Advertising and Consumer Citizenship: Gender, Images, and Rights

By Anne M. Cronin | Go to book overview

3

Advertising, texts and textual strategies

In the previous chapter I argued that consumer markets are not social facts which can be 'discovered' and targeted - they are generated or materialised in the very processes of marketing and advertising. I argued that the characteristics of these 'imagined' target markets come to be reflexively incorporated into the textual address of advertising campaigns. In this chapter my concern is to compare the forms of textual address found in female-targeted advertisements and in male-targeted advertisements. How is meaning created in a print advertisement? How is this meaning targeted at specific groups? How should we analyse images of gender in advertising?

Images of gender have long been the focus of feminist work. Early feminist studies were concerned with challenging the 'misrepresentations' or stereotypes of women in images. Across a range of sites, such as pornography, advertising, film and art, feminists aimed to set right 'inaccurate' or false images of women (van Zoonen 1994). Yet such critiques risked relegating women to the position of dupes seduced into accepting 'false' images of a 'natural' femininity. Such an approach immediately forecloses questions of female agency and subjectivity, and relegates women to a position of passivity whilst reifying a homogenised category of 'women'. This tendency is present in a range of analyses of consumerism and advertising. Many accounts of advertising emphasise notions of alienated, commodified identities and a 'pseudo-individuality' (Goldman 1992) divorced from an 'authentic' self. In accounts such as those of Haug (1986), Dyer (1992), Goldman (1992) and Williamson (1978), the logic of commodity aesthetics disrupts what are seen as the intimate relations between genuine needs and material use-value. Through processes of abstraction and alienation, exchange-value comes to displace use-value as the primary mode of relating to produced objects. In these accounts there is a sense of a loss of particular values in the relations between the production and consumption of goods through commodification. In analyses such as Dyer's (1992), 'false consciousness' resulting from the operation of ideology masks true capitalist relations of production, exchange and consumption. Human relations come to be defined in terms of the exchange of goods which abstracts human labour value from those processes through a 'privatizing discourse of

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