of Women in Advertising

(All advertisements referenced in this document can be found in The Practice of Writing, Fifth Edition published by Bedford/St Martin's)

Since the advent of advertising in printed media women have been featured and targeted by various companies as a key demographic. The goal has always been the same, though the methods of reaching women have changed drastically in the last century. The image of women in advertising has evolved from primarily a homemaker into the role of the liberated woman making her own way in the world.

In a 1913 ad for Shredded Wheat we see women being marketed toward in a unique way. We see a somewhat prudish woman in a petticoat with the same hairdo we would expect our grandmothers to have holding up a biscuit of Shredded Wheat. The ad tells us that women have the right to vote for the first time in the nation's history, and that theme is used to sell the Shredded Wheat. We are told that a vote for Shredded Wheat is a vote for healthy living and a clean household. The ad clearly views women as nothing more than homemakers, but is using the call to vote in the next Presidential Election as a way to sell its product.

By 1922 the image of women has grown in the popular media and ads seem to now focus more on the single woman . In an ad for Resinol Soap we see a woman wistfully gazing at a fire and dreaming of her own wedding day. The belief seems to be that a woman needs a man in her life to feel good about herself and the ad lets the women know that they will need clear skin to achieve this goal. While the image of women in general has evolved slightly in the 9 years between the first and second ads, we are still shown an image overall that a woman must find a man to be happy.

Our next piece is a Lux Soap ad from 1934. Again, the view of the modern woman has evolved, but not by as drastic of a margin as between the first and second ads. We're shown a career woman who works for a national radio station who is becoming a screen star in the new medium of film. This ad is an early example of the testimonial ad, the woman in the ad was well known at the time and she extols the virtues of the product and makes a claim to use it. This ad also seems to be an early example of today's advertising practice; telling a woman she's below the standard and that this product can make her attractive and desirable. In the ad there is a passage where the woman is told her complexion is just average, that to really be a woman she must use Lux for that Hollywood complexion.

Our next ad for General Electric from 1942 isn't even for a product at al - it's just an image of a woman on a beach with her very young son gazing at the horizon. The text is a story of how she dreams of being with her husband who's off fighting in World War II, but this beach is as close as she can come to her beloved Jim. Unlike other women of her time she can't go off to the front and serve as a nurse because of the responsibility she has to take care of her young son. The ad has to be an early example of a public relations ad - an ad that doesn't try to sell a specific product, but seeks only to remind us the company is there and that they care about America and her citizens.

After the War's end things go back to normal and we are greeted with another ad of a woman being told she needs a man in her life. A 1954 Listerine ad features a "hip" young girl in a skirt listening to a record player. She is a portrayed to be a nice, sweet, popular young woman, the kind of girl Richie Cunningham might take home to meet Mrs. C. We are told that to be popular, have friends, and most importantly to get Richie Cunningham to be your boyfriend you need fresh breath. What better way to have fresh breath than to use Listerine? Afterall, the girl who doesn't use Listerine will surely end up being on the bad side of a double date sitting next to Ralph Malph all night.

By 1966 the image of women in printed media has taken a dramatic shift. Given the events of the 1960s, the sexual revolution, and the counter-culture revolution one would be very surprised to see anything less than a liberated woman in popular printed media. The ad for Cosmopolitan Magazine shows a woman in what would be considered very revealing clothes for the period in a fairly seductive pose. This ad tells the female viewer she can be beautiful and smart, a woman of the time, a liberated being with her own agenda and goals. There's no mention in the entire ad about attracting a man, which is strange when one considers that 90% of the articles in Cosmopolitan Magazine revolve around finding and keeping a man.

Our next ad from 1977 comes from Redbook Magazine and gives us a very striking picture of female power. We see an image of a woman getting out of a helicopter on the roof of a very tall building in a large city. She is wearing a stylish skirt and jacket business combination and carrying a briefcase. This woman is definitely a powerful woman and we are to believe that she got to be so powerful by reading Redbook. Images of female power were a hot issue during

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