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For years women in advertisements have been portrayed in stereotypical roles, such as
the mother or the seductress. The changing social climate and the evolution of the role of
the woman in the home and in the workplace have given rise to questions regarding the
appropriate portrayal of women in the media today. Bailey (2006:99) asserts that
consumers’ perceptions of particular models (or characters), such as females, may be
structured based on their portrayal in the media. This often leads to outdated stereotypes
being promoted.
Consumers are exposed to a wide variety of advertising in different media every day, and
from these exposures certain thinking patterns evolve. Ibroscheva (2007:409) holds that
gender roles in the media are authenticated through regular exposures, and are then
adopted by the public as the norm. An attitude of male supremacy and female
subordination is propagated through gender differentiation (Serra & Burnett, 2007:147).
Such gender discrepancies are then accepted as societal norms through consumer
socialisation. According to Murray, Rubinstein and Comstock (in Valls-Fernández &
Martínez-Vicente, 2007:691), television commercials are major consumer socialising
Studies focusing on advertising have found that women are not generally shown in
powerful roles. Women in advertisements are usually represented as stereotypical
nurturers or sex objects. These representations do not reflect the changes in society, such
as women in important positions in the workplace (Razzouk, Setz & Vacharante,
2003:120). This is echoed by Koernig and Granitz (2006:92), who state that women are
not depicted as important role players in the corporate setting. Additionally, women are
less likely than men to be portrayed as authorities on products (Furnham & Mak,
1999:424). The woman may therefore be depicted as a product user, but not as an expert
in the use of the product.
In advertising that features athletes, women are portrayed in provocative ways, rather than
in ways that focus on their athletic skills (Grau, Roselli & Taylor, 2007:63). The sexual
nature of women, rather than their capabilities, is often the focal point in magazine
advertisements and television commercials. Women are often depicted in sparse clothing
that emphasises their sexuality (Döring & Poschl, 2006:182). This limits the perceptions of
women, since it does not reflect women’s skills and the positions of power that they may
hold in real-life situations.
Many studies illustrate the stereotyping of women in advertisements. In several studies,
the themes related to the portrayal of women in advertisements are identified as: (1)
stereotypical images of women in advertisements (Bolliger, 2008:46; Grau et al., 2007;
Hung & Li, 2006); (2) role portrayal of women in advertisements (Ibroscheva, 2007:409;
Koernig & Granitz, 2006; Razzouk et al., 2003); and (3) the relation between female
portrayals and product/service categories (Furnham, Pallangyo & Gunter, 2001:23;
Mwangi, 1996:210; Nassif & Gunter, 2008:755).
A large majority of all television commercials and magazine advertisements feature female
characters. Marketers often use female role portrayals in advertising to reach magazine
and television audiences. These role portrayals do not always reflect reality, and are often
limited. Therefore, a need exists for research on the subject. In the study, a content
analysis of the roles portrayed by women in the South African context will be conducted,
using both magazine advertisements and television commercials.
The study makes three important contributions to the field of knowledge of role portrayal in
advertising. Firstly, the study focuses on the state of female roles in advertisements in a
South African context, which, as far as could be determined, has not been done since
1991. Secondly, the study included both print and broadcast media for a broader scope of
female role portrayals. Thirdly, the study aims to identify new female roles that are relevant
in current advertising depictions.
1.2.1 Problem statement
Several international studies on the portrayal of women in magazine advertisements, as
well as television commercials, are available (refer to Chapter 4), but an extensive search
of electronic databases (including EBSCOHost, Google Scholar, Proquest, Emerald and
SABINET) have failed to indicate the existence of any current research on this topic in
South Africa. A study by Rudansky (1991) was identified as the most recent South African
study on magazine advertisements. This will therefore be included in the literature review.
As the aforementioned South African study was conducted before 1994, predating the
ending of apartheid, a definite need exists to determine the extent of the current role
portrayals of females in advertising. The apartheid era was characterised by limited
opportunities for non-white ethnic groups in South Africa. In the post-apartheid era (post-
1994) many social and economic changes have occurred, such as more black people (and
women) in top posts in companies, as well as the growth of the black middleclass
(Modisha, 2008:167). It is expected that such changes would have impacted on
advertising practice in South Africa.
Studies completed in Africa are also included, as African countries share some cultural
similarities, which make them comparable to the status quo in South Africa. It should be
noted that the aim of the study is not to provide specific comparisons to previous research.
Some of the reviewed studies on magazine advertisements suggested analysing the
contents of advertisements in other media as well (Hung & Li, 2006:23; Grau et al.,
2007:64; Koernig & Granitz, 2006:94). The current study aims to address this shortcoming
by conducting a content analysis of not only magazine advertisements, but also television
commercials. A recommendation made by Rudansky (1991:224) was that the role
portrayals of women should be analysed a few years after the 1991 study, in order to
determine whether the role portrayals have become more representative and reflective of
social circumstances. The current study will attempt to address this recommendation.
Döring and Poschl (2006:184) noted that research should be conducted on a wider variety
of product category advertising than mobile communications, and the current study will
therefore include a variety of other product categories.
1.2.2 Objectives of the study
The primary objective of this study is to identify the roles portrayed by women in magazine
advertisements and television commercials in the South African context.
The study field of advertising encompasses many aspects that are related to portrayals of
characters in advertisements and commercials (such as different types of visuals and
advertising appeals), and these aspects are covered in advertising theory and in previous
research. Considering this, several secondary research objectives were set, namely:
• To establish the incidence of female models appearing in magazine advertisements
and television commercials in relation to the overall number of advertisements in the
• To examine the nature of the visual portrayals of female models in magazine
advertisements and television commercials in terms of:
o the number of photographed depictions or real-life appearances in relation to the
overall number of magazine advertisements and television commercials.
o the number of animated/illustrated depictions in relation to the overall number of
magazine advertisements and television commercials.
• To examine the ethnic representation of women in magazine advertisements and
television commercials in terms of:
o the frequency of representation of African, coloured, Indian and white women in
the overall sample.
o the frequency with which multiple ethnic orientations are depicted in one
• To determine the extent to which rational and/or emotional advertising appeals are
used in magazine advertisements and television commercials.
• To investigate the number of portrayals of female celebrities in magazine
advertisements and television commercials.
• To determine the frequency with which women are depicted in multiple roles in one
• To determine the number and type of different product and/or service categories in the
advertisements featuring women.
• To determine the product or service categories advertised for the various roles.
• To report on any new role portrayals which may evolve from the study.
1.2.3 Delimitations
The study is limited to the following contexts within South African advertising: adult female
role portrayals depicted only in magazine advertisements and television commercials. The
content analysis focuses on advertisements and commercials that run only in a limited
time frame, as this will not be a longitudinal study.
Advertisements in magazines with circulation figures exceeding 500 000 (see
Section will be studied as these magazines represent the majority of the total
magazine readership in South Africa. Specialist publications will be excluded, as the
content of these are tailored to specific markets (for example retail club magazines such
as Edgars Club Magazine that is only accessible to Edgars Club members). The focus of
the current study requires magazines targeted to a mainstream audience.
Commercials in prime time on SABC 1, 2, 3 and television channels will be studied.
The specific channels have been chosen because they have the highest viewership
exposure rates. MNet and DStv will be excluded, due to time constraints and the fact that
according to the descriptions of Living Standards Measurement (LSM), the majority of the
South African population does not have access to these channels (Cant, Brink & Brijball,
2006:93). The LSM is a uniquely South African segmentation tool.
Literature focusing on content analyses of advertisements and commercials will be
consulted, as well as advertising and consumer behaviour theory.
The current study includes the following key terms: advertising, animation or illustrations,
consumer, consumer behaviour, content analysis, emotional advertising appeal, ethnic
groups, female celebrities, media, model (female), photograph, product or service type,
promotion, rational advertising appeal and roles. These concepts, as related to the current
study, will now be defined.
Advertising: Advertising is a paid, structured and non-personal form of marketing
communication by an identified sponsor designed to reach a specific target audience with
a persuasive message about a product, service or idea (Arens, Weigold & Arens, 2011:8;
Wells, Moriarty & Burnett, 2006:5).
Animation or illustrations: Animation is defined as “the technique of filming successive
drawings… to create a film giving an illusion of movement” (Soanes & Stevenson,
2006:52). Illustrations refer to static depictions that are drawn (such as line drawings or
cartoons) and exclude all real-life photography.
Consumer: A consumer is defined by Schiffman and Kanuk (2007:4) as a person who “…
buys goods and services for his or her own use, for the use of a household, or as a gift for
a friend”.
Consumer behaviour: Consumer behaviour is defined as "the activities people undertake
when obtaining, consuming, and disposing of products and services" (Blackwell et al.,
Content analysis: Content analysis is a research technique that evaluates the content of
communication messages, such as advertisements, in order to determine common themes
and/or patterns in the messages (Riffe, Lacy & Fico in Neuendorf, 2002:10).
Emotional advertising appeal: This refers to an approach used in advertising that aims
to influence the target audience’s feelings by focusing on their psychological, social or
symbolic needs (Blackwell, Miniard & Engel, 2006:737; Arens et al., 2011:342).
Ethnic groups: For the purpose of the study, ethnic groups are defined as groups of
people that share common cultural or national origins (Soanes & Stevenson, 2006:490).
This includes the four major South African ethnic groups, namely Africans, coloureds,
Indians/Asians and whites, as classified by Statistics South Africa (2009:4).
Female celebrities: Female celebrities include well-known, successful, high-profile
women in various fields, including entertainment, sport and business (Choi, Lee & Kim,
Media: The media are defined as those vehicles or channels commonly used to transmit
advertising messages to a specific target audience, such as television and magazines
(Ouwersloot & Duncan, 2008:9).
Model (female): A model is defined as a woman who poses for a specific purpose, such
as art or photography, as often used in advertisements and commercials (Soanes &
Stevenson, 2006:918). For the purpose of the study, the term “character” will be used
interchangeably with the term model to indicate the female in the advertisement or
Photograph: A photograph is defined as a “still picture made with a camera” (Soanes &
Stevenson, 2006:1079).
Product or service type: A product or service is something that the consumer perceives
will satisfy a need (Hawkins & Mothersbaugh, 2010:19). For the purpose of the study,
product or service types refer to the consumable category into which the product or service
falls, such as food or household products.
Promotion: This is defined as the co-ordination of the various forms of marketing
communication and marketing communication messages that aim to influence target
consumers (Belch & Belch, 2007:15; Ouwersloot & Duncan, 2008:27).
Rational advertising appeal: This type of advertising appeal targets the practical or
functional needs of the consumer (Arens et al., 2011:342).
Roles: Roles are defined as the behavioural patterns suitable to and expected of an
individual based on the individual’s pertinent position from a societal perspective
(Schiffman & Kanuk, 2007:138).
The research methodology employed in the current study includes a literature review as
well as empirical research. The secondary research focuses on the existing literature that
is relevant to the theme of the study. The primary research will examine advertisements
and commercials, using content analysis as the research method.
1.4.1 Literature review
In real-life situations, women are expected to fulfil many roles, and researchers have
attempted to identify these roles as they are portrayed in advertising. This section is
dedicated to a review of the current literature on the promotional element of the marketing
mix, the process of creating advertisements, as well as the female roles portrayed in
advertising. The place of advertising in promotion and the relations between advertising,
communication and consumer behaviour will also be described. An overview of the promotional mix
Promotion forms part of the marketing mix of the organisation. The marketing mix of the
organisation consists of the four Ps, namely: the product, price, place (distribution) and
promotion of the organisation’s offerings (Wells et al., 2006:8).
The promotional element of the marketing mix is also referred to as the marketing
communication or promotional mix, and includes various communication methods and
activities aimed at the target consumer. The integration of the promotional elements is
called integrated marketing communications, or IMC. IMC is described as the process of
planning, co-ordinating, integrating and implementing the various forms of marketing
communications needed to increase the impact on the organisation’s consumers (Clow &
Baack, 2010:32; Shimp, 2010:10).
As promotion is the main communication tool of the marketing mix, the role of promotion in
the communication process will be described next. Promotion as a communication tool
Promotion includes various forms of communication, such as advertisements, aimed at a
target audience. The communication process includes different elements. These are the
sender or the source of the message, the message itself, the communication channel or
medium that is used to relay the message, and lastly, the receiver of the message. In
practice, the sender is the organisation that wishes to initiate communication by sending
an advertising message consisting of words, symbols and visuals (Belch & Belch,
2007:139; Koekemoer, 2004a:44). The medium is the magazine or television channel that
hosts the advertisement or commercial, and the receiver is the target market of the
The sender encodes the message (sets it in words, visuals and structures it) and the
receiver decodes (interprets) it. Feedback is then provided from the receiver back to the
sender in response to the message. The sender aims to attain positive feedback, such as
sales. The communication process may be interrupted or hampered by noise, which may
distort the intended meaning of the message. Psychological noise (such as the noninterest
of the audience) and physical noise (such as competing advertising messages)
may hamper this communication process (Ouwersloot & Duncan, 2008:73).
The message element of the communication process is of particular interest to the current
study, as the advertising messages in magazines and on television channels will be
analysed. Advertising is an element in the promotional mix of the organisation and will now
be discussed. Promotion and advertising
Promotion is an important element of an organisation’s marketing mix, as it is the main tool
for communicating with the target audience. The elements of the organisation’s
promotional strategy include advertising, public relations, sales promotion, personal
selling, direct marketing, events and sponsorships, as well as interactive marketing.
The focus of the current study is on advertising as a promotional element. The objective of
an advertising message is to reach a target audience with a particular message on the
organisation’s products and/or services. The message can be placed in a wide variety of
media. Advertising is described as a paid, structured and non-personal form of marketing
communication by an identified sponsor designed to reach a specific target audience with
a persuasive message about a product, service or idea (Arens et al., 2011:8; Wells et al.,
2006:5). The sponsor is the organisation that initiates (and pays for) the advertising
The media that are used to communicate the advertising message include inter alia
magazines (printed media) and television (broadcast media). These are the media on
which the current study will focus. Wells et al. (2006:5) assert that advertising makes use
of “…non-personal mass media – as well as other forms of interactive communication – to
reach broad audiences”.
The process of creating advertising messages will be discussed next. Creating advertisements
The process of creating advertisements and commercials commences with the
development of a message strategy. The message strategy is the plan for the actual
production of the advertising message, and includes message objectives and methods of
achieving advertising goals (O’Guinn, Allen & Semenik, 2009:341). The objectives and
tactics are outlined in a creative brief. This is a plan of what the organisation wants to
achieve with the particular message.
The message needs to be executed via a particular framework, using the message
objectives as a basis for execution. The executional framework is the message approach
that will be used to communicate the brand message (Belch & Belch, 2007:267). An
example of an executional style is animation, where the characters in the advertisements
or the commercial are illustrations or cartoons. The current study will examine inter alia the
incidence of illustrated female depictions.
Within the executional frame, an advertising appeal is used to express the message.
Advertising appeals are generally divided, based on the rational (providing information;
fact-based) or emotional (eliciting feelings) content of the message (Koekemoer,
2004a:146). The current study will examine the use of emotional and/or rational
advertising appeals in advertisements and commercials featuring female models.
Particular creative tactics are employed to develop magazine advertisements and
television commercials.
a. Creative tactics for magazine advertisements
A printed advertisement, such as a magazine advertisement contains text in the form of
display and body copy, as well as visuals. Display copies are the headings that aim to
attract the attention of the audience, while the body copy accentuates the traits,
advantages and utility of the product (Arens et al., 2011:392). The visuals aim to attract
attention and enhance the likelihood that the audience will read the body copy of the
The layout combines these elements to form a logical whole that will relay the intended
message to the target audience (Belch & Belch, 2007:282). The current study will not
focus on the copy, but on the visuals in the advertising message.
b. Creative tactics for television commercials
Television commercials share many basic similarities to printed advertisements, such as
the copy. These all follow similar patterns to executional frameworks. In television the copy
is supported by the visual and audio components, and unlike the print medium, television
has moving visuals (video). This characteristic of television makes it a more captivating
medium (Wells et al., 2006:369). It is important for the components to be aligned so that
they can run across a campaign.
The copy and audio instructions are described in the script of the commercials, while the
visuals are presented in the form of a storyboard. The script and storyboard detail the
complete contents of a television commercial (Blakeman, 2007:190). Other elements
besides the audio and video include the props, the setting and the cast. The cast features
the characters (or models) used in the commercial. These should reflect the typical user of
the product or service (O’Guinn et al., 2009:437). The current study will include the female
model, the setting and the props, as indicators of role portrayals. The female model in the
advertisement or commercial should represent an image that target consumers can
identify with.
The aim of marketing communication is therefore to link the organisation (sponsor) with
the target audience in a manner to which the audience can relate. Advertising plays a very
important role in communicating with the consumer and influencing the consumer’s
decision-making process. For these reasons, a brief summary of consumer behaviour is
important. Consumer behaviour
As stated previously, advertising aims to influence target audiences. These consist of
potential customers or consumers. Consumers display behavioural patterns that are of
interest to the organisation, as it wishes to provide a suitable product or service offering to
the consumer; and this can only be achieved if the organisation knows the consumer.
Consumer behaviour is defined as "the activities people undertake when obtaining,
consuming, and disposing of products and services" (Blackwell et al., 2006:4).
The theory suggests that consumers (in most cases) go through the consumer decisionmaking
process when buying decisions for products or services are made. The consumer decision-making process
Consumers, when making a purchase decision, progress through the consumer decisionmaking
process. This process consists of several stages, and in each of these advertising
can play an influencing role. The discussion will focus on five decision-making stages,
namely problem recognition, pre-purchase information search, alternative evaluation,
purchase and post-purchase processes.
The consumer decision-making process commences with need recognition, where the
consumer faces a consumption-related problem. This is followed by the pre-purchase
search for information that will provide alternatives that may satisfy the recognised need.
After the consumer has identified viable product options, these alternatives are evaluated
based on certain criteria and a purchase decision is made (Blythe, 2008:261).
The product choice is the alternative that the consumer believes will satisfy the identified
need most satisfactorily. Following the purchase, post-purchase processes commence.
The product is consumed and the performance of the product is evaluated, insofar as it
has satisfied the need. If the consumer is uncertain of the wisdom of the decision, he or
she experiences cognitive dissonance (Schiffman & Kanuk, 2007:264). Influencing factors on the consumer decision-making process
The consumer is influenced by factors that are both internal and external to the individual.
Various sources (Blackwell et al., 2006:5; Blythe, 2008:7; Schiffman & Kanuk, 2007:16)
offer models of consumer decision-making, and in these models both psychological and
external influences on consumer behaviour are described. Psychological factors include
various influences that are internal to the individual consumer. These factors include the
individual’s motivation, perception, learning, personality and attitudes.
Motivation is the reason why people engage in consumption behaviour and perception is
the personalised manner whereby people create a mental sense of stimulus (Arens et al.,
2011:160). Perception includes the learning process, as perceptions (and attitudes) are
learned. The learning process involves acquiring the knowledge to apply to future
consumer behaviour and acquisitions.
The consistent way in which someone responds to his/her environment is referred to as an
individual’s personality. Organisations develop brand personalities for their brands, and
these are generally related to the personality of the target consumer. Attitudes are learned
predispositions as regards behaving in a particular positive or negative manner towards an
External factors are influences outside the consumer, and comprise socio-cultural factors
and the organisation’s marketing efforts. The former includes the family; social class
(divisions in society into which individuals are classified according to shared values, socio14
economic status and lifestyle factors); as well as culture (and subculture), which is a
shared set of values, beliefs, customs and behaviours in a larger society (Hawkins &
Mothersbaugh, 2010:42).
The socio-cultural factors serve as broad indicators of the target consumers’ values and
how these will impact on their buying behaviour. The organisation’s marketing efforts
consist of the organisation’s product, price, distribution and promotional efforts. These
elements were briefly described in Section As mentioned previously, the image
projected by female models in advertising impact on the manner in which the target
audience relates to advertisements and commercials. A discussion of female models as
portrayers of specific roles in magazine advertisements will be provided next. Female role portrayals in magazine advertisements
Various studies from around the world, including South Africa, have investigated the roles
portrayed by women in magazine advertisements. Table 1.1 provides a summary of the
identified roles and the sources of the studies.
Table 1.1 Female role portrayals in magazine advertising
Role portrayals Sources
Sex object Bolliger (2008:51); Döring & Pöschl (2006:184); Grau et al. (2007:63);
Johnson, Rowan & Lynch (2006:8); Koernig & Granitz (2006:91); Monk-
Turner, Wren, McGill, Matthiae, Brown and Brooks (2008:206);
Plakoyiannaki & Zotos (2009:1417); Razzouk et al. (2003:122); Rudansky
Mother/nurturer Bolliger (2008:51); Döring & Pöschl (2006:184); Hung & Li (2006:11) and
Hung, Li, & Belk (2007:1039); Koernig & Granitz (2006:91); Rudansky
Physically attractive/decorative Bolliger (2008:51); Döring & Pöschl (2006:182); Hung & Li (2006:13);
Johnson et al. (2006:7); Plakoyiannaki & Zotos (2009:1417); Razzouk et
al. (2003:124).
Working/career woman Hung & Li (2006:13); Koernig & Granitz (2006:91); Plakoyiannaki & Zotos
(2009:1417); Razzouk et al. (2003:124); Rudansky (1991:148).
Housewife Bolliger (2008:51); Koernig & Granitz (2006:91); Plakoyiannaki & Zotos
(2009:1417); Razzouk et al. (2003:122); Rudansky (1991:143).
Dependant Döring & Pöschl (2006:184); Koernig & Granitz (2006:91); Plakoyiannaki
& Zotos (2009:1417); Razzouk et al. (2003:122).
Mannequin Razzouk et al. (2003:124); Rudansky (1991:149).
Product user Johnson et al. (2006:7); Plakoyiannaki & Zotos (2009:1417).
Social being Plakoyiannaki & Zotos (2009:1417); Rudansky (1991:146).
Non-traditional activities Razzouk et al. (2003:124).
Romantic Rudansky (1991:145).
The roles portrayed by females in magazine advertisements, according to Table 1.1,
include: sex object, mother/nurturer, physically attractive/decorative, career woman,
housewife, dependant, mannequin, product user, social being, non-traditional woman and
the romantic role. These role portrayals will be briefly discussed next.
a. Sex object
A sex object refers to a female character in an advertisement depicted in a sexually
alluring manner. She is generally dressed in sparse clothes and her attitude is provocative.
In the role of sex object, the sexually alluring female is purely decorative, and her
presence and appearance are generally not directly related to the product in any way
(Rudansky, 1991:147). The sex object has been identified as the most commonly depicted
role in various studies (Grau et al., 2007:62; Koernig & Granitz, 2006:91; Razzouk et al.,
2003:123). The woman as sex object will be included in the current study.
b. Mother/nurturer
A popular (stereotypical) advertising role portrayal of women is that of the mother or the
nurturer. This image is described as a woman who is domestic, nurturing and soft (Hung &
Li, 2006:12). Twenty per cent of the advertisements in one South African study pictured
the woman as a mother (Rudansky, 1991:144). This was the second most popular role
portrayal, indicating a perception from advertisers in the nineties that this role was relevant
to the woman of that era. In the mother role, the female is shown with one or more children
in the setting, and her attention is focused on the child or children, or the product being
advertised. The woman as a mother will be included in the current study.
c. Physically attractive/decorative
The female as a purely beautiful object was prevalent in various studies, for example, the
Chinese “flower vase”, which is a role typified as carrying an image of glamour, charm,
beauty; it combines both Eastern and Western ideals (Hung and Li, 2006:13). This woman
celebrates her femininity, and does so through enhancing her physical beauty by using
cosmetics, jewellery and different hairstyles. The physically decorative female is most
often used in advertising personal care products aimed at enhancing physical
attractiveness. The current study will examine the link between such roles and the product
The physically decorative role was found in the majority of depictions in women’s
magazines and was the second most popular portrayal in Thai magazines (Döring and
Poschl, 2006:181; Razzouk et al., 2003:123). For the purpose of the study, the physically
decorative role is typified by an image of attractiveness; and the role symbolises the
physical ideal.
d. Career woman (working woman)
A diverse range of studies worldwide identify females in advertisements portraying a
career or working role. The career woman is typically dressed in businesslike apparel and
she is performing work-related activities in a working environment. A typical example
would be a woman dressed in a uniform, typing in an office environment.
Most studies note the presence of a career role, but do not differentiate between any of the
various working roles. In a South African study, the role of the career woman (or the
working role) was separated into the following six categories (Rudansky, 1991:148):
 Teacher: the woman is illustrated in a teaching position, and the surroundings often
include children or a child, and props that indicate a classroom setting.
 Nurse: here the female wears a nursing uniform and she is depicted in an environment
related to the medical industry.
 Secretary: this woman performs secretarial tasks in an office setting.
 Office worker: this female is also in an office environment, but the situation and props
(such as a uniform) show that she does not hold an important or secretarial position.
 The executive or professional: here the female is dressed in business attire and the
background, props and activities engaged in are central to the role portrayal and they
indicate a top position.
 Other: these are additional working roles that do not fit into the above mentioned
According to various authors, women worldwide are active in the workplace. For example,
around 63 per cent of contemporary Thai women work outside the home (Razzouk et al.,
2003:122). However, this is not reflected in advertising practice, as only 12 per cent of
Chinese and Thai female advertising images depict career women, and less than one per
cent of South African advertising images do so (Hung & Li, 2006:12; Razzouk et al.,
2003:122; Rudansky, 1991:162).
e. Housewife
The housewife or homemaker is portrayed by a female character in a household setting
performing household chores; and she is not depicted with children, as the presence of
children indicates a mother role. She could be shown with household products or
appliances that are related to housework (Rudansky, 1991:143). Ten per cent of Thai and
one per cent of South African advertisements depict women as housewives (Razzouk et
al., 2003:123; Rudansky, 1991:162).
In the United Kingdom (UK), the housewife portrayal is also rare, as it occurred in only six
per cent of advertisements (Plakoyiannaki & Zotos, 2009:1423). This role will be included
in the current study.
f. Dependant
The woman as a dependant person was identified by Razzouk et al. (2003:123) in eight
percent of advertisement portrayals. The authors did not provide a clear definition and the
assumption is made that this refers to women portrayed as dependent on men. In a recent
study, less than four per cent of advertisements in the UK portrayed the woman as
dependent (Plakoyiannaki & Zotos, 2009:1427). Dependency on a man was included in
the coding descriptors for the “nurturer” in Hung and Li (2006:17). Therefore the nurturer is
deemed a dependency role. The nurturer as dependant is typified as a gentle, kind,
virtuous and domesticated woman – the ideal wife and mother.
As distinct role categories exist for housewife and mother and these include a degree of
dependency, the dependant role will not be used as a separate role category in the current
g. Mannequin
Women who portray no distinct relation to other people and/or who do not focus on
external factors are often found in advertisements. This depiction signifies a mannequin
role. The mannequin is also called the model girl, and her role is solely to exhibit or show
off the product (Rudansky, 1991:149).
For the purpose of the present study, the term mannequin rather than model will be used
to refer to this role portrayal. This will eliminate any confusion between the roles and the
characters (models) in advertising. The mannequin is generally depicted as wearing or
displaying the advertised product. The portrayal of the mannequin was used in 45 per cent
of the South African advertisements, the most popular depiction (Rudansky, 1991:162).
The mannequin portrayal will be included in the current study.
h. Product user
In the role of a product user, the character is depicted as preparing to make use of or
actually use the advertised product. This role was specified in studies on gender portrayals
in computer and technological product advertisements. These found that although women
are depicted as product users, they are seldom portrayed as experts. In the use of
technological products such as computers, women are generally portrayed as passive,
unsure and mostly ornamental (Bolliger, 2008:49; Johnson et al., 2006:6). The portrayal of
women as product users will be examined in the present study.
i. Social being
The female as a social being is depicted with other people, who may include men, but the
interaction is not romantic in nature (Rudansky, 1991:146). The social being’s focus is on
the other individuals present or on the activity that they are performing. It is a broad
category that includes social activities such as sport, entertainment or parties. It was one
of the three most depicted roles in the previous South African study (Rudansky, 1991:162)
and will be included as a role category in the current study.
j. Romantic role
The woman in the romantic role was identified by Rudansky (1991:145). In this role, the
woman reflects positive emotion and is depicted with a male, or in contact with one. The
background suggests love or romance, and excludes other people. The romantic role
includes inter alia portrayals of women as wives and girlfriends, and this is another
prevalent South African role portrayal (Rudansky, 1991:162); it will therefore be included in
the current study.
k. Engaged in non-traditional activities
Women engaged in non-traditional activities (actions not traditionally associated with
females) represented six percent of role depictions in Thai advertising (Razzouk et al.,
2003:123). These portrayals were not stereotypical depictions of women and were seldom
used. None of the other studies identified women in non-traditional roles, and as the
prevalence was low, it will be excluded from the current study.
In the next section, the roles portrayed by women in television commercials are described.
As will be seen in, the television depictions show many similarities with magazine
portrayals. Female role portrayals in television commercials
As in magazine advertisements, television commercials also contain several distinct
female role portrayals. The literature review identified several such role portrayals, which
are summarised in Table 1.2.
Table 1.2 Female role portrayals in television commercials
Role portrayal Sources
Work-related Furnham and Mak (1999:424); Furnham et al. (2001:24); Ibroscheva
(2007:415); Milner (2005:84); Mwangi (1996:210); Nassif and Gunter
(2008:756); Valls-Fernández and Martínez-Vicente (2007:695).
Homemaker Furnham and Mak (1999:424); Furnham et al. (2001:24); Ibroscheva
(2007:415); Milner (2005:82); Mwangi (1996:210); Nassif and Gunter
(2008:756); Valls-Fernández and Martínez-Vicente (2007:694).
Wife/mother Furnham and Mak (1999:424); Furnham et al. (2001:24); Ibroscheva
(2007:415); Milner (2005:82); Mwangi (1996:210); Valls-Fernández and
Martínez-Vicente (2007:695).
Decorative Furnham and Mak (1999:429); Furnham et al. (2001:25); Mwangi (1996:211);
Nassif and Gunter (2008:756); Valls-Fernández and Martínez-Vicente
Product user Furnham and Mak (1999:424); Furnham et al. (2001:24); Ibroscheva
Sex object Craig in Furnham and Mak (1999:424); Furnham et al. (2001:24); Ibroscheva
Social being Ibroscheva (2007:415)
Table 1.2 shows that academic researchers have found several roles that are universal,
and can be found in various countries. The roles are parallel to the roles portrayed in
magazine advertising (refer to Section and will be included in the present study. A
brief discussion of the roles in Table 1.2 follows.
a. Work-related
Various studies have examined the occupational depictions of women in commercials.
Women featured in more than half of South African commercials in a study that analysed
gender roles in African countries (Milner, 2005:84). Specific work-related portrayals include
classifications as professionals, labourers and office workers (Furnham et al., 2001:24;
Nassif & Gunter, 2008:756).
In other studies, occupational portrayals were classified specifically as occupational types,
but not in any particular roles (Valls-Fernández & Martínez-Vicente, 2007:695). The
combination of autonomy as an indicator of an occupational role and location or setting of
the image (such as the office) point to a work-related role portrayal (Ibroscheva,
b. Homemaker
The homemaker (housewife) role is typified by a woman displaying some degree of
dependence, and she is generally depicted in a household background (Ibroscheva,
2007:415; Nassif & Gunter, 2008:757; Valls-Fernández & Martínez-Vicente, 2007:694).
Females portrayed with household products are also classified as homemakers. Such
portrayals were reported by Furnham et al. (2001:24), as well as by Mwangi (1996:210);
and the homemaker is considered to be the same as the role of housewife that was
identified in magazine advertisements (refer to Section
c. Wife/mother
The female as a wife or mother is often portrayed in commercials. Many studies combine
the categories of housewife and mother (Furnham et al., 2001:24; Ibroscheva, 2007:415;
Mwangi, 1996:210; Valls-Fernández & Martínez-Vicente, 2007:695). Generally, the woman
portrayed as mother is considered to be a more traditional and gender-stereotypical
depiction. This may explain its prevalence in television commercials.
d. Decorative
Similar to the portrayal in magazine advertisements (refer to Section, the
physically decorative woman is also linked to personal care products in television
commercials (Furnham et al., 2001:24; Mwangi, 1996:211; Nassif & Gunter, 2008:757;
Valls-Fernández & Martínez-Vicente, 2007:696). As mentioned previously, the physically
decorative role is an image that typifies attractiveness and is seen as the physical ideal.
e. Product user
Television is an excellent medium for demonstrating the use of a product; therefore people
are often portrayed as product users in commercials. According to Furnham et al.
(2001:24) and Ibroscheva (2007:415), women are specifically featured as product users in
television commercials.
f. Sex object
Women dressed in sexually suggestive clothing and/or in provocative poses have been
identified as sex objects in studies done on television commercials. Similar indicators
(such as sparse clothing) to those used in magazine advertisement studies were used to
identify the sex object in commercials. The sex object was identified in commercials by
Furnham et al. (2001:24), as well as by Ibroscheva (2007:415), and showed a relatively
high prevalence.
g. Social being
Although the role of social being was not specified in studies on television commercials,
contact with other people was noted, and may be interpreted as indicating some form of
social interaction. According to Ibroscheva (2007:415), women are often portrayed
engaging in some form of physical contact, indicating that social portrayals of women exist
in commercials.
All of the above roles will be included in the investigation of commercials in the current
study. As stated earlier, the role portrayals in television commercials are similar to the
portrayals in magazine advertisements. A summary of female role portrayals in both media
is provided next, as these role portrayals will be used as a basis in the current study. Summary of female role portrayals in advertisements and commercials
The following pertinent female role portrayals will form the foundation for roles that will be
examined in the current study:
 Career woman
 Homemaker
 Mother
 Mannequin
 Physically decorative woman
 Sex object
 Social being
 Product user
 Romantic role
In a summary of the literature review, female characters in advertisements have the
purpose of conveying the message of the advertised product or service to the target
audience. The advertisement (that includes a character) is required to attract attention to
the message, create interest in the offering and stimulate a desire to buy (Wells et al.,
2006:102). Various distinctly identifiable role portrayals of women exist in advertisements
and commercials, and these will be examined in the current study.
The research design and method that will be used in the present study will be discussed
1.4.2 Empirical research: design and method
The research design, sampling method, data collection and data analysis of the current
study will be detailed in this section. The measures for assessing the quality and rigour of
the current content analysis are also outlined. Description of research design
A pilot study will be conducted to clearly define the existing roles. The pilot study will also
serve to define the research practice, to redefine the sample if necessary, and to refine the
codebook and coding forms that serve as research instruments. After completion of the
pilot study, a content analysis of magazine advertisements and television commercials
featuring female models will be conducted.
A content analysis is defined by Krippendorff (2004a:18) as a research method that makes
“…replicable and valid inferences from texts (or other meaningful matter) to the contexts of
their use”. Berelson (in Neuendorf, 2002:10) describes content analysis as “a research
technique for the objective, systematic, and quantitative description of the manifest content
of communication”.
Content analysis as a research method has an empirical, basic research design. The
current study is a descriptive, cross-sectional study that is non-experimental and will draw
primary data from both magazine advertisements and television commercials. Textual data
will be collected. Krippendorff (2004a:30) describes text as material that includes writing
and visual imagery. The present content analysis will focus primarily on the visual images
of women in the advertisements and commercials.
Various opinions exist on whether content analysis is by nature a qualitative or quantitative
method. Many authors support the notion that content analysis includes both qualitative
and quantitative elements. According to Harwood and Garry (2003:480), content analysis
may be used in both qualitative as well as in quantitative research. Such research may be
“qualitative in the development stages of research and quantitative where it is applied to
determine [the] frequency of phenomena of interest”.
This stance is supported by Krippendorff (in White & Marsh, 2006:35), who explains that
the qualitative nature of content analysis focuses on the meaning of the content; whereas
the quantitative aspect serves to draw conclusions from the content “to the context of [its]
use.” The present study employs quantitative content analysis as a research method
because it focuses inter alia on the frequencies of particular role portrayals of women in
The content analysis research design is chosen because it is an appropriate method to
determine the role portrayal of females in advertisements. It is also applicable for its wide
use in research pertaining to communications (Kolbe & Burnett, 1991:243). Leedy and
Ormrod (2005:142) hold that a content analysis is a methodical examination of material, in
order to determine patterns, and is typically used for analysing communication forms. The
current study’s primary objective is to determine the roles that women portray in
advertisements (marketing communications). This makes content analysis an appropriate
design to reach this objective.
The sampling procedures that will be utilised in the present study are outlined next.
25 Sampling
a. Magazines
The sample of magazines will include all general interest, male and female magazines with
readership figures of 500 000 or higher, as measured by the South African Advertising
Research Foundation (SAARF)’s All Media and Products Survey (AMPS). Specialist
publications, such as sport and motoring magazines, will be excluded, as the target
audiences for these are too specialised. The current study will seek to benefit from data
extracted from magazines with broader readership. The magazines in the sample will be
chosen for high readership levels.
Table 1.3 reflects the AMPS 2008B figures of monthly and weekly magazines exceeding
500 000 in readership. These are listed in descending order.
Table 1.3 AMPS figures for magazines exceeding 500 000 in circulation figures
Magazine '000s % of adult population
1 Bona 2218 7.1
2 True Love 2175 6.9
3 You 2139 6.8
4 Drum 2008 6.4
5 Huisgenoot 1835 5.9
6 Move! 1170 3.7
7 Amakhosi 1077 3.4
8 People 1031 3.3
9 Car 896 2.9
10 Men’s Health 854 2.7
11 Cosmopolitan 823 2.6
12 Fair Lady 758 2.4
13 Speed & Sound Mag. 677 2.2
14 Rooi Rose 648 2.1
15 FHM 619 2
16 O' The Oprah Mag SA 616 2
17 Sarie 604 1.9
18 Reader’s Digest 570 1.8
19 Soccer Life Four Four Two 537 1.7
20 Auto Trader 528 1.7
Source: South African Advertising Research Foundation (2008)
As stated previously, specialist publications (indicated in italics font in Table 1.3) will not be
included in the sample; therefore Amakhosi (soccer), Car (motoring), Speed & Sound
Magazine (motoring), Soccer Life Four Four Two (soccer), Auto Trader (motoring) will be
excluded. Additionally, the sister publications, You (for English readers) and Huisgenoot
(for Afrikaans readers), were found on preliminary examination to have more than 90 per
cent overlapping advertisements, and for this reason Huisgenoot will also be excluded.
From the sample of magazines, all full-page and double-page advertisements featuring at
least one woman will be selected as sample units. These will be chosen, as a preliminary
examination of magazines found that full-page and double-page advertisements are very
prevalent and are considered able to attract more attention (Arens et al., 2011:357). The
sampling technique that will be used to select the magazines, from which advertisements
will be drawn, is non-probability purposeful sampling. This approach is chosen because
the magazines with the highest readership are required for the study.
It is not possible to determine in advance the exact number of advertisements that will be
selected, as the number will only become clear when the actual data collection is in
process. Preliminary investigations of a few magazines suggest an estimation of around
50 advertisements per issue. This is considered to be an adequate sample to answer the
primary research question. The sample will consist of advertisements in monthly and
weekly magazines selected in a time frame of two months. The first weekly issue of the
month for each of the weekly magazines will be selected.
b. Television commercials
Advertisements featuring women aired on SABC 1, 2 and 3, and will be included in the
sample. As stated in Section 1.2.3, the free-to-air channels have been selected, as the
majority of the South African population have access to them. As there are practical and
time constraints for the current study (and the most popular channels need to be selected),
the sampling technique that will be used to select the television commercials is nonprobability
purposive sampling.
Due to practical constraints, only commercials in prime time (between 18:00 and 22:00) on
Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays will be included. Using commercials aired in prime
time is in line with previous research practices (Ibroscheva, 2007:412; Valls-Fernández &
Martínez-Vicente, 2007:693). Fridays are included, as they represent a weekend day that
may feature different commercials than weekdays. All the television commercials in the
mentioned time frame (featuring female models) will be selected. It is not possible at this
point to determine the exact number of commercials that will be analysed, as the number
will only become clear when the actual data collection is in process. Data collection
The advertisements and commercials will be analysed to isolate the role portrayals
identified in the literature review (see Section 1.4.1). New roles that may be identified in
the pilot study will also be included. Analysis will take place according to the requirements
for content analyses, as set out by Berelson (in Kassarjian, 1977:9), namely objectivity,
systemisation and quantification.
 Objectivity: To satisfy this requirement, the categories used for the analysis have to be
defined so distinctly that, when they are applied by various analysts to the same
content, the same results would be obtained. This means that the categories of roles
used in the current study need to be defined clearly to comply with the requirement of
objectivity. The current study will make use of independent coders to satisfy this
 Systemisation: This requirement demands that the analyses have to be relevant to the
research problem. Holsti (in Kassarjian, 1977:9) states that the analysis categories
need to be selected based on consistently applied tenets, thereby negating the use of
categories that may be biased in favour of the researcher’s opinions. The current study
will be guided by current research practice and literature in this regard.
 Quantification: The quantification requirement implies that the data should be
acceptable to statistical techniques, for the “precise and parsimonious” summation of
results, as well as for the “interpretation and inference” (Kassarjian, 1977:10) thereof.
Descriptive analysis will be conducted in the current study.
In order to identify the female role portrayals, as well as other aspects relevant to the
research objectives, the content of advertisements and commercials will be analysed, and
will focus on visual content or imagery. This procedure will collect primary, qualitative data
from the visual content of the advertisements. Data will be collected to reach the set
objectives (refer to Section 1.2.2).
Physical access to the units of analysis may be hampered if the required magazines
cannot be obtained or the television commercials cannot be accessed. To overcome these
potential challenges, the magazines will be sourced from a wide variety of retail points,
and sufficient pre-planning and preparation will be done to ensure access to the required
television channels to facilitate the recording of advertisements.
The data will be collected by the researcher, utilising DVD or video recording equipment
required for the recording and playback of television commercials. The data will be
collected from commercials aired on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in prime time
(between 18:00 and 22:00). The time frame will be one month. Therefore, approximately
192 hours of television time across the selected four channels will be examined; and all
the commercials featuring females that are aired in that time will be selected for content
analysis. Data analysis
The data will be coded by the researcher for both the pilot and the final study. Apart from
the researcher, two other trained coders will be used in the data analysis for the purpose
of testing reliability. The researcher will code the entire body of content, and the
independent coders will code a sample of the pilot and the final study to determine intercoder
The coding process will include the classification of categories of female role portrayals, as
defined after the pilot study. This will include the roles listed in Section, as well as
any additional roles that may be identified in the pilot study. Recording, storing and accuracy of data
The sample of magazines will be purchased as soon as they are available in the retail
stores. The magazines will be acquired from various retail points, such as CNA, Pick n Pay
and Clicks. A complete database or file will be kept of all the magazines used in the study.
The television commercials that will be included in the current study will be recorded and
copies will be made as back-ups. The videos and DVDs will be stored in a secure
To ensure that the data collected are accurate and complete, a meticulous record will be
kept of all units; and two additional coders will be employed to ensure objectivity (Kolbe &
Burnett, 1991:245). Preparation of data for analysis: coding and analysis
Data collection forms and a codebook (Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill, 2007:416) will be
used to facilitate the accurate recording and coding of data. The codebook and coding
forms will include the nature of the visuals, the ethnicity of the female(s) in the
advertisement or commercial, the advertising appeal used, whether the female is a
celebrity or not, the product types advertised, as well as the female role categories.
As stated earlier, the data collected will be analysed quantitatively. This entails
determining, among other factors, the frequencies of occurrence of the aspects on the
data collection form. Assessing and demonstrating the quality and rigour of the content analysis
The data on which a content analysis is to be based need to be reliable and valid in order
for the data to be considered high quality (Saunders et al., 2007:265).
 Reliability: Reliable data refer to data that will stay constant even if the measurement
procedure varies (Krippendorff, 2004a:211). The current study will employ three coders
for the purpose of ensuring the reliability of measurements. The reliability measures
used to test reliability will be Krippendorff’s alpha and the per cent agreement.
 Validity: This points to the degree to which a measurement process will reach the
intended objective, and measures what was intended to be measured (Neuendorf,
2002:112; Saunders et al., 2007:614). Measures of face and content validity will be
used in the current study, and these will be described in Chapter 5.
To address the above issues, the analysis will be based on very clear and comprehensive
descriptions of the variables (roles) to be analysed. Additionally, the coders will be trained,
and guidelines will be provided to ensure consistency in the process of analysis. In content
analysis where human coders are utilised, inter-coder reliability is very important. This
refers to the level of agreement among multiple coders (Neuendorf, 2002:141). Reliability
coefficients of 0.80 (80%) and higher are generally considered acceptable (Krippendorff,
2004a:429; Neuendorf, 2002:143).
Neuendorf (2002:148) makes various recommendations for reporting inter-coder reliability,
including per cent agreement and Krippendorff’s alpha (α). The current study will
incorporate these two measures, as per cent agreement is applicable only to cases where
Krippendorff’s alpha cannot be used. Krippendorff’s alpha takes into consideration the
possibility of coincidental agreement between coders, and is a measure suitable to the
purpose of the current study (refer to Chapter 5).
The thesis consists of seven chapters. Chapter 1 provides an introduction and background
to the study, outlines the research objectives and provides an overview of the methodology
that will be used to conduct the research.
Chapter 2 will supply an overview of the promotional mix, commencing with an outline of
the marketing mix. Promotional strategy will be discussed, as well as the communication
model and the elements of the promotional mix. The role of advertising in the promotional
mix will be clarified, advertising media will be described, and the relationship between
advertising and consumer behaviour will be explored.
In Chapter 3, an exposition of advertising creative message strategy will be provided. The
components of message strategy and the processes involved in developing magazine
advertisements, as well as television commercials will be discussed. The chapter includes
an explanation of models in advertising messages, as well as the factors involved in model
Chapter 4 will provide an overview of the different role portrayals of women, as found in
the academic literature. The role portrayals identified in research on advertising in
magazines and on television worldwide will be described. The chapter will conclude with a
summary of the roles that are universally depicted in advertisements a

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