Feminism and sexism have played a crucial role in the evolvement of advertising, and have heavily influenced the different approaches companies use to market their products to men or to women. Tipalet and Virginia Slims, two cigarette companies, introduced multilayered cigarette advertisements in the 1970s. At first glance, these advertisements are clearly different. In fact, Virginia Slims is assertively trying to pull away from the thinking behind the Tipalet ad. Yet, if one looks more closely, there is a glaring similarity- the use of a woman to sell the product.
This similarity reveals the primary difference between these advertisements: the distinctly separate roles the two women play. This prompts one to question what purpose these female models play in both of the advertisements. Through the use of close visual reading and comparative analysis, I suggest that Tipalet and Virginia Slims are both trying to sell the consumer the woman they will “receive” when he or she smokes their cigarette and the confidence she’ll bring to the consumer.
This suggests that to target women advertising will show the viewer a perfected version of herself, whereas to target men the product is only appealing if he “gets the girl” along with it. Both of these ads premiered in the late 70s, a time period exploding with significance for the feminist movement. Virginia Slims seizes on these emotions in their cigarette advertisement, clearly marketing their product to women. There are no men in the ad, and they go so far as to “put down” men by describing men’s cigarettes as “fat. The Virginia Slims ad is sleek and modern looking; there isn’t much to crowd the image- only the woman, the cigarette boxes, and the two groups of words.
All these components are arranged very symmetrically: the women equals the space and height of the cigarette boxes and bottom words, while words run centered across the top. These clean aesthetics have a more feminine appeal. In addition, the model’s clothing is very girlish. It is both floral and flouncy, accentuating her womanly waist with the big skirt. The wording of this ad provides the clearest proof of the target market, stating: “This is the one cigarette made just for women. In contrast, it is clear that the Tipalet ad markets its product to men.
The ad is a bit darker, giving it a more masculine affect. There are both a man and woman in the ad, but the man is the one holding the product. It further differs from the Virginia Slims ad’s neat, symmetrical approach with a messier format. Neither model is centered in the advertisement, and there is an entire paragraph of text in the lower right-hand corner. The man in the ad is particularly masculine, with stubble running along his sharp jaw. Finally, the man entrances the woman by blowing the smoke in her face.
As the ad says, “Blow in her face and she’ll follow you anywhere. ” This approach is clearly not meant to appeal to women, and it is in fact degrading. Despite the clear difference in the target audience of the two products, the central use of a female model is a glaring similarity. In both ads the woman is the prominent figure. In the Tipalet ad, the man is barely present, the woman filling the image instead. In the Virginia Slims ad, the woman is the only figure present. Both these advertisements promise the modeled woman along with their product.
The woman is used to represent a desired goal. By smoking Tipalet, men will be able to attract beautiful women. Similarly, by smoking Virginia Slims the consumer will transform into the attractive and confident woman pictured. While both these advertisements are selling cigarettes, they are also marketing the attractiveness that is the by-product of the cigarette and the woman it will result in. However, on a deeper level the use of the women in these two ads points to an underlying difference. Through the Virginia Slims ad, women are being marketed a perfected version of themselves.
There is only one figure in the advertisement, and she is female. This suggests that as opposed to a woman needing someone else to be confident and successful, she just needs to become the model in the ad. Virginia Slims is trying to sell its product by portraying a woman who is just beyond reach of the average viewer. Her clothing isn’t particularly fancy and they aren’t marketing a luxury product. The company wants the ad to imply that all a woman needs to attain this perfected version of herself is a cigarette. The final goal is a more polished, more beautiful, and more confident version of herself.
This sharply contrasts the male portrayal of confidence and perfection. While the woman only needs a cigarette to achieve the goals set by the ad, a man needs both a cigarette and a woman. And, men won’t have the necessary appeal to attract one without a Tipalet cigarette in hand. By saying that “she’ll follow you anywhere,” when one smokes a Tipalet, the company is implying that the male consumer can’t do it on his own. While both ads market the woman that that the consumer receives with their product, through smoking a Virginia Slims cigarette the consumer will become that woman.
Through buying a Tipalet cigarette, the male consumer is buying the woman as well. These two advertisements are indicative of the difference between how the manufacturers of this time marketed their products to men and women. The Virginia Slims ad represents the feminist movement, which advocated the removal of men’s centrality in women’s lives. She doesn’t need a man to be happy- just a cigarette and her own womanhood. In contrast, although the Tipalet ad seems very sexist in its vapid portrayal of women, when it is compared to the Virginia Slims ad there is a deeper sexism evident.
A man is not enough as is- he needs a woman, and in order to “catch” one he needs a Tipalet cigarette. While both these ads were circulated in the same time period, male advertising seems to lag behind the progressiveness that the Virginia Slims ad portrays. These two cigarette ads are complex, viewable through multiple angles. The initial reading of these ads displays two approaches completely at odds with each other. The Virginia Slims ad markets the empowered woman, while the Tipalet ad markets the desirable man. Yet, upon a closer reading, the centrality of the woman model in these ads links them together in similarity.
However, a closer look will reveal that while the women appear to play the same role in both ads, the in fact represent fundamental differences between the techniques used to advertise towards men or towards women. While in both ads the woman markets herself as an “add on” one receives with the product, a woman seeks to attain a perfected version of herself. In contrast, a man is receiving two “products”- a cigarette and a woman. These advertisements highlight the pivotal role which feminism and sexism have had on advertising, and the different responses given by mens advertisers versus women’s to the changing social climate.