A Cross-Cultural Content Analysis of Sex-Role Stereotyping in Television Advertisements: A Comparison between Great Britain and New Zealand

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Over the past twenty years there have been a number of studies of the portrayal of men and women in television commercials (Furnham & Skae, 1997; McArthur, & Resko, 1975; Neto & Pinto, 1998) and more generally on prime time television (Elasmar, Hasegawa & Brain, 1999; Lauzen & Dozier, 1999). Furnham and Mak (1999) have done a comparison of fourteen studies from five continents all following the method and categorical scheme of this study and based on McArthur and Reko (1975). Primarily because television holds great power as an agency of socialization, but also due to the fact that it commands the largest audiences of the media forms (Gunter & Wober, 1992), the majority of research into sex-role portrayal in the media has focused on the depictions of men and women on television both in regular programs and also in advertisements (Gunter, 1995).

It has been argued that the dynamic and attention-grabbing nature of television advertisements means that the impact of television on social behaviour may be greatest during commercials (Gunter, 1987), though it is much more difficult to establish the link between watching advertisements and consumption behavior like buying products (Gunter 1995). In his review Gunter (1995) notes that gender-role portrayals do have a differently sex-linked market impact. Women consumers respond more positively to female role portrayals which are consistent with their own gender-role orientation. Due to the time constraint imposed upon them, and the need for effective communication of the advertiser message, advertisements supposedly employ images of typical people in typical situations, and therefore some degree of stereotyping is inevitable (Manstead & McCulloch, 1981). Many researchers believe, however, the images in commercials are of idealised rather than typical people (Gunter, 1995; Gunter & Wober, 1982; Manstead & McCulloch, 1981). Furthermore, whilst most television programmes will be viewed only once, the frequency with which advertisements are aired guarantees that most people will see most commercials many times. Zajonc (1968) asserted that mere repeated exposure of an individual to a stimulus is a sufficient condition for the enhancement of his or her attitude towards it. This inevitably generates cause for concern regarding the types of images of men and women which are represented on television advertisements (Lanis & Covell, 1965; Leppard, Ogletree & Wallen, 1993).

Researchers interested in consumer profiling or psychographics have argued that both products and the advertisements about them are designed to appeal to a particular market sector (Gunter & Furnham, 1992). The aim is, through questions on people's activities, interests and opinions, to be able to describe their lifestyles and hence both their television watching habits and preferred product brands. However, the psychographic literature is less concerned with sex-role stereotyping in television commercials than with profiling the values of viewers and thereby helping advertisers create appropriate commercials to sell the products.

Over the past three decades a great deal of research attention has been directed towards examining the way in which men and women are depicted in television advertisements and how various stereotypes differ from country to country and change over time. The early research in this field undertaken in North America during the 1970's revealed that men and women were depicted in markedly different ways, and that their portrayals were heavily typecast according to traditional sex-role stereotypes (McArthur & Resko, 1975). Differences were found in the types of products which were advertised by males and females, with men being most frequently associated with non-domestic products and women with domestic ones (O'Donnell & O'Donnell, 1978). Women's roles were typically defined in relation to other people; they were depicted most frequently as housewife/mother, whereas by comparison men were rarely shown as husband/father (Dominick & Rausch, 1972). …