According to Reichert et al. in A Test of Media Literacty Effects and Sexual Objectification in Advertising, (2007), “Messaris (1998) defines media literacy as ‘knowledge about how the mass media function in society,’ with a focus on media’s ‘economic foundations, organizational structures, psychological effects, social consequences,’ and ‘representational conventions’ (p. 70)” (Reichert, 82). Just as it was important in Reichert et al.’s study to teach media literacy and critical analysis and then measure it’s effect on the resulting lived attitudes, behaviors and cognitive beliefs after the intervention, it is important for me to practice this ability to make myself aware of the impact that advertising, specifically sexual advertisements and even more so with subliminal sexual ads, has on me and others in my society.
With the critical media analysis skills I’ve learned over the term, I am going to apply the practices to the following ad, and really pick it apart to understand how the sexual embeds are not a coincidence, a product of the viewer’s “mind in the gutter”, or accidental design fails, but rather decisions that advertisement producers made deliberately to imply sexual symbols and themes.
Here is a Marlboro advertisement with obvious sexual embeds. Following, I will conduct a basic analysis of the layers of meaning as well as a more in-depth analysis of the four dimensions of media literacy.
Basic Analysis of the Layers of Meaning in the Ad-
- The Surface Meaning:
- This ad shows an example of sexual content in the form of sexual referents with the shape and location of the letters in the brand name implying phallic imagery.
- In the photo, a Western-dressed male stands between two doors of what looks like a barn. His left arm is leaning up against one door with a pair of working gloves bunched in his fist and his right arm hangs down, his hand adjusting the spurs on on of his cowboy boots while his left leg rests on his right knee. His head is angled down, presumably looking at what he is adjusting on his boot, with his cowboy hat hiding all of his face except for a small part of his chin and a cigarette that is held in his mouth.
- The brand name, Marlboro is printed at a slanted angle across the man’s body.
- The Advertiser’s Intended Meaning:
- The words say “Come to where the flavor is”, pointing out that their brand of cigarettes have different flavors or a particularly desirable flavor to be sought after as opposed to another brand that wouldn’t necessarily be in the same place “where the flavor is”.
- Associates the product with the cowboy narrative and the narrative that these cigarettes are good for men.
- The Cultural or Ideological Meaning:
- By his dirty chaps, boots, and the fact that he is holding workers gloves, the image seems to depict a working class man, possibly one who would need to relax or decompress from his hard day of work with a cigarette.
- More overtly noticeable is the way the “l” and “b” of “Marlboro” are adjusted so that the base of the letters starts on the man’s crotch and extend at about a 45 degree angle upward and to the right of the image, the space between the two letters creating a phallic symbol that mimics a man’s erection. Then, at the top of the letters where the “l” and “b” end, the words “come where the flavor is” are written in white, the color of semen, and formatted to look like they are ‘spraying out’ of the phallic symbol of the “l” and “b” the way that semen would be ejaculated from a penis.
- In addition to the text being set up to picture the form of an ejaculating erection, the phrase uses the word “come” particularly for it’s reference to “cum”, a cultural slang term that means to orgasm or ejaculate. The phrase also associates the penis and semen from the phallic imagery as being “where the flavor is”, referencing the act of oral sex.
- The use of language portraying oral sex in this advertisement tries to sell the belief that giving a man oral sex is/ will be pleasureful because the man’s erection and/ or semen is flavorful.
- After the Brokeback Mountain movie came out, this cowboy identity could just as easily as not, be assumed to reference homosexual encounters.
4 Dimensions of Media Analysis-
- This advertisement takes place on the medium of a photograph, most likely for print advertising.
- I would assume it was made by heterosexual producers, most likely males whose sexual interest/ fantasy is oral sex.
- With the blur of green at the bottom of the image, it appears that the ad was produced from the point of view of someone hiding in the bushes (peeping Tom perspective), someone unknown to the subject of attention.
- Sexual language in the phrase that says “come to where the flavor is”. Also through the location of the “l” and “b” on the man’s body as well as the way the brand name is turned to create a phallic shape on his crotch.
- The color of the text and shape that the tagline is laid out in alludes to male ejaculation and is located at what would be the tip of the man’s boner with regards to the fallacy.
- The man’s body language is cool, calm, collected as he holds a cigarette in his mouth. His casual deftness is (as I assume) meant to be a turn-on for women and a #goal for other men.
- As previously discussed, the way the viewer takes on a perspective of someone hiding and watching from the bushes tells the narrative of a presumably female woman stalking her male love/ sex interest, OR, could be telling the narrative of another man; one who wants to be like the man pictured.
- The message of the tagline in conjunction with the ‘creeper in the bushes’ persona that the viewers of this ad take on result in the company trying to tell the truth/ send the message that if you are a male audience, “you need to come to the other side where the grass is greener and where the flavor is! You will get oral sex if you smoke these cigarettes! You will look masculine, in control, and effortlessly sexy! You won’t have to watch jealously from afar if you join us under this brand!” and if you are a female audience, “you will enjoy giving oral sex to this man and others like him if you smoke Marlboro cigarettes/ hangout with men that smoke Marlboro! You will be able to enjoy this ‘flavor’ of men!” (Flavor being his cowboy stereotype).
- In addition to the sexual connotation of the word “come” and the tale that oral sex will be positive and enjoyable for the one giving the favor by using the word “flavor” to relate to the taste of the penis and/or semen, the word could also represent a more flavorful, spiced-up life in general. “Flavor” could be used to attract those looking for more fun and enjoyable lifestyle that supposedly comes along with smoking this brand.
- Also, from what I can tell, this ad only shows representation of white, working-class or working-middle-class men.
- Represents all cigarette smokers as cowboys, and all cowboys as cigarette smokers.
- Really sticks with the stereotype of cowboy hat, riding chaps and boots with spurs.
- Presents cigarette smoking as a positive experience for men who do it, women who do it, men who want to get women to give them oral sex, women who want to get sexy cowboys, etc.
- Could be for either a man or a woman, as I’ve described how it is targeted to entice both gender identities to buy into the “truths” about the Marlboro life. However, as mentioned above, it could be targeting gay audiences who also subscribe to the Brokeback Mountain gay cowboy fantasy.
- Probably mostly directed toward middle-age men and women as opposed to youth and adolescents.
- This ad, because of the singularity of the Western/ cowboy identity and the fact that not everyone can relate to that identity or lifestyle, fails to take into account its potential clients who connect better with the urban cigarette smoker.