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The portrayal of the female in advertising has reached a sophisticated level in an age of mass media and modern technology. The study evaluates the perceptions of the public on the portrayal of female models in contemporary advertisements in Nigeria, the major sources of exposure to these advertisements, the perceptions of consumers regarding the aesthetics of female portrayal and the effects on the marketing of the products. The data for this study was generated from six geopolitical zones in Nigeria using survey method. The study used two instruments; namely, questionnaire and an interview guide with data presented in percentages and numbers. The results showed that the majority (66.3%) of the respondents are adequately exposed to these advertisements where female models are being used as endorsement icons. The study also showed that television has the highest (27.2%) number of respondents that are exposed to advertisements involving female exposure. The study further revealed that 43.7% of the respondents are of the opinion that female portrayals are associated with gender sensitive products and services. Further analysis showed that about one third (36.1%) of the respondents are influenced to a less extent in the sales of products. The result also showed that a good number (42.7%) of the respondents are of the opinion that women are only being portrayed as sex objects in product advertisements. In the case of portrayal of female in advertisements, the result of the hypothesis showed that the perception of Nigerians is dependent on level of education (0.00<0.05). Hypothesis on the pattern of exposure and level of patronage revealed that patronage is independent of exposure. (0.0901>0.05). on the extent of patronage of products and services, the result of the hypothesis showed that the extent to which the portrayal of female in advertising helps to sell the products is dependent on the perception of the consumers (0.00<0.05). To this end, it is recommended that, government and advertising agencies should adopt guidelines for advertisement, so that female models should be portrayed with decency and decorum. 



1.1       Background of the Study

In an age of mass media and complex new technologies, advertising has reached a new level of sophistication. Markets are saturated with consumer goods, while the target audience is equally saturated with the bait of media information geared towards the sale and promotion of consumer goods. Advertising itself has grown both in complexity and sophistication that its visual products have become so naturalized in both public taste, and expectation that no one raises any hair on its aesthetic quality and content such as to question its subtle violations of gender representation. In a world in which advertising has explored sexism as bait in reaching the target audience, little attention is paid to the sexist undertones of modern advertising and its exploitation of a sexist agendum.

Thus sexist driven advertisements have been presented to the consuming public as if they were in accord with “behavioural normalcy” (Vestergaard and Schroder, 1985). Their deliberate naturalization, as if they were value free, has attracted a critical response from feminists. The goals of this counter-response is to awaken a political consciousness that addresses the issue of unequal representation, not only in politics, job positions, political representations, but includes inequality in the sphere of advertising. This is because gender issues underlie the politics of representation (Fairar, Straus and Giroux, 2000). Thus, the current issue in any discussion on advertising ought to address the aesthetics of advertising in order to deconstruct its linguistic, visual and overall content. This is to interrogate its visual agenda as to its sexist agenda when viewed from a feminist prism.

Another connected issue is that the aesthetics of advertising includes moral values, positive or negative, which are woven into the visual scheme of modern advertisements. It will be argued here that interrogating modern advertising strategies is to evaluate the sexually biased and deliberately packaged advertisements whose primary aim is to exploit women as sexual objects in order to affect quick saleability of consumer goods. There is need therefore to subject modern advertisements to feminist interrogation in terms of their thematic and visual aesthetics. This issue has a double force given that these advertisements may be sexual representations which construct women as the other. It is like opening the Pandora’s Box in order to see which strange creature inhabits it.

The rationale here is that ‘the message, attribute, colour, taste and size of consumer goods’ can have “positive or negative impact on a consumer” (Amanfo, 2001: 42). Furthermore, “advertising promotes general awareness of the availability and preference for products by emphasizing the unique benefits each product offers to consumers” (2001:42). This is to say that advertisements as strategies for promotion of consumer goods may tilt in disfavour of gender lines, where sexual exploitation is the prime motivation in such advertisements.

One recurrent theme in the portrayal of women in advertisement is that they tend to appear as objects of desire. Female bodies are used in sexually exploitative advertisements. The strategy appears direct and simple. As attractive bodies are employed to grab attention and stimulate desire, which advertisers hope will then be transferred to the product. In this way, women are dehumanized and presented as sexual objects and market commodities. By focusing on body parts, sexual impulses are stimulated as a strategy of consumer goods sales and promotions. Female bodies appear to be magnetic promo-tools for marketing and advertising (Kotler and Armstrong, 2010).

The aforementioned studies indicated that marketing and aesthetics have always played a significant role in the sales of goods and services; hence it has constituted an important area of discourse for scholars all over the world. It has therefore been argued that the pervasiveness of marketing in creating value for goods and services through promotion (advertisement) and distribution has given consumers wider choice in product decision. Today, goods produced in China, France, America, Indonesia, South Africa, are consumed in Nigeria as well as other countries of the world. This is possible because of the marketing functions of storage, warehousing, transportation, distribution and especially promotion (advertising). How consumers perceive and assess these marketing activities and services are worthy of evaluation because of some moral and ethical factors involved. For instance, some robust and non-verifiable advertisement claims and the use of celebrities especially females to anchor advertisement appear to be of great concern to both individuals and the society.

This study, therefore, is imperative due to the gap in literature it intends to fill.  The study also explored the way females are portrayed in advertisements in Nigeria as a result of marketers’ and manufactures’ quest to sell their products and services.   

Brief History of Nigeria

            Geographically, Nigeria is situated on the western coast of Africa, on the shores of the Gulf of Guinea, Bights of Benin and Biafra, and along the Atlantic Coast. Geographers say it lies between the parallels of 400 and 140 North of the Equator, and it is thus entirely within the tropics. Enebe (2004:298) writes that most of the country is largely low lying with some highlands. This, according to him, include the Udi and Nsukka hills in the East; the Kukuruku and Ondo Hills in the West and Jos, Bauchi and Mambilla Plateau in the North (Enebe, 2004:298). The country is divided along two main rivers- Rivers Niger and Benue. Officially speaking, it is equally blessed with three main religions-Christianity, Islam and Traditional worship.

            Nigeria, as presently constituted, is shaped by four basic developments- the independent cultures before colonialism, Trans-Saharan trade, Trans-Atlantic Slave trade and colonialism. They have, no doubt, continued to play significant roles on how the country communicates.

            It is a known fact, even to the European colonizers, that Africa had its own governments, religions and culture before they partitioned it for the purposes of evangelism and colonialisation. These rich and independent cultures have continued to determine how the over 256 ethnic nationalities communicates with one another. For instance, the egalitarian society of the Ibos and their republican nature has remained with them till the present day. This explains why they do not have a central leadership. This is not the case with their counterpart in Northern Nigeria who believe in communal living and respect for central leadership.

            The northern part of Nigeria has nineteen states: Adamawa, Jigawa, Kogi, Sokoto, Bauchi, Kaduna, Kwara, Taraba, Benue, Kano, Nasarawa, Yobe, Borno,  Katsina, Niger and Zamfara. Northern Nigeria is predominantly occupied by Hausa, Fulani, Gwari, Borim, Kanuri, Tiv, Jukun and many other tribal groups. People are located mostly in northern part of Nigeria. With a population of over 90 million, they have the largest population in West Africa because of their intermarriages and constant interaction with different people. The northerners appear very religious owing to the sharia system in the north.

Southern Nigeria is a home to many ethnic groups such as the Igbo, Ijaw, Yoruba, Ibibio, Efik, Annang, Ekoi, etc. Although these groups mostly had democratic systems of government, there were several kingdoms. The Yoruba has a checked system that is democratic in nature. The region has three geo-political zones of South west, South-east and South-South. The region has Abia, Anambra, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Imo, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Rivers. The entire southern Nigeria has a population of about 90 million. Both the southern and northern parts of the country have access to the mass media and advertisement.

1.2       Statement of the Problem

Studies in Wilson and Neruen (1997) reveal that there has been an increase in the use of sexual themes and erotic stimuli in advertisement in recent years. They further stated that today’s consumers are exposed to more sex in advertisement than ever before.    

Generally, advertising has proved to be very effective in the marketing of goods and services. Nwodo (2008:9) mused that “advertisements invoke highly emotional responses from the reader. However, these reactions are often not directed to the producer/services advertised, but the manner in which the product/services are advertised. Advertisements awaken reactions to issues of self-concept, gender/awareness/sensitivity, ethical values, racial identity and cultural heritage”. Furthermore, “the manner used in advertising a product/service centres on two focal elements – the linguistic and visual components” (2008:9). Contemporary advertisements provide the template on which to interrogate the various components of advertising as strategies of gender representation in a largely patriarchal society and on the basis of feminist critique.

The ethical and moral issues in advertisement call for questioning when one evaluates some advertisement presented and the claims therein. Without venturing into the cultural and religious aspects of advertisements, the tendency of imitating and importing foreign ideas and practices through adverts also pose serious problems to the unsuspecting public. The major issue at hand is that advertising is meant to creatively and beautifully sell a product without depraving the minds of the consumers whom it seeks to elicit their sympathy. When advertising depraves the mind of the people because of the use of females as aesthetic images, the true essence of its communication is questioned.

To this end, the study seeks to evaluate the portrayal of female gender in advertisements in Nigeria as marketers and manufacturers try to effectively and creatively sell their products.

1.3       Objectives of the Study

Main objective

The main objective of this study is to evaluate the portrayal of females in advertisements in contemporary Nigerian.

Other specific objectives:

Other specific objectives of the study include:

1                    To determine the extent to which Nigerians are exposed to advertisements with female models as endorsement icons in advertising.

2                    To identify their major sources of exposure to these advertisements.

3                    To examine the perceptions of consumers regarding the aesthetic as portrayed by females in advertisements.

4                    To ascertain if the portrayal of women in these advertisements sell the products.

5                    To verify if the portrayal of women in these advertisements depraves the minds of the consumers.

1.4       Research Questions

Based on the above objectives, the following research questions were formulated to guide the study:

1                    To what extent are Nigerians exposed to advertisements with female models as endorsement icons?

2                    What are the major sources of exposure to these advertisements?

3                    What are the perceptions of consumers regarding the way females are portrayed in advertisements?

4                    To what extent does the portrayal of women in these advertisements actually help to sell the product?

5                    To what extent does the portrayal of women in these advertisements deprave the minds of the consumers?

1.5       Research Hypotheses

Consequent upon the objectives of the study, the hypotheses below will be formulated to further guide the study.

Ho1:     The perception of Nigerians regarding the portrayal of females in advertisement is independent of their level of education.

Ho2:     The level of patronage of the products or services that use female models is independent of the pattern of exposure to these advertisements.

Ho3:     The extent to which the portrayal of women in advertising sell a product is independent of the perception of the consumers.

1.6       Scope of the Study

The scope of this study is on the content of advertisements in the country with specific interest in the relationship that exist between the messages of advertisements and their correlation with the use of female models in the same advertising package. It also covered audience perception of the use of female representatives in advertisements. The study again covered the whole of Nigeria with specific interest directed at the six geo-political zones of the country. One state was selected from these zones, making it a total of six states. The states that were sampled include: Enugu, Rivers, Lagos, Bornu, Kano and Federal Capital Territory.

1.7              Significance of the Study

This study drew the attention of copy designers to appreciate the need to take audience and cultural sensitivity into consideration in the design of advert copy so as not to deprave the mind of the people under the guises of advertising.

The study opened up new areas of research on the issue of gender representation and how advertising strategies have sexualized women and naturalized them as sex objects.

The study drew attention to the negative effects of advertising and the possible ways to guard against the negative influences of advertisements in the society. The review of literature revealed that most advertisement have negative effects on the people.

This work provided literature that would serve as a resource material for scholars and researchers who will like to carry out studies in this and other related areas.

1.8       Definition of Terms

In the course of the development of this work, certain terms which are important to a better understanding of research need to be operationally defined.

Aesthetics:          This has to do with beauty. The aesthetics of advertising includes moral values, positive or negative, which are woven into the visual scheme of modern advertisements.

Marketing:         This is a term that encapsulates all management processes responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.

Feminist:             Feminism refers to a movement whose aim is to establish and defend equal political, economic, and social rights as well as equal opportunities for women. Feminist theories arose from these struggles for gender equality such as in contracts, property, autonomy and reproductive rights. They formulated their agenda of opposition against domestic violence, sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Portrayal:           This is the presentation done by the various means of communication and advertising primarily for the purpose of passing information.

Advertising:        Advertising is a promotional tool for motivating and persuading consumers to buy consumer goods on sale by an agency or a business establishment. As consumer goods invade the market, so are various advertising strategies evolved to create public awareness of the latest goods in the market. In some senses, it may be said that advertising is a means of corporate image making, for advertising, while a visual point, and electronic means of sale promotion of consumer goods, is at same time, a means of advancing the corporate progress of establishment outfits.

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