This assignment was to write a rhetorical analysis of a post-1945 ad campaign. Instead of writing an evaluative paper like Major Essay 1, Major Essay 2 is about analytically explaining the different strategies used in a multimodal text to persuade the target audience. I chose to analyze a 2002 BMW car advertisement that displays an undressed man and woman in bed with a magazine of the BMW advertisement covering the woman’s face. The slogan is “The Ultimate Attraction,” which does not refer to the man and woman, but instead to the man and the car. This car advertisement is a perfect example of sexualized ad campaigns and of gender imbalance, as women are degraded and objectified whilst the man dominates. There are many visual aspects of this image that reflect and contribute to gender inequality and that attract the viewer’s eye to the purpose of this ad: the BMW. I then concluded by mentioning some issues and consequences that have arisen due to the increasingly used sexualized and gender advertisements.
Prior to writing this piece, I had background knowledge of gender imbalance and sexualized advertisements via my Geography and English Language and Literature courses during the I.B. program in high school. These concepts have always interested me so when I found this advertisement it felt like the ideal opportunity to further explore them. I first looked at the image profoundly, picking out every little detail I noticed, and then I went on to develop each idea, tying them together through one common thread or theme. Each element I picked out had something interesting to say about it, whether I would make a personal assumption about the advertiser’s underlying intent, or if I would use my prior knowledge to explain a concrete technique. During the process of writing the piece, new ideas and notions came to my attention, like the irony of the word “model.” And finally, I wanted to conclude with a paragraph relaying this type of advertising to the real world: what the effects and issues are on our society, in the hopes of drawing attention to the influential prevalence of advertising, which in turn might change the way audiences perceive them.
The audience my piece is directed at mostly consists of younger women, possibly feminists, who can relate to the inferior and subordinate stance in which women are portrayed compared with the power and strength of men. It can also appeal to women who are subject to one or some of the societal issues that have arisen due to this representation.
What I like most about my writing piece is the depth and detail in which I analyzed the image. This in-depth analysis enabled me to further explore this gender theme and the techniques advertisers use in today’s world. I like the fact that my interpretations of this ad are personal to me, and others might disagree or perceive it differently. If I had further worked on this piece, I would have referred to more advertisements that evoke similar notions of sex and gender, so as to enhance the significance of this issue.
The Ultimate Attraction of Stripping Women
Advertising agencies have been exploiting the notion that “Sex Sells” increasingly in recent years. Sexualized advertisements promote consumerism because these desirable images and activities attract the eye of the viewer. Because many ordinary women strive to feel desirable and beautiful, in other words they aspire to resemble the women illustrated in these advertisements, product sales are magnified. In a more specific sub-category of sexualized advertisement is gender advertisement, which can be utilized in order to depict images that display stereotypical gender roles. As Steve Craig said in his article “Men’s Men and Women’s Women”: “Advertisers therefore portray different images to men and women in order to exploit the different deep-seated motivations and anxieties connected to gender identity.” Women are especially portrayed in sexualized ways, often dominated by men, as gender inequality is still a prominent issue in our society today. In turn, this gender imbalance leads agencies to take advantage of women’s inferiority compared to men’s. I chose a BMW magazine advertisement that explores sexualized and gender advertisements. The ways in which this BMW ad portrays the man and women in a sexualized manner promotes gender inequality by stripping the woman of her identity whilst tending towards male dominance. This type of gender portrayal may influence or lead to arising societal issues.
This 2002 BMW car advertisement characterizes a sense of male dominance through the man’s powerful positioning, his true intentions and desires, and the woman’s weak placement. The ad illustrates an un-dressed couple in bed with the man situated on top and the women underneath. The man seems to hold the power in this situation, as he is physically above the fragile-looking woman. Humiliation is brought to women through this image, as the man does not seem to genuinely care for her, but instead uses and takes advantage of her for his own benefits concerning sexual pleasures. We can see how the woman’s bra strap is coming off, which is most likely the doing of the man. He is depicted as the decision-maker in this circumstance whilst the vulnerable woman seems to be controlled by him. Furthermore, the woman’s arms are hanging around his neck, almost as though she is clinging onto him in weak desperation. It seems like she is gravely in need of his presence, while he does not even acknowledge hers.
The woman is illustrated as a subordinate and passive figure in this image, as she is stripped of her identity. A magazine with a photograph of the BMW car is covering her face completely in this ad: she is literally masked and de-faced. This dehumanization causes her to loose her identity, and borders on a sense of objectification, since an object takes the place of her face. When Steve Craig analyzes an Acura Integra television advertisement, the role of the woman is suppressed: “She is nothing more than an anonymous object of desire (indeed, in silhouette, we cannot even see her face), but her presence both affirms the heterosexuality of the group [of men] while at the same time hinting that attaining sexual fulfillment will be made easier by the possession of the car.” Objectified women emphasize their uninvolved bodies and give men a superior and animated stance in comparison. The advertisement further implies female passivity as she is either unaware or is not bothered by the fact that her face is covered; instead of fighting for her equality in this situation and insisting on her worth, the woman is merely accepting her defeat.
An irony presents itself between the model of the car and the model of the posing woman in the advertisement. As the woman is stripped of her identity, we cannot give her any sort of recognition on a personal level. The audience cannot even know for sure if she is an actual model. Instead, as the picture of the BMW model is replacing her face, we can say she obtains the status of a “model” in the most objectified and ambiguous sense. In the case of the car and the woman, both meanings of the word “model” are overlapping each other, just as the magazine is overlapping the woman’s face.
The setting displayed in this advertisement paints a picture of a sterile environment containing an insubstantial relationship between the man and woman, but an intimate connection between the man and the BMW. The bare bedroom set-up does not encourage an idealistic image of a romantic environment for an exclusive connection between two people. It almost seems like they are in a hotel room, further implying they are not a serious couple. Though the connection is nonexistent between the man and the woman, “The Ultimate Attraction” exists between the man and the car. This is due to the fact that the man is not staring at her face, but instead at a BMW ad in a magazine. It is also due to the strategically placed slogan: “The Ultimate Attraction” is placed between the two figures, but slightly higher towards the man to highlight his profound attraction towards this car.
A technique used in this advertisement is the idea of an advertisement within an advertisement. This notion can be put in parallel with the concept of “metafiction,” which is when an author of fiction unconventionally alludes to the artificiality or literariness of a work. Rather, the idea presented in this advertisement would be “meta-advertising,” which is an ad about an ad. The image of a man staring at the BMW magazine ad provides the audience with a representation of how to look at this actual ad. The intense and engrossed gaze of this man gives the viewer the impression that he or she, too, should look upon this ad with similar intent, and disregard whatever distractions there might be, even if a woman is lying in the same bed.
The use of colour within this scene draws attention to the significance of the product and selling point: the BMW. The photograph of the BMW in the magazine the man is staring at portrays a bright red car. The colour red immediately directs the viewer’s eye to the most important aspect of this advertisement. Another element the viewer is directly attracted to is the bright yellow spotlight that is shining through the curtain in the top left corner of the image’s frame. This spotlight can mimic a car’s headlights, and therefore the audience feels the presence of a car, further emphasizing the importance of it. It can be said that the man drove the BMW he is staring at to a hotel room, promoting the idea of freedom and escapism. As Steve Craig expresses,“[…] cars are frequently offered as a means of freedom […].” The two saturated components of the red car and the headlights amidst the dull colours of the rest of the bedroom stand out to the viewer. Moreover, the woman’s arms create a diagonal path from the man’s glance downward towards the red BMW, and hence direct the viewer’s eye in this same manner.
The audience of this BMW advertisement may include specific groups of men and women. The targeted men would be young adults who have an interest, appreciation, connection, or obsession towards cars. They would be men who think cars are “sexy” and who are attracted to certain models. This ad especially appeals to young men who have the goal to later in life purchase this pricey car, or to wealthy older men who are able to own this car. In terms of the targeted women, this ad should not appeal to many of them, as it alienates a majority of the female audiences. However, if women who like to be objectified and feel “desirable” exist in our world, this ad could potentially appeal to them.
There are many consequences and effects on women in society who view these sexualized and gender advertisements. Women are often taken advantage of because historically women did not have the same rights as men, and this inequality still exists today (for instance, wages for some jobs in Switzerland are lower for women). Gender imbalance still occurs in countries such as Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to drive and in India, where the husbands govern the reproductive lives of their wives. Globally, women have never possessed the same authority as men, who represent dignity and strength. Violence and abuse against women are promoted as they are objectified and dehumanized in advertisements, enabling rape and sexual assault to occur more easily since no emotional attachments are present. Additionally, public health problems may arise from sexualized ads, such as eating disorders and depression. They may affect the female self esteem because physical perfection of female figures makes women feel less desirable. Moreover, the abundant images involving sex encourage teen pregnancies since they are not educated about sex and important qualities of personality are excluded at an early age. Prostitution may also be a concern if nudity is increasingly portrayed in public images, because women may feel like exposing their bodies in sexual ways and engaging in sexual activities is a norm or considered ordinary.
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