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Essay: Language & images used in Dove gender-specific advertisements

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How does the language and the images used in “Dove” gender-specific advertisements portray gender stereotypes in Society in the United Kingdom?

Gender-specific advertisements: seen through two Dove advertisements

Advertisements are a way for a company to not only showcase its products but also showcase its morals. A gender stereotype is defined as “Preconceived ideas whereby females and males are arbitrarily assigned characteristics and roles determined and limited by their gender”(1) by the European Institute of gender equality. Gender stereotypes are portrayed in many different ways: through clothing, advertisements, media and many more. In this essay, I will be focusing on how gender stereotypes are portrayed in gender-specific advertisements. I will look at advertisements I will be looking at two anglophone advertisements by beauty company Dove. These advertisements show the big difference between male-oriented advertisements and female-oriented advertisements.

I will be looking at what is considered a gender stereotype and how these stereotypes arise. I will also be looking at the most common gender stereotypes in culture in the UK. I will be examining the effect that these Stereotypes have on advertising. I will then look at my advertisements and compare them, after which I will look at how the conclusions show what I have discussed. After this, I will examine how gender-specific advertisements were presented in history and what is predicted for the future of advertising. To conclude I will then be looking at recent advertisement campaigns by British company Dove which have shown a change in the ideology of advertising.

What is a gender stereotype and how do they arise

When examining the definition of the word, we realise that most of the time a gender stereotype is formed without there being evidence that this characteristics or role is significant for the majority of a group: in this case limited to either females or males. In my investigation, I will consider not one’s sex, which is determined at birth to be either male or female. Instead, I will use gender. Although it has been defined that there are more than two genders and that some people would even suggest that gender is measured on a continuous spectrum instead of there being multiple options, I will be focusing on the male and female genders, specifically on the views of society about masculinity and femininity. I will be looking at the characteristics and roles assigned to these, Although this could include a large range of things. Characteristics mostly focus on the physical and behavioural aspects. This includes appearance and fashion but also behaviour and personality. Roles mostly focus on the roles that both genders play in society. This includes the career paths and the ultimate goals in life for both genders, as well as the roles of the genders in relationships. The stereotypes I will be looking at must only be limited on gender. They must not be influenced by social class, sexual orientation, race, nationality or any other factors that often have own stereotypes. How does a gender stereotype arise? Although a stereotype is not based on evidence that the majority of a certain gender do or are like what the stereotype claims, this does not automatically mean that the stereotype is not true. Gender stereotypes are often based on something that people have observed in multiple individuals of the same gender, which are different from one gender to another. However it also possible that gender stereotypes arise by the view of an ideal mate. This can be seen through for example the stereotype that men should be strong, tough, and show little emotion and women should always always be elegant and caring for others. Stereotypes can be influenced by countless things, but especially media and pop culture. Once a stereotype is defined, it is often passed on from parents to their children, from friends to each other or by public figures. Once society has accepted this stereotype, it is very hard to stop it from living on. This can be a problem because stereotypes are not always positive, and can have destructive effects. An example of the problems that stereotypes can create can be seen when looking at the stereotypes surrounding immigrants and refugees. Especially when important figures, like politicians but possibly also celebrities; which people trust and look up to start to spread these stereotypes, it takes a long time for the belief in the stereotype to leave.

Common gender stereotypes in culture in the UK.

I will be looking at the different gender stereotypes found in Anglophone culture through four different categories. The first category is personality traits. These are the non-physical traits that define an individual, like behaviour. The second category is domestic behaviours. This implies the dividing of tasks in a household. The third is occupations. These are career choices and jobs. The fourth is physical appearance, having to do with the physical characteristics of an individual(2).

I will be looking at the stereotypes present in personality traits first. One example here is that it is believed that women are excessively emotional. This can be a problem because it leads in certain cases to the disbelief of women by men who state that women can’t be trusted because they are not in control of their emotions. Men are expected to have a dominant, self-confident personality. An example of a gender stereotype in the second category, domestic behaviour, is one of the most known stereotypes worldwide, and one that has been enforced religiously in the past. This is that a woman has the task of cooking, cleaning and taking care of children. The opposite side of this is that all men should be the one to earn the money and do home repairs.

My third category is occupations. Although these stereotypes are having less and less of an impact, they are still ingrained into certain peoples minds. A stereotype in this can be the Doctor-Nurse portrayal. In this scenario, the doctor is almost always a male whereas the nurse is always a female. This shows a common power dynamic between the males and females. It is a scenario where a male is in control and calling the shots and the female is only there to help him and to make his life easier. Stereotypical male career paths include Engineer, Pilot, Scientist, Stock Broker, Banker. Stereotypical female career paths include: Stay at home mom, teacher, cleaner, receptionist. This can discourage especially young females to follow their dreams when all the people they see or hear about in their desired field are males. For males, it is less of an issue but it can become problematic when a man wants to pursue a career like becoming a nurse but feels embarrassed to do so. It can also be a problem if one gender is favoured over another for acceptations to certain education or favoured for certain jobs. Another sign of the effects of gender stereotypes in society is the pay gap. Currently, women employed full time in the UK earn 8.6% less than men earn doing the same job(3).

The last category is physical appearance. In general terms, a man needs to be tall, muscular and strong whilst a woman needs to be elegant and small. The stereotype of a perfect appearance for a male is a tall, muscular and rugged man, who doesn’t spend any time at all on his appearance whilst the stereotypical perfect female is short, thin and spends a lot of time worrying about her appearance and wears makeup. Physical appearance stereotypes can be a big problem for individuals who do not recognise themselves in these “perfect” attributes. This can lead to a lot of people, men and women alike, self-conscious about who they are or what they look like, just because they don’t check all the boxes. A lot of men are self-conscious of their height, just like a lot of women are self-conscious of their weight. This can have negative effects on teenagers and young adults, who base their ideals based on what they see in movies, tv shows, magazines and pop culture. Although stereotypes might be slowly shifting in society, and there will eventually be a great increase in liberty within the confinements of gender norms and more acceptation from society, there is still a lot of work to be done. In the distant future these stereotypes may be abolished, but for now, it is still a major component of our existence as humans.
Comparing my Advertisements

I will be looking at two advertisements from the English beauty company Dove. Due to the fact that the products advertised themselves, care/beauty products, are often deemed feminine, we can see that the advertisers have really tried to enhance the fact that this product is exclusively for men. The first advertisement is one from the Dove Men+ Care line. We can see that Dove has tried to enhance the fact that this product is exclusively for men by not only noting the fact it is meant for men but calling the product line itself Men+ Care. Although the advertisement is not based on only one product, instead of the whole Men+care line, we can still see that the ad shows three bottles, presumably one Shampoo product, one shower gel product and one deodorant product. The bottles are dark grey with blue. This colour scheme is typical for products for men. Most colours used will be darker and far from bright. This is supported by studies which show that men prefer colours with more shade. This means colours that are darker and have more black in it. (5). The slogan reads “Care designed for real men” This phrase is troubling as there is no definition as to what the criteria are for a “real man”. However, the real reason this phrase is used is to reassure the consumer that this product is not feminine in any way. The image shows a popular English rugby player, Will Greenwood, playing with a rugby ball with his children on a beach. Rugby players are often seen as extremely manly. They are supposed to be strong and tough. The advertisers are using this example to show that even rugby players use their products. They want the average consumer to believe that if the products are good enough for a rugby player, it will be good enough for them.

Next, I will be looking at a female-oriented advertisement, by Dove, the same company as the male-oriented advertisement. It is an advertisement for a new formula used in all dove body washes. We can see that due to the fact that this product is in the feminine product types, it is not necessary to define specifically that this product is for females. This advertisement is a representation of all body washes but only shows one. The body wash it show is the most simple one. It does not show any of the variations like the Dove Deep Moisture Body Wash, Dove Sensitive Skin Body Wash or Dove Gentle Exfoliating Body Wash(6). This includes different scents and fragrances. Dove has explicitly chosen to keep the advertisement simple. The bottle shown is white with a few blue patches. This supports the theory also visible in the male-oriented advertisements that men prefer darker colours(shades), whilst women prefer advertisements with lighter colours, colours that are softer and have more white added to them(tints). The slogan reads “Softer, smoother skin after just one shower.” The slogan uses gender stereotypes to its advantage by promising the consumer better skin, something that accompanies the beauty perfection stereotypes that put pressure on women to look a certain way. The image shows a woman, presumably one that has just used this new formula of body wash, caressing her arm and having a large smile. One thing noticeable is that this is a very enhanced reaction to the realisation that her body wash is giving her better skin. The advertisers are also using a relatively scarcely clothed woman to portray the image. This is often used in advertisements, both men and women, and has shown to be more intriguing and memorable(7). This is also the reason why the woman has an exaggerated reaction. In the book Controversies in Contemporary Advertising, Kim Bartel Sheehan notes that “such ads elicited happy moods, and individuals gained positive experiences”. (8)

When looking at the two advertisements from a broader perspective, we can determine that when comparing between a female and male oriented advertisements that the difference is perhaps bigger than one sees at first sight. When focusing on the difference we discover that these advertisements are, even though they are advertising exactly the same product, so vastly different. They individually represent the stereotypes that men and women face.

History and Future of Gender Stereotypes in Advertising

When looking at gender stereotypes, we can see that a lot has changed in the past years. As the stereotypes in society changed the advertisements changed with it. The change in the role of the female in advertisements has changed drastically, as society changed to a view where women were no longer confined to a role as a housewife, whose only role was to care for her husband and children. It can be seen that often advertisements before 1970 that products were advertised for a woman to use to satisfy the needs of her husband or children. In the 1970s however, this changed. “The late 1960s through the 1970s marked an important turning point”(9) in the way that scientists, but also society, thought of gender. Ideas about topics like gender roles and stereotypes, but also gender identity were put into question. This meant that females were no longer thought of as only housewives, but as a valuable citizen that had the ability to contribute something to society. Although this change was slow and is still happening today, we see that in today’s world we are closer to gender equality than ever. This is reflected by advertisements from this period. Although there are still many differences in between male and female-oriented advertisements, and there are still some advertisements that portray women as inferior to men, the average advertisement no longer places women into the “housewife role”.

Advertisements oriented towards male consumers have also changed. Whereas previously most adverts for large purchases- like cars- were only oriented towards males, nowadays we can see that they are unisex. This is largely due to the fact that in today’s society “Women are increasingly becoming primary breadwinners and decision-makers when it comes to large purchases”(10). This has convinced advertisers to stay clear of the stereotypical male-oriented advertisement; for example, an advert that shows a male attracting lots of females after buying the product advertised. However, this technique is still used in advertisements for beauty products, like body sprays and shower gels. Another thing that has changed is that men shown in advertisements are no longer always portrayed as strong and tough. Advertisements, but also products, for men with self-care uses, are no longer as rare, and men are allowed to show emotion or be portrayed in a fragile manner. This has come with the changes in how we see gender, gender identity, and gender roles in society.

Although it is impossible, with certainty, to predict the future, the consensus is that gender stereotypes and roles in advertisements will become less and less frequent. A large part of this is due to the fact that for younger generations, gender has become a less important part of an individuals identity, and the lines between genders are becoming less clear. “Of the 14- to 34-year-olds surveyed in the Cassandra Gender Report, 60% said that the lines of gender have been blurred and that men and women no longer need to conform to traditional roles and behaviour”. For female orientated advertisements, the feminist movement has changed advertisements. In the age of social media, if a company sends out an advertisement which is deemed sexist, or discriminating in another way, the company will be set in a very negative light and put on trial by everyone online. A company wouldn’t want that, so they try to make advertisements as politically correct as possible. My prediction for the future is that as time goes on advertisements will be geared towards both men and women more and more often until there are almost no more gender-specific advertisements. I believe that this process will take a lot of time, at least a few generations. The only industry for which I am not sure if gender-specific advertisements will disappear is the beauty and self-care industry. After all, it is still true that women may want to use products that men wouldn’t and vice versa. But one thing that is sure is that the changes in advertising will reflect the changes in society. The gradual blurring of lines between genders and the increase in freedom of gender identity will be reflected in advertisements.

How this is shown in Dove advertisements

Dove has also seen these changes in views about gender stereotypes and has released advertisements to accompany these changes. I will be looking at an advertisement from Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, which composed of a series of advertisements where Dove used normal people to model in their campaign “real beauty”. The campaign focused on body positivity as well as the fact that everyone is different, and that the supermodels used in most advertisements are not an accurate reflection of what women look like in real life. Dove said in their campaign: “Beauty is for everyone. Dove invites all women to realise their personal potential for beauty by engaging them with products that deliver superior care.”(12) Although it is clear that Dove is using this message to advertise their products, it is still a positive change. Although the advertisement is still geared towards women only, it does, however, chip away at the perfect image that women in advertisements have. Dove says about this that it wants to show that beauty is for everyone; not only the standard skinny, elegant supermodel with long blonde hair; by showing women with different sizes, body types, ages, ethnicities, hairstyles, types and colours. This campaign can be seen as a positive change in the way that dove advertises. It has also set up the “Dove self-esteem project”, which is a project that tries to educate young people about body positivity and self-esteem. The goal is to have educated more than 40 million young people by 2020(13). This is important as the young people that will receive this education are the ones that will have an impact of our view of gender stereotypes in the future.

Progress can not only be seen in female-oriented advertisements. Male-oriented advertisements have also undergone a transition. An advertisement campaign that accompanies the female “Real Beauty” campaign is the Dove Men+ Care “Real Strength” campaign. Although the title may sound like the typical male advertisement campaign, it is exactly the opposite. Unilever, the parent company of Dove, says that “The ‘Real Strength’ campaign will celebrate the caring character of today’s men, recognising how care makes them stronger”(14) The advertisements launched from this campaign tend to focus on fathers and their care for their children. It celebrates the fact that caring is a personality trait that only makes a man stronger. A global study showed that 86% of men believe that media has not accurately portrayed the change of opinion, about the caring side of men, in society(14). This could, however, be explained by the fact that the media is advertising to the largest set of consumers, which would be the older generations. The older generations are the most reluctant to see the blurring of the gender roles and identity as it does not reflect the values they grew up with. This is a positive change as it shows little boys that what they look like and how strong they are physically is not necessarily what defines them as a man.

Although Gender stereotypes are still very prominently present in society, and often still engraved deep into our minds there seems to be a big change in our values regarding Gender roles, identity and stereotypes, especially amongst younger generations. In advertising, however, the change is a lot slower. Although advertisements have come a long way, and advertisements no longer advertise the woman as only a housewife and the man as the one who makes all decisions, there are often advertisements released which provoke an outcry online, because they are deemed to be discriminatory. Dove is trying to drift apart from the gender stereotypes in its advertisements, by releasing advertisement campaigns that challenge these values. Although this is a step in the right direction, it is still not a complete step away from these values. Dove still keeps its products and advertisements for men and women as far away from each other as possible. This is a good portrayal of how the change in ideology is going. Although it is happening slowly, nobody wants to be the first to completely change the way in which products are advertised. Many feel as if the media is not accurately portraying society’s opinion. In the future, the lines between gender will be blurred even further, and the advertising industry will have no option but to follow. After all, if the advertisers don’t change their way of promoting their own products and brand, the consumers will deem that brand old fashioned and will stop buying the products.


  1. https://eige.europa.eu/rdc/thesaurus/terms/1222
  2. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/sexual-orientation-gender/gender-gender-identity/what-are-gender-roles-and-stereotypes
  3. https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/earningsandworkinghours/bulletins/genderpaygapintheuk/2018
  4. https://www.newsworks.org.uk/Partnerships/dove-men-care-rugby-
  5. https://digitalsynopsis.com/design/male-vs-female-color-perceptions-preferences/
  6. https://www.unilever.com/news/news-and-features/Feature-article/2014/dove-body-wash-shows-the-power-of-just-one-shower.html
  7. Controversies in Contemporary Advertising by Kim Bartel Sheehan pg.103
  8. Controversies in Contemporary Advertising by Kim Bartel Sheehan pg. 102
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3131694/
  10. https://landt.co/2018/03/the-evolution-of-gender-stereotypes-in-advertising/\
  11. https://www.campaignlive.com/article/future-gender-marketing/1442147
  12. https://www.dove.com/us/en/stories/about-dove/dove-real-beauty-pledge.html
  13. https://www.dove.com/us/en/dove-self-esteem-project.html
  14. https://www.unileverusa.com/news/press-releases/2015/dove-men-care-launches-real-strength-campaign.html


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