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Gender Differences in Advertising

‘Men are dogs and women are cats. Women are from Venus and men are from Mars.’ (Sheehan, 2013: Page 89) Men and women are often polarised in terms of personality traits, anatomic make up and the roles in which they play within society. These differences are accentuated by all media platforms, with particular reference to television advertising and magazine or newspaper articles.

In contemporary society there has been a major shift from the typical gendered roles depicted within a traditional nuclear family within the 1950s. Typically, men were regarded as the breadwinner of the family, whereas the mother was responsible for house work and child care. However, in modern society these gender roles within the family have become fragmented. For example, in December 2018, 15.3 million women in the UK aged 16 and over were in employment, the female employment rate was 71.4%, which can be closely compared to the male employment rate of 80.3%. This suggests women are become more dominant within the labour market, thus inferring that typical gender roles are becoming less transparent as women are not predominantly in the home. However, 41% of women in employment were working part-time compared to 13% of men working part-time. (Powell, 2019: Online). Similarly, The Office for National Statistics state that women carry out an overall average of 60% more unpaid work than men; men carry out an average of 16 hours per week of unpaid work such as child care, which can be compared to women carrying out an average of 26 hours unpaid work. (ONS, 2016: Online).  These statistics infer that gender roles are still of significance within modern society as it may be assumed that more women work part-time in order to care for the children and look after the home alongside paid work. Thus, women are faced with the issue of the dual burden; having to fulfil all the requirements of the home and childcare (unpaid work) as well as completing their paid work.  

There are also gendered differences in terms of information processing, ‘Men look directly at the primary message of a given advertisement (e.g., “buy this beer”). Women not only evaluate the primary message, but they also pick up on multiple clues from the message and weaver together threads to intuit and infer the inner meaning of the message (e.g., “buy this beer and you will be popular and trendy”) (Popcorn & Marigold, 2000: Cited in Sheehan, 2013: Page 90). This suggests that there are gendered differences when men and women are observing an advertisement, thus there ought to be different marketing strategies when advertising gendered products. In terms of marketing strategies, this may be deemed advantageous for companies when advertising as they have the potential to use gendered information processing in order to manipulate consumers.

In addition, when processing the information depicted within the advertisement, typically men make decisions regarding the goods or services offered within the advertisement by taking a linear, literal approach. This is due to men digesting the primary message of the advertisement as opposed to women whom evaluate the information given to them by the advertisement. Furthermore, typically women tend to evaluate all aspects of the advertisement such as music and visual stimulants, not just the primary message. (Sheehan, 2013: Page 90) Therefore, when advertising a product, companies may play upon these gendered differences in order to ensure each advert is fit for purpose in terms of best appealing to the target audience.

Furthermore, when advertising gendered goods, it has been argued that men respond better to advertisements depicting males, whereas women respond better to advertisements depicting females. For example, male imagery may be used when advertising male shaving products. Similarly, female imagery ought to be used when advertising female orientated products such as face creams. However, this has been criticised, ‘Males respond better to ads about self, while females are more externally focused (Brunel & Nelson, 2003: CIted in Cramphorn, 2011: Page 151)

Furthermore, research suggests 15% of all advertisements are aimed at women and only 5% are solely aimed at men. Whereas, the remaining 80% of advertisements are aimed at either gender. (Cramphorn, 2011: Page 147) However, it is also more common for women to advertise gender neutral goods such as chocolate. For example, the recent  Galaxy advertisement depicts a woman blissfully unaware of her surroundings as a result of the chocolate she is eating. This may make the product more appealing to women as they may want to experience the same happiness as the woman portrayed within the advertisement. In addition, at the end of the advertisement, there is the rhetoric question of ‘Why have cotton when you can have silk?’. The advertisement therefore plays upon the stereotypical role and attributions of a woman who would recognise the differences between cotton and silk.

It may be argued that women are sexualised within television adverts in order to promote the products being offered as advertisement companies state that ‘sex sells’. ‘Advertisements strive to be interesting, attention grabbing and memorable (Parker & Furnham, 2007) in order to serve the important commercial purpose of increasing product awareness.’ (King et al, 2015: Online) Therefore, in order to ensure a product is memorable, many advertising companies use the notion of ‘sex sells’ in order to yield the best results. A famous example of this may be the advertising of Calvin Klein in 1995 which doubled their sales of jeans.  However, ‘sex sells’ is not without its critics, for example, Feminists have criticised the sexualisation of women within advertisements as they objectify women and reiterate women’s inferior position within society.  A further criticism stated by Fried and Johanson (2008) suggests that sexual content within advertisements can be a distraction from processing the product information. (King et al, 2015: Online)

However, on the contrary, it may be argued that the gendered advertisements within the UK depict the underlying gender roles existent within society. Whereas, in Malta there are regulations which state there ought to be equity in terms of men and women both being seen as making decisions for the family as well as household tasks and chores. However, within the UK it is most common to see a female advertising a product for childcare for example. Therefore, it may be argued that the portrayal of gender differences within advertisements are due to the gender differences evident within contemporary society. (Sheehan, 2013: Page 94)


Cramphorn, M. F, 2011, ‘Gender Effects in Advertising’, International Journal of Market Research, Vol. 53, Issue. 2, Pages 147–170.

Ferrante, C. L., Haynes, A. M., & Kingsley, S. M, 1988, ‘Image of women in television advertising’, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Vol. 32, Issue. 2, Pages 231–237.

King, J., McClelland, A. and Furnham, A., 2015, ‘Sex Really Does Sell: The Recall of Sexual and Non-sexual Television Advertisements in Sexual and Non-sexual Programmes’, Applied Cognitive Psychology, Issue. 29, Vol. 2, Pages 210–216.

Office for National Statistics, 2016, ‘Women shoulder the responsibility of unpaid work’, Office for National Statistics, Viewed 18 April 2019,

Powell, B., 2019, ‘Women and the Economy’, House of Commons Library, Viewed 18 April 2019, file:///C:/Users/matilda/Downloads/SN06838.pdf.

Sheehan, K., (2013), Controversies in Contemporary Advertising, Edition 2, SAGE Publications, California.

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