Gender Differences in Advertising Language

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14th Jun 2017 English Language Reference this

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In this modern life, advertisements appear widely not only in shops and stores, in leaflets and brochures, on newspapers and magazines but also on high-tech media like radios, televisions and the Internet. They appear in different forms: texts, images, audio files or an integrated form of all: video/animated files. However different they are, they are designed with only one intention. That is to make more profit by bringing the products to groups of potential customers. To fulfill that intention effectively, they “characterize” the potential customers of each product or service and design “personalized” advertisements (2008 Choicestream Personalization Survey) that target to certain potential groups of customers. Thus, in the advertising market, some products have more than one advertisement which target at different groups: one may target at the old while another may target at the young; or one may target at the rich while another may target at the working class.

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Clear Shampoo is one obvious example in Vietnam. The product has seven advertisements on television and the Internet. They seem to target at different viewers of different genders and have several other aspects such as models, images, languages and advertising techniques. This essay focuses on one of those aspects, the language, and aims to find the answers for two following questions:

  • Is the language used by male models/voiceovers different from that used by female models/voiceovers?
  • Is the language used by models/voiceovers of different genders strongly associated with the target viewers?

2. Theoretical background

2.1. Advertising

Nowadays, businesses and manufacturers are actually aware of the great importance of advertising their products or services since a successful advertisement can bring them great profits whereas an unfortunate commercial can lead them to bankruptcy (Sadek-Endrawes, 2008). According to adcracker.com, a website for tips, tools and techniques to create world-class advertising ideas, businesses and manufactures try their best to find ways to design the best advertisements for their products and services to attract attention, “engage minds, trigger emotions and change what people think”. Among techniques used are special metaphors (a symbolic representation for the product), promises of benefit or problem solving, offers of free samples, features of human-like and life-like, features of “eye candy”, etc. Writers from adcracker.com also believe that it might be useful to choose or create their own characters who are put in some special situations, for example conflicts, which can be exaggerated. But the most and foremost important techniques that all advertisement designers need to know are the techniques of choosing the target viewers and language wisely and correspondingly. That is the reason why there are sometimes more than one advertisements designed for only one single product.

2.1.1. Language use as a powerful advertising technique

Language plays a vital role in the society in general and in everyone’s life in particular. We use language of all kinds every day, if it is not to say, every moment to communicate with other people, to get ourselves and our own opinions expressed and vice versa to get the same things from others (Gyllgard, 2006).

Mastering that communicative power of language, sensible advertisers try to utilize language as a powerful tool to influence the viewers. More specifically, they often try to use language distinctively in order to catch viewers’ attention (adcracker.com). For example, they sometimes play with words, use them out of context, and create new ones in order to help viewers remember a certain brand. Sometimes, those words become the slogan for the brand like Moving Forward for Toyota cars or Malaysia Truly Asia for Tourism in Malaysia.

The designers of advertisements also pay attention to “speech accommodation” (Giles & Coupland, 1991) and adjust the speech styles of models and voiceovers in order to fulfill their advertising intentions, especially the intention of attracting the attention of specific groups of viewers. A study of a group of students from Mount Holyoke College (Alfaro et al.) finds that the advertisement is much more effective when the gender of models/ voiceovers and the targeted gender are matched.

Language in advertisements is also internationalized (Sadek-Endrawes, 2008), which is expected to be beneficial in order to create the same response from viewers of different countries in case the product comes into the global market.

2.1.2. Focus on target viewers

Most advertisers know that advertising techniques have persuasive energy and that the strength of such persuasive energy is measured in several ways, but most importantly in relation to a target audience (adkracker.com). It is explained by adcracker.com that different target audience have different lifestyles, different attitudes, different feelings and emotions, which consequently results in different behaviors. Thus, successful advertisers often attempt to build adverts that can get people to take action or plant a belief in the minds of their prospective buyers by closely associating their adverts with the targeted viewers. This is also supported by the 2008 Personalization Survey of Choicestream, an independent research firm providing recommendation service for the world’s largest retailers and entertainment brands including Yahoo!, AT&T, Tesco, Overstock.com, etc. In the survey, they noted that “those who spend the most money and shop most frequently are more likely to click on personalized ads than non-personalized ads”. In fact, 39% of them are more willing to click on a personalized advertisement.

2.2. Gender difference

Men and women are different in various aspects which can mainly be categorized into biological and social factors. Consequently, different terms are coined to show such differences, for example ‘sex’ and ‘gender’.

‘Sex’ is defined by Eckert and McConnell-Ginnet (2003:10) as a “biological categorization” which is based primarily on “reproductive potential” and ‘gender’ is the “social elaboration” of biological sex. This means that ‘sex’ is something fixed by birth (Thomas, 2004) and ‘gender’ is something that the social life shapes on us continuously in every pace of our life (Graddol and Swann, 1994:8). It is believed that gender has a major influence on language use through the process of “socialization” (Tannen 1993:84).

As afore-mentioned, language is an important part of an individual’s life which helps to form his/ her “social identity” (Gyllgard, 2006:1) by their different “linguistic habits” which reflect different “individual biographies and experiences” (Graddol and Swann, 1994:5). Coates (1993:144) also claims that “when children adopt linguistic behavior considered appropriate to their gender they perpetuate the social order which creates gender distinctions” This means that language is among the most significant factors, bedsides social roles and social positions, that make distinctions between men and women. Actually, it is observed that men and women use language differently in a “gender-appropriate” manner (Tannen, 1993:85) since they are small.

In the following part of the paper, the use of language by different genders will be discussed in three main aspects: (1) topic choices, (2) word choices and (3) manner of speaking.

Topic choices

In terms of topic choices, men are believed to talk more about sports or other physical activities when they are small (Poynton, 1989) and about current concerns, about their strength and their dominance (Coulmas, 2005) when they grow up. Meanwhile, women are believed to spend time talking more about home activities, romance and fantasy worlds. Later in their life, they are considered to choose to talk about “nonsense” and “unimportant” personal topics (Gyllgard, 2006). Consequently, men’s language is often considered as serious and important while women’s is seen as trivial and easy to ignore (Coates, 1993).

Word choices

It is believed that women seem to be more careful about choosing words than men. It is explained that this results from the different roles of the two genders in the society. Women are considered to have their first and foremost roles as caring the families and bringing up children. Consequently, they need to be careful with the words they use or otherwise they may set bad examples for their children. Also regarding word choices, in their works, Poyton (1989) and Eckert & McConnell-Ginet (2003) find that women use more intensifies (such as so and very), words of approximation (such as about and around), or inessential qualifiers (like really or so) than men. Women are also claimed to use more adjectives (including “empty” adjectives like cute and evaluative adjectives like wonderful) and adverbs. Furthermore, hedges and tag questions are found more in women’s language than in men’s in order to require confirmation or signal uncertainty respectively (Lakoff, 1989).

Manner of speaking

With the same reasons of different social roles, in terms of manner of speaking, women are found more polite in speaking and men are found to create and use more taboo language like slang or swear words (Poyton, 1989). Lakoff (1989) also agrees with this by giving an example that women choose to use weaker expletives like oh dear or goodness instead of words like shit or damn. Meanwhile, Coates (1993) believes that the language used by women is collaboration-oriented with supportive comments to create and maintain relationship of “closeness” and “equality” while that used by men is competition-oriented in order to assert their positions of dominance.

3. Methodology and Data

This study focuses on the difference between the languages used by male and female models in different advertisements for the same product, namely Clear Shampoo, one kind of shampoo used in Vietnam. It will test whether the difference in language used by male and female models and voiceovers is associated with the difference in genders of the target viewers and how they are associated.

First of all, English versions of seven Clear Shampoo advertisements are selected to be the data for analyzing. Those advertisements are chosen for several reasons. Firstly, shampoo is now an essential cosmetic product that people, regardless of their age, their social or financial status and certainly their gender, have to use in their daily life. Thus, it is worthwhile to investigate the advertisements of such product. Secondly, it is found that there are several different advertisements of Clear Shampoo on television as well as on Youtube at the same time and it is presumed by the author that it may result from the advertisers’ purpose of targeting viewers of different genders. Consequently, with the help of Google search and Youtube website, seven advertisements of Clear Shampoo are collected and transcribed in the appendices of this essay for being analyzed to answer the first research question. Differences among those advertisements will then be figured out by checking the above-mentioned theory and later used to group the seven advertisements into 3 groups: for men, for women and for both men and women.

The second question is answered by analyzing the interviews with 20 viewers of both genders who are non-native speakers of English but gain sufficient proficiency to understand the advertisements. Actually, they are Vietnamese teachers of English who are now teaching English at College of Technology and students of some M.A. programs for English Linguistics or English Teaching Methodology. The procedure includes two small sections. Firstly, the viewers are given the transcriptions of the advertisements and asked two following questions:

  • Who does each advertisement target, men or women?
  • How do you know who the advertisement target at?
  • After that, they are asked to watch the seven advertisements and answer the two questions again.

4. Data analysis and results

4.1 Advertisement analysis and results

Based on the theoretical background and seven advertisements of Clear Shampoo, the following results on gender differences in language use are obtained and grouped in three major aspects: (1) choice of topic, (2) choice of word and (3) manner of speaking.

4.1.1. Choice of topic

It is revealed by the advertisement analysis that male models talk about their confidence and show their strength as well as their dominance to others by facing the problems:

“Black is confident. Confidence means no dandruff.” (Appendix 1)

“Face it. “Cover it. “I deal with dandruff like man.” (Appendix 4)

or “Rage. Rage against her breath of fear.” (Appendix 5)

Meanwhile, female models talk about beauty as in:

“some beauty shampoos (Appendix 3)

about their daily activities such as “combing” in appendix 3 or about their emotion and their perception as in:

“I love my hair. “I’m convinced. (Appendix 2)

“Convinced. I am. (Appendix 3)

They also mention one fact that they often try to avoid the troubles they encounter:

“Hide it”Cover it”I keep it secret as any woman should. (Appendix 4)

4.1.2. Choice of words

Verb choice

As male models choose to talk about their confidence, their strength as well as their dominance, they use words that help to express perfectly what they mean. Actually, they use strong verbs as “breath”, “move” and “sweat” in Appendix 1 or “face”, “solve”, and “deal with” in appendix 4 or verbs that show their activeness as in

“I trust Clear. (Appendix 1)

The verbs spoken by male voiceovers also have the same feature: “remove” and “prevent” the dandruff (appendix 5), or make the dandruff “go away” and “stay away” (appendix 7) so that “it’s all settled” (appendix 4).

All those verbs bring to the audience the active position of the speakers, and thus, reveal their dominant positions.

On the other hand, the verbs used by female models are quite different since they seem to display the defensive positions of the women

“I’m convinced. (Appendix 2)

“Convinced. I am. (Appendix 3)

or their solutions of avoiding dandruff by hiding it, covering it or keeping it secret (appendix 4).

Adjective choice

As their concerns are different, female and male models choose different adjectives when they speak about their hair.

For example, most male models and voiceovers use “black” to talk about their hair or the hair they want to have:

“I like black. Black is confident. Black looks good.” (Appendix 1)

“From black into darkness “and into the dark, the icy blackness follows.” (Appendix 5)

“the seduction of black, the temptation of black. It’s the closeness of black that you can only have” (Appendix 6)

At the same time, female models talk about the features of “soft”, “clean” and “beautiful” which are just suitable to describe female hair.

“Clear makes my hair soft and beautiful. Just soft hair.” (Appendix 2)

“Can your shampoo leave your hair soft and clean “Clear takes it soft. Just soft hair.” (Appendix 3)

4.1.3. Manner of speaking

As can be seen from the seven advertisements, female models talk with a collaborative orientation. They talk as if they want to share their experience with the audience whereas male models and voiceovers try to assert their positions of dominance by a competitive orientation. They talk about their dealing with dandruff (appendix 4), the collision of “sparks” and dandruff (appendix 5), their black “seduction” and “temptation” when they are dandruff free (appendix 6). The tendency of dominance is also expressed by their short imperative sentences which can be found more frequently in male models or voiceovers’ speech:

“Face it “Solve it (Appendix 4)

“Rage, rage against her breath of fear. (Appendix 5)

“Make the season more seductive. Make it a Clear Black Valentine’s. Be board. Be Black. Move closer anytime. Have Clear Black Valentine’s. (Appendix 6)

The first advertisement in Appendix 1 with the male model also offers another feature of male speech. That is the logic in thinking and speaking:

“Black is confident. Black looks good. Looking good means no dandruff. Confidence means no dandruff. Clear means no dandruff.

With his logical speech, the male model tries to convince the audience the close relationship among Clear, black, confident and looking good.

4.2 Interview analysis and results

The results of the interviews reveal that it is not language but mainly the models, the images in the advertisements that inform the interviewees about the target viewers of the advertisements.

In fact, after looking at the transcription of the seven advertisements, most of them (16 out of 20) hardly say who the advertisements target at. The other four guess the target viewers based on the name of the models (“Rain” in Appendix 1 or “Nicole” in Appendix 2) or the name of the products (“Clear Men” in Appendix 4 or “Clear Black Valentine’s” in Appendix 6).

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However, they can easily answer the two questions after watching the video files and confirm that the language does not get much of their attention but the rhythm of the speech does have some effects on their viewing. This might lead to a conclusion that language does not play an important role in revealing the target viewers of advertisements.

5. Conclusion

The results of two analyses reveal the answers for both research questions.

Firstly, the analysis of the advertisements answers the first question about the relationship between the language and the gender of speakers. In fact, it confirms the theory of gender language. According to the analysis, the language used models/voiceovers of different gender are not the same even though they are not the language that they say in the real life but what they are told to say by the advertisement designers or directors. The differences mainly lie in the choice of topics, choice of words and the manner of speaking.

Secondly, the analysis of the interviews with 20 non-native English speakers answers the second question about the relationship between the language and the target viewers of the advertisements. The result reveals that language does not have a strong link with the target viewers since most of the interviewees cannot say exactly the target viewers of the advertisements if they only look at the transcriptions of the ads.

Although the research has found answers for both research questions, there are still many drawbacks that should be improved. First of all, it is realized that just one or two typical advertisements should be selected in stead of seven so that the analysis could be more thorough and focused. Secondly, the interviews should be recorded by means of multi-media in stead of just recorded by note-taking since it can provide much more information and can be referred back easily.

References

2008 Choicestream Personalization Survey. Choicestream. 29 October 2009

Advertising techniques – Do’s and Don’ts and Simple Tips from Years of Learning. Buzz Marketing. 29 October 2009.

Alfaro, M.W. et al. The effect of voice-over gender and targeted gender of product on television commercial effectiveness. 12 December 2009

Creative and Effective Advertising Techniques. AdCracker. 29 October 2009

Coates, J. 1993. Women, Men and Language. London: Longman.

Coulmas, F. 2005. Gendered speech: Sex as a factor of linguistic choice. Sociolinguistics. Cambridge.

Eckert, P. & McConnell-Ginnet, S. 2003. Language and Gender. Cambridge: CUP

Giles, H. & Coupland, N. 1991. Language: Contexts and Consequences. Open University Press

Graddol, D and Swann, J. 1994. Gender Voices. Oxford: Blackwell.

Gyllgard, L. 2006. Gender differences in Swedish students’ written English and students’ identification of female and male language features. 29 Oct, 2009

Lakoff, R. 1989. Language and Woman’s Place. New York: Harper and Row.

Newman, M.L. et al. 2008. Gender Differences in Language Use: An analysis of 14,000 Text Samples. Discourse Processes. 45: 211-236

Poynton, C. 1989. Language and Gender: Making the difference. Oxford: OUP

Sadek-Endrawes. 2008. Culture & Advertising. 29 Oct, 2009.

Sunderland, J. 2008. Language and Gender. Routledge.

Tannen, D. 1993. Gender and Conversation Interaction. New York: OUP.

The Targeted Advertising Dictionary and Business Index. The Interactive TV Dictionary and Business Index. 25 Nov, 2009.

Thomas, L. et al. 2004. Language, Society and Power. Routledge.

Trudgill, P. 2000. Sociolinguistics: An Introduction to Language and Society. London: Penguin

APPENDICES

APPENDIX 1:

Clear Commercial found on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLb6o0QV9jo

I breath. I move. I sweat. With the world watching. My hair. My clothes. I like black. Black is confident. Black looks good. Looking good means no dandruff. Confidence means no dandruff. Clear means no dandruff. I trust Clear. Dandruff never comes back. My name is Rain. Clear. No Dandruff.

APPENDIX 2

Clear Commercial found on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGzm2dIjO3I

” I lived to perform. My song, my dance, my hair. There’s no room for dandruff. Clear makes my hair soft and beautiful. I love my hair. Clear. It works. I’m convinced. My name is Nicole. Clear. No Dandruff. Just soft hair.

APPENDIX 3

Clear Commercial found on

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TYOSixnZWw&feature=related

Can your shampoo leave your hair soft and clean. That is how combing sounds like with some beauty shampoos. And that is how it sounds like after Clear takes it soft. Convinced. I am. Clear. No Dandruff. Just soft hair.

APPENDIX 4:

Clear Commercial found on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rd_LQMSvXJ4

Face it. Hide it. Solve it. Cover it. I deal with dandruff like a man. I keep it secret as any woman should. But either way, we know the answer is clear. I use clear. Clear men for me. It has zinc vitanol, clinically proven effective to remove dandruff and prevent it from coming back. It’s all settled then. For us, it’s only one choice. New clear. No dandruff.

APPENDIX 5

Clear Commercial found on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6WlPhqIyrs

“From black into darkness, shadows see follicles bent and broke and slivers of sparks as dark and dandruff collide. Rage, rage against her breath of fear! Now frozen, silence marks the danse macabre. And into the dark, the icy blackness follows.”

APPENDIX 6

Clear Commercial found on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9tx1JR34lc

You never know when you’d get stuck by the seduction of black, the temptation of black. It’s the closeness of black that you can only have when you are dandruff free. With Clear. Make the season more seductive. Make it a Clear Black Valentine’s. Be board. Be black. Move closer anytime. Have Clear Black Valentine’s. With clear. No dandruff.

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