Sex Roles

, Volume 18, Issue 9–10, pp 595–609

The portrayal of men and women in U.S. television commercials: A recent content analysis and trends over 15 years

  • Daniel J. Bretl
  • Joanne Cantor
Article

Abstract

This article summarizes the content analyses of male and female portrayals in U.S. television commercials that have been published since 1971. The paper also includes the results of a content analysis of television commercials conducted on a 1985 sample. Where possible, the data from the present study are compared to the findings of previous research to illustrate trends over time. The results reveal several differences between the portrayal of men and women, but many of the gaps seem to be narrowing. Men and women now appear equally often as central characters in prime-time commercials. Although a prior study indicated a difference between male and female primary characters' use of arguments, the present data revealed no differences in this regard. A lower percentage of female than of male central characters are depicted as employed, but males are being presented in increasing numbers as spouses and parents, with no other apparent occupation. Women are still more likely than men to be seen in domestic settings, advertising products used in the home. Although the difference seems to have become smaller, women are more likely than men to be shown as users of the products they advertise. The most striking gap persists with regard to narrators. Consistent with other content analyses conducted over the past 15 years, approximately 90% of all narrators are male. The findings are discussed in terms of the potential effect of exposure to stereotyped depictions on viewers' sex role attitudes.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Callan, M. Women copywriters get better, but male chauvinism in ads rolls on. Advertising Age, October 4, 1976, 75–76.Google Scholar
  2. Courtney, A. E., & Whipple, T. W. Sex stereotyping in advertising. Lexington, KY: Lexington Books, 1983.Google Scholar
  3. Culley, J. D., & Bennett, R. Selling women, selling blacks. Journal of Communication, 1976, 26(4), 160–174.Google Scholar
  4. Dominick, J. R., & Rauch, G. E. The image of women in TV commercials. Journal of Broadcasting, 1972, 16, 259–265.Google Scholar
  5. Embree, A. Madison avenue brainwashing — The facts. In R. Morgan (Ed.), Sisterhood is powerful: An anthology of writings from the women's liberation movement. New York: Vintage Books, 1970.Google Scholar
  6. Frank, R. E., & Greenberg, M. G. The public's use of television: Who watches and why. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1980.Google Scholar
  7. Gerbner, G., & Signorielli, N. Women and minorities in television drama: 1969–1978: Research report. Annenberg School of Communications, Philadelphia, in collaboration with Seven Actors Guild, AFL-CIO, October 29, 1979.Google Scholar
  8. Hennessee, J. A., & Nicholson, J. NOW says: TV commercials insult women. New York Times Magazine, 1972, pp. 12–13, 48–51.Google Scholar
  9. Kimball, M. Television and sex-role attitudes. In T. M. Williams (Ed.), The impact of television. London: Academic Press, 1986.Google Scholar
  10. Knill, B. J., Pesch, M., Pursey, G., Gilpin, P., & Perloff, R. M. Still typecast after all these years? Sex role portrayals in television advertising. International Journal of Women's Studies, 1981, 4(5), 497–506.Google Scholar
  11. Looney, G. Television and the child: What can be done? Position paper presented to Section on Child Development, the American Academy of Pediatrics, Chicago, IL, 1971.Google Scholar
  12. Mareck, J., Piliavin, J. A., Fitzsimmons, E., Krogh, E. C., Leader, E., & Trudell, B. Women as TV experts: The voice of authority. Journal of Communication, 1978, 28(1), 159–168.Google Scholar
  13. McArthur, L. Z., & Resko, B. G. The portrayal of men and women in American television commercials. The Journal of Social Psychology, 1975, 97, 209–220.Google Scholar
  14. O'Donnell, W. J., & O'Donnell, K. J. Update: Sex-role messages in TV commercials. Journal of Communication, 1978, 28(1), 156–159.Google Scholar
  15. O'Kelly, C. G., & Bloomquist, L. E. Women and blacks on TV. Journal of Communication, 1976, 26(4), 179–184.Google Scholar
  16. Scheibe, C. Sex roles in TV commercials. Journal of Advertising Research, 1979, 19, 23–27.Google Scholar
  17. Schneider, K. C., & Schneider, S. B. Trends in sex roles in television commercials. Journal of Marketing, 1979, 43, 79–84.Google Scholar
  18. Silverstein, A. J., & Silverstein, R. The portrayal of women in television advertising. Federal Communications Bar Journal, 1974, 27(1), 71–98.Google Scholar
  19. Suezle, M. Women in labor. Trans-action, 1970, 8, 50–58.Google Scholar
  20. Tan, A. TV beauty aids and role expectations of adolescent female viewers. Journalism Quarterly, 1979, 56, 283–288.Google Scholar
  21. Verna, M. E. The female image in children's TV commercials. Journal of Broadcasting, 1975, 19(3), 301–309.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel J. Bretl
    • 1
  • Joanne Cantor
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Wisconsin—MadisonUSA

Personalised recommendations