Is sublime advertising moral or immoral

The media ethical problems of sexism in advertising

Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. An ethics of the media
1) What do we understand by ethics and morals?
2) What is a media ethics?
3) Tasks and problems of media ethics with regard to commercial advertising

III. Sex Appeal vs. Sexism in Commercial Advertising
1) Sex appeal in commercials
1.1 Reasons for Using Sex Appeal
1.2 Sex Sells Myth or Truth?
2) sexualization and sexism

IV. Sexual representations in commercials using examples
1) Sex depictions of women
1.1 The example of Sixt: "Spring Fever"
1.2 The example of Redcoon: "There has never been so much cheap"
1.3 The woman as a decorative item and sex object
2) Sex depictions by men
2.1 The example of guts: "guts is when you do it"
2.2 The example of Aldo Vandini: "My beautiful time"
2.3 The attempt to break up stereotypical gender relations
3) differences between the presentation of women and men

V. The media ethical problems of sexism in advertising
1) Producer Ethics
1.1 The reproduction of outdated gender stereotypes
1.2 Spreading and playing down discrimination
1.3 The advertising advice as a blunt sword
2) recipient ethics
2.1 The difficulty of the inevitability of advertising
2.2 The problem unconsciousness through habitualization
2.3 The enforceability of an individual and collective
3) Gender-discriminatory advertising between ethics and law

VI. Summary & conclusion

I. Introduction

This elaboration serves to highlight media ethical problems of sexism in commercial advertising. For this purpose, the basic terms ethics and morals are first explained and their relation to media action is established. It will briefly be explained why there is a need for a sector ethics of the media and what tasks and problems it faces in today's society.

In Chapter 3, the work is devoted to the reasons for the use of sexual representations in commercial advertising and whether the well-known motto

“Sex sells” is a myth or is based on well-founded knowledge of media effects research. Furthermore, the terms sexualization and sexism ‘are introduced so that they can serve as a basis for work in the next step.

To illustrate sexual representations of both genders in advertising TV spots, four examples are given, which show in varying degrees the way in which women and men are objectified and which and whether there are any references to the advertised products. In line with the question, the analysis of the advertising films will be carried out with regard to the development of sexism through the sexualization of the protagonists portrayed. Finally, the different representations of the sexes in advertising must be examined, since it is not least from this that the media ethical problems arise that need to be uncovered.

Through these introductions, the work in Chapter 5 will be devoted to media ethical problems. For this purpose, it uses a dichotomy between producer and recipient ethics and shows the most relevant difficulties that arise from advertising sexism. For this purpose, among other things, the problem of the constant reappearance of outdated gender role stereotypes and thus the debate about equality between women and men will be taken up. The challenge of sensitizing society (especially the younger generations) to these areas will then be discussed with regard to the enforceability of the individual and collective sense of responsibility towards the media.

An outlook on the noteworthy problem that gender discrimination for advertising purposes has still not found a clear place in German criminal law, and that a producer ethic that takes this degradation seriously appears all the more important, rounds off the elaboration part.

II. An ethics of the media

1. What is meant by ethics and morals?

Ethics describes a form of scientific work that deals with questions about the emergence and use of standards. Morality is the subject of ethics because it is used as an umbrella term for all norms that guide the action of rational and responsible people. Ethics as the theory of moral action reflects the code of conduct that results from moral values ​​and norms of a society, as well as its justification (s). As a consequence of this reflection, generally applicable, universal principles emerge or confirm themselves, according to which good or just behavior can be judged (cf. Schicha / Brosda 2010, p. 10f). Since it is often difficult to assert very high moral standards in the complex world of reality, ethics differentiates between ideal and practical norms. The latter consist of the ideal norms adapted to the historical and socio-economic circumstances of society, which can thus be implemented for (almost) every situation. These adapted practice norms are then also called implementation rules (cf. ibid., P. 11f).

2. What is a media ethics?

Media-related ethics is an area ethics that deals with the specific communication of the various media areas. This primarily includes the means of communication in the mass media, but has also increased the interactive use of the Internet in recent years. The action that is made possible by such old and new, asymmetrical and symmetrical communication techniques forms the core of the media ethical issues (cf. Heesen 2011, p. 269). With reference to media impact research, media ethics not only examines the communicative behavior of media users, but above all the effects of different media on the personal development of each individual (cf. ibid., P. 270f).

This is especially necessary because the (mass) media, as the most important source of information in our society, should enable and guarantee the free formation of opinions and thus democratic action, and also need a criticism and control body. Media ethics, with its duties of control and reflection, is just such an instance. In order to be able to serve these functions appropriately and to ensure their acceptance, media ethics presupposes a comprehensive media theory (cf. ibid., P. 270f).

3. Tasks and problems of media ethics with regard to commercial advertising

According to Dagmar Fenner, this work understands the term commercial advertising to mean all targeted attempts by commercial industry using various media that attempt to publicly influence people's opinions and behavior for economic purposes (cf. Fenner 2010, p. 307). The persuasive character of advertising is to be seen as its primary characteristic (cf. Bohrmann 2010, p. 293). Because of its intended function of influencing people, advertising raises several media-ethical problems.

Advertising can influence the recipient by various means. These include the ethically unobjectionable ways of announcing, reminding yourself and providing information about products (cf. ibid. 2010, p. 294). On the other hand, there is also the ethically illegitimate method of manipulation, which finds access to recipients in several ways: via camouflaged, falsifying and subliminal advertising (see Fenner 2010, p. 307f), which can be summarized under the so-called "concealment principle" (Bohrmann 2010 , P. 294). Therefore, Fenner pleads: "Any form of manipulation is ethically reprehensible because people are violated in their right to self-determination and thus in their dignity." (Fenner 2010, p. 308) Economic actors are degraded to “controllable objects”, which is not justifiable from an ethical or legal point of view (cf. ibid., P. 307).

Furthermore, advertising does not only appear as a media ethical problem area because of its suggestiveness. The implementation of marketing ideas that humiliate or expose people because of their gender, ethnicity, culture, religion or because of disabilities is also critical (cf. ibid., P. 309). Such an economization cannot be reconciled with the principles of a social society and therefore a media ethic is needed that counteracts the advertising industry with effective norms of practice. The task of media ethics is therefore the development of rules of conduct for producers (producer ethics) and recipients (recipient ethics), which make it possible to implement social advertising in the media with consideration for each individual.

III. Sex Appeal vs. Sexism in Commercial Advertising

1. Sex appeal in commercials

"Sex sells" is a widespread motto in the advertising industry that always comes into play when it comes to bringing products to the consumer.

First of all, it has to be clarified what is generally understood by the term “sex appeal”. It is the representation of erotic, sexually charged content that does not necessarily have to be based on nudity, but often contains it. Sex appeal in advertising is based on a combination of several components established by Morrison and Sherman (1972). In addition to the aspects mentioned, they also relate to the sexual meaning inherent in the advertised product, as well as the suggestiveness of verbal and visual statements in the advertising. It also includes the romantic content that is expressed in advertising. These latter components are collectively referred to as the “degree of suggestion”, which means the strength of information that is capable of triggering an imagination in the consumer (Moser 1997, pp. 38-40).

"Sex appeal in advertising is one of the standard topics in advertising psychology." (Moser 1997, p. 11) says a work by business psychologist Klaus Moser. There he further postulates that the spread of sexual representations in commercial advertising has increased since the end of the 1960s (cf. ibid., P. 7). In today's enlightened society, the barriers to erotic representations have been dropped even more than in the last few decades. Since the 1970s, people have become used to sexuality, not least because of the women's movements and the demand for sexual education as part of basic training. The rest of the media contributed to this. Sexuality of men and women is now an accepted basic need for which the individual no longer needs to be ashamed. This is precisely what the advertising industry takes advantage of.

1.1 Reasons for Using Sex Appeal

As has already been pointed out, the main task of advertising is to convince the buyer that he needs the advertised product. However, since many products are not necessarily needed or there are many similar articles of the same type, it is usually not enough to simply provide information about facts. "Therefore, instead of information, the advertising industry necessarily sells something completely different, namely emotions, feelings, prejudices, ideals, models and other fairy tales." (Schmerl 1981, p. 5) For the most part, it is more about conveying a certain feeling to the consumer and hardly anything triggers stronger emotions than the innate instinct for procreation. The sex drive in humans leads, without the individual having to want it, to women, but especially men, inevitably reacting to sexual stimuli. However, it is not enough to only use such sex symbols subliminally in advertising. Investigations by Rosen and Singh in 1992 came to the result that subliminal stimuli neither led to increased attention, nor to changed attitudes or behavioral intentions, nor did they strengthen the memory of the advertised products (cf. Moser 1997, p. 41). That at least explains why the advertising industry does not even bother to use sexual advertising strategies latently.

If sex appeal is clearly advertised, the main reason for this is that the product being advertised should stand out from the crowd with its presentation in order to activate the consumer and thus attract their attention. In the second step, this is also used to record and process the information to be conveyed. And that works with sex appeal, because it has been proven that advertising with an erotic factor more often has an activating effect than advertising without (cf. ibid., P. 63). Carlheinrich Heiland even goes so far as to say in his essay "Porno, cancellation brings the limits of sex sells" that advertisements contain erotic motifs got toif the intention to buy is to be increased (cf. Heiland 2006, p. 149).

Smith and Swinyard pointed out that in very many cases advertising is of so little interest to the recipient that he hardly or not at all deals with it (Moser 1997, p. 25). It therefore needs a key stimulus that attracts the audience's attention and it is simply easier to rely on human evolution, even if, for example, humorous depictions can produce similar effects (cf. ibid., P. 99).

1.2 "Sex sells" myth or truth?

It is true that sexual representations in advertising attract attention and activate the consumer. Men are more strongly addressed than women by female erotic presentations. The greater the erotic stimuli, the more the man can be activated (cf. Moser 1997, p. 63f).

At first glance it can therefore be seen that there is obviously “something to it” in the advertising industry's motto. However, some studies in media impact research shake this assessment. Severn, Belch and Belch (1990) found that sexually oriented advertisements generated only half as many product-related thoughts as advertisements that avoided eroticism. These triggered significantly more product-related thoughts. The result of this was: Although sex appeal increases the activation of the individual consumer, it does not target the content elements of the advertising, but rather distracts from the actual content (cf. ibid., P. 67). Comparatively titled Heiland in his execution erotic pictures in advertisements as

"Vampires of Attention". He also stated that men perceive such advertisements as if through a tunnel vision and that this leads to an unwanted loss of attention in areas relevant to sales (cf. Heiland 2006, p. 149).

Most studies with women showed that this female sexuality tended to be viewed with tension and aversion (cf. ibid., P. 149). However, this is also likely to be due to the subliminal threat posed by perfect models, which are suggested in such advertisements by attractive models. In view of this, it is interesting that an analysis by Cabarello & Solomon (1984) showed that female sex appeal was more likely to be seen in spots that were primarily aimed at women (cf. Moser 1997, p. 51). It is estimated that there was a desire to identify with such models. The aim is to convey that the sex appeal of the attractive protagonist of the commercial is transferred to the consumer if she also uses this product (e.g. sexual charisma in perfume advertising) (cf. ibid., P. 15). This showed that sexually oriented advertising can also have an effect on women through irradiation effects (cf. ibid., P. 96).

In summary, it should be emphasized that sex appeal in advertising has advantages and disadvantages. It does attract the consumer's attention and thus increases the willingness to absorb and process stimuli. However, sexual representations also distract from the actual product, which can also be positive for the manufacturer if the product is only advertised with weak arguments.

“Sex sells” is neither an absolute truth nor a myth. If used skillfully, it unfolds its effect, but must be dosed with caution, otherwise it will be rejected (cf. Moser 1997, p.114). In most cases, the reasons for such rejection are (excessive) sexualization and sexism.

2. Sexualization and sexism

In the following, sexualization is understood to mean the use of a mode of representation of topics, objects and subjects that primarily has nothing to do with sexuality. Thanks to its attention-grabbing function, it usually triggers (strong) emotions and reactions, both positive and negative (cf. Döhring 2014).

In the past forty years, society has experienced an increasing sexualization through the media, which has been and is being applied to almost all areas. For example, the increase in sexualized images in advertising in terms of frequency and degree of nudity was significantly higher in the 1990s than in the 1970s (cf. Völzmann 2014, p. 39).

The use of sexuality in advertising is often excessive and inappropriate: products are sexualized.They are advertised with exaggerated ideals of beauty, which too often do not correspond in the slightest to reality due to the unrealistic, beautifying work of digital image processing. This “pursuit of a never-to-be-achieved ideal” can have a negative effect on the self-esteem and psychological development of younger women (cf. Döhring 2014).

In addition, in most cases sexualization is highly gender-asymmetrical. Women / girls are sexualized and objectified as decorative items or pushed into stereotypical gender roles and portrayed as inferior in relation to men. That is the beginning of sexism (cf. Döhring 2014), a form of discrimination that "any form of disadvantage, disregard, exclusion or unequal treatment of individual people or groups based on alleged or not relevant characteristics in a certain context" (Völzmann 2014, p. 62f). In the case of sexism, people are treated with prejudice and discriminated against because of their (biological) gender. Any differences between men and women are very strongly emphasized, which is played down by a large part of the population (cf. Six 2017). “Such differences exist.” However, the construction of such a difference is the starting point for discrimination (cf. Völzmann 2014, p. 63).


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