Ideology can be defined in many different ways: it can refer to a systematic body of ideas articulated by a group of people, suggest a certain masking or concealment of a text, be used to draw attention to the way in which texts always present a particular image of the world, operate mainly at the level of connotations, and can be encountered in the practices of everyday life (Storey 2-5). Advertisements present a great opportunity for the application of ideology. Ads oftentimes produce unintended meanings that may or may not be picked up by an observer. They can also be used to draw attention to a particular image of the world, i.e. gender roles, sexualization of women, racism, etc.
I recently came across an interesting “Axe” advertisement (see attached image). Pictured in the ad is an assumed couple walking down a sidewalk with window displays to their right. In one of these window displays, the man’s lower body is staring at a female mannequin laced in lingerie, while his upper half continues walking with his girlfriend. The text in the bottom right corner of the ad reads: “Part Good. Part Bad. That’s Man’s Essence.”
The intended message of the ad appears to be that if men use Axe Essence body spray, they will attract sexy women in lingerie, and will lust for those women over their ordinary girlfriends. By being able to attract such beautiful women by using the Axe Essence body spray, men will feel better about their self image, have better relationships, appear to be more successful in life, and therefore be more happy and content. An ideological analysis of this advertisement reveals that there are unintentional cultural messages embedded throughout the ad, one such being the sexualization of women. This Axe advertisement shows the sexualization of women by emphasizing the extreme sexuality of women and how it attracts all men. As seen in the ad, the lower half of the man’s body is caught behind, staring at the mannequin dressed in red lingerie. The scene here suggests that men desire kinky, sexually appealing women, as compared to ordinary, casually dressed women. The lust this man’s lower half is displaying towards the mannequin in red lingerie shows that women are viewed as sex objects in society’s cultural norm, which in turn places a negative connotation on women.
The Axe advertisement also engages gender stereotypes for men as well. By its display of the man’s lower half staring at the mannequin in red lingerie, the ad shows that all men desire sex. The text in the bottom right corner even reads: “Part Good. Part Bad. That’s Man’s Essence,” suggesting that all men have a sexual side to them. A cultural idea that can be taken from this scene is that men “look with their penis.” In the ad, the man’s lower half is seen staring at the mannequin in red lingerie, but why is it his lower half that stayed behind? And with what is his lower body looking with? The only thing the man’s lower half can look with is his penis, insinuating that men look at women as objects of their own sexual desires.
Through ideological analysis, this Axe advertisement contains cultural norms and societal stereotypes through its depiction of the scene. The intended message may be clear, but beneath the surface are unintentional cultural messages inserted throughout the advertisement that portray both men and women as sexually appealing beings. It stereotypes women as sex objects, and even stereotypes men as always desiring sex. Analyzing advertisements using an ideological “looking glass” aids society in becoming more aware of the cultural messages in those advertisements.