Despite the advent of technology and the belief amongst many parents that girls can do now do or be anything they want, advertising still lags behind with sexist messaging. Especially at Christmastime.
A study by researchers in Spain which analyzed 595 toy advertisements broadcast on television at Christmastime from 2009 to 2011 showed that they promoted values that associate beauty with girls, while strength and power was associated with boys.
The analysis of the advertising shows that, although many of them have messages that apply to both sexes, such as fun, education, solidarity and individualism, it was more frequent to see very separate values. The advertising came from eight popular TV channels broadcast in Spain: TVE1, TVE2, Telecinco, Antena 3, Cuatro, la Sexta, Boing and Disney Channel.
In most of the publicity, cars and action heroes were associated with males, together with competitive values, individualism, power and strength.
The female role, on the other hand, was linked to beauty and motherhood as seen in adverts for dolls and accessories.
The content of the videos was analyzed using a test designed by the researchers for the study examining a number of characteristics of the ads: type of products, gender shown, messages, values, voiceover, length, actions and interaction between the characters.
The research was based on previous work, as well as codes of practice for broadcasting, such as the Self-regulatory code for Advertising Toys to Children and the Self-regulatory Code for Television Content and Children, and the General Laws on Audiovisual Communication and Publicity.
“These rules state that sexism must be avoided and one gender must not be valued above another, or show a toy linked to one in particular,” noted Esther Martínez, an author of the study and a researcher at the Rey Juan Carlos University.
In the TV advertising studied, boys were offered more toys encouraging spatial skills, while girls were shown dolls and educational games.
The researcher also said that there was evident gender segregation in the voiceovers: “Female voices predominated in adverts where girls appear, and male voices where only boys appear and also when both genders are shown.”
In addition, any adult figures in ads “only appear for board games and electronic toys, representing the father’s role. However, a father is rarely shown playing action games”.
The authors conclude that, despite legal provisions, there are still toys — and advertising — that are very different for girls and boys.
But change may be slowly making its way into the advertising. Martínez said that in the ad for a well-known make of girls’ dolls, some boys now appear in the background. She also noted there is a brand of toy weapons selling a pink crossbow and bow for girls.
Goldiebox, a United States company, has designed a line of toys for girls who are ‘future engineers.’ On its website, the company states that in a world where male scientists outnumber females, and girls lose interest in the subject at 8 years old, Goldiebox aims to change the equation.
In spite of these examples, Martínez admits that there are still too few that integrate both sexes. The researcher reminds us that advertising in a mirror of society and popular culture. “Just because a boy is seen in a doll advert will not make the boys watching identify with it”.
The study was published in the journal, Comunicar.