Cosmetic products are very important in human life due to the improvement of the living standards. And by bringing the products to potential customers, cosmetic advertisements are quite popular in all means of media. Actually, cosmetic advertisers bring the products to customers in different ways which depend mostly on who the customers are. In other words, they design different advertisements of the same product to target different groups of viewers, namely men and women. The differences among such advertisements motivate me to do a small-scaled research on one of the factors that lead to such different features: the languages used in those advertisements. In more details, this essay aims to examine if any gender-based linguistic differences can be utilized in cosmetic advertisements with the purpose of targeting and influencing viewers of different genders by answering the following research questions:
- Why do advertisers need more than one advertisement for ONE same product?
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- Is language one of the most important differences (among other differences like characters, language, other advertising techniques …) between the two kinds of advertisements? Then why and how important is it in making such difference?
In this section, a general view of advertising and gender differences will be introduced in order to provide a basic background to answer the very first research question before the main focus of the essay is discussed about further details of language use in advertisements. A special attention is paid on the theory of gender differences in language use in advertisements, which will be examined in seven different advertisements for Clear Shampoo in the later part of the essay.
2.1. An overview of 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). Thus, businesses and manufactures always try their best to find out ways to design the best advertisements for their products and services with the utilization of effective techniques. Those techniques then are used as tools to attract attention, “engage minds, trigger emotions and change what people think” (adcracker.com - a famous website for tips, tools and techniques to create world-class advertising ideas). Among them 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
It is obvious that 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 seem to always try their best to utilize language as a powerful tool to influence the viewers. More specifically, they often try to use language quite 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 famous slogan for the brand like Moving Forward for Toyota cars or Malaysia Truly Asia for Tourism in Malaysia. Language in advertisements is also used as internationalized (Sadek-Endrawes, 2008), which is expected to be beneficial in order to create same response from viewers of different countries in case the product comes into the global market. Another observation which is recorded by French researchers about language use in advertisements is that 50 percent of all words are supposed to be nouns and verbs. In conclusion, with the wise choice of language, advertisers can make outstanding effects on advertisement viewers.
2.1.2. Viewers targeted as an influential advertising technique
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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 is consequently resulted in different behaviors. Thus, successful advertisers are often sensible in building 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. It is also agreed by itvdictionary.com that the “personalization” to a group of target audience can lead to “greater awareness”. More specifically, in a ChoiceStream survey, they noted that 38% of respondents say that they are more willing to pay attention pay attention to such individually focused advertising.
2.2. An overview of gender difference
2.2.1. Gender difference in general
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 before birth (Thomas, 2004) with while “gender” is something that the social life shapes on us continuously in every pace of our life (Graddol and Swann, 1994:8). And it is believed and proved by many researches (Coates, 1993; Tannen, 1993; and Trudgill, 2000) that gender has a major influence on language use by a process named “socialization” (Tannen 1993:84)
2.2.2. Gender difference in language use
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 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 great 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, that different use of language by different genders will be discussed in three main aspects: (1) topic choices, (2) word choices and (3) manner of speaking
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 on 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).
It is believed that women seem to be more careful about choosing words than men. And 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 and McConnell-Ginet, 2003), researchers 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 language rather than men's in order to require confirmation or signal uncertainty respectively (Lakoff, 1989).
Manner of speaking
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With the same reasons of different social roles, in terms of manner of speaking, women seem to be more polite in speaking. Therefore, it seems that taboo language like slang or swear words are likely to be created and used by men rather than by women (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.
There are differences between men and women's language in other aspects, however, due to the limit of this essay, only three above-mentioned are chosen to be discussed in this section and to be examined in the later one.
3. Methodology and Data
This study focuses on the difference between the languages used by men and women in different advertisements for one same product, namely Clear Shampoo, a very popular shampoo in Vietnam. Secondly, it will test whether the advertisers are successful in utilizing the difference between men and women language in order to target viewers of different genders by checking whether viewers of different genders can recognize which advertisement is for them or not.
First of all, English versions of seven Clear Shampoo advertisements are selected to be the data for analyzing and 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. 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.
To make the research more reliable, the seven selected advertisements for Clear Shampoo are shown to 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 and students of some M.A. programs for English Linguistics or English Teaching Methodology. The viewers are asked to watch the seven advertisements and answer four following questions:
- Who does each advertisement target, men or women?
- What features of the advertisement tell you about its target viewers?
- Does language used in the advertisement one of those features?
- How does language tell you about the target viewers?
4. Data analysis and results
The results of the interviews surprise the author when most of interviewees, after answering the first two questions, claim the features that inform them about the target viewers of the advertisements are mainly the models and images of the ads. Most of them only pay attention to the language of the advertisement after the third question. However, they all realize the difference in the language used in the adverts and agree that the language used in adverts by men and women partly tell us about the target viewers.
Thus, firstly, this section presents the gender differences in language used in seven Clear Shampoo advertisements which are grouped in differences in (1) choice of topic, (2) choice of word and (3) manner of speaking. Such differences are resulted from the data analysis which is based on the above-mentioned background and the opinions of the interviewees.
4.1 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 beautyas 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)
4.2 Choice of words
4.2.1 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 when they seem to display the defensive positions of the women
… I'm convinced. (Appendix 2)
… Convinced. I am. (Appendix 3)
or their avoidance solutions for dandruff by hiding it, covering it or keeping it secret (appendix 4).
4.2.2 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… Be black. (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)
4.3 Manner of speaking
The last but not least feature that 20 viewers and the author realize as the difference between the two genders is the way they speak. 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 with the male model, Bi Rain, 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, Bi Rain tries to convince the audience the close relationship among Clear, black, confident and looking good. And he seems successful with my interviewees.
All in all, from the above analysis of the language used in seven adverts, it comes to a conclusion that advertisement No 1, 5 and 6 are targeted at men (although by what the author and the interviewees get from the adverts, 5 and 6 target at both men and women); advertisement No 2 and 3 are for women and the rest are targeted at both men and women.
It can be seen from the results that the female language and male language used in seven Clear Shampoo advertisements follow tightly the theory that are presented in other researches on gender differences in language. However, the interviews with Vietnamese viewers who are non-native speakers of English reveal that what lead such viewers to the conclusion of target audience are not the language but the models and the images of the advertisements.
The study also come to another conclusion that the advertisers, who are expected to pay attention to the language of advertising, an effective tool of persuasion, do not actually do so. And the results are the wrong target of the two advertisements number 5 and 6, which advertisers tend to target at both men and women (which can be understood by the images of “white Clear” for women and “black Clear” for men) but actually target only at men if only language of the advertisements is analyzed.