In the vast world of advertising, every glossy spread, thirty second commercial and mammoth billboard suspended over a highway seeks to close in on a particular target, praying its message comes across clear enough to provoke highly rewarding revenues. Each calculated move aims to signify, imply, or in other ways put forth nuances with which advertisers hope viewers will resonate. With women making up a sizable chunk of consumers, advertisers, naturally, have honed in on this market. Within the context of alcohol ads aimed at women, advertisers play upon their mental and physical insecurities, providing an aspirational model and lifestyle for consumers to aim for.
Oftentimes, alcoholic beverages aimed at women will possess signifiers associated with femininity. Pink colored liquid, bedazzled bottles reminiscent of jewelry, and fruity flavors disguising the taste of alcohol commonly draw in women and signal “this is specifically for you”. The women in these advertisements usually boast full faces of makeup, sexually attractive bodies, whether they are slender and fit or curvaceous, and fashionable clothing. These signs imply an ideal state of sorts, meaning these women have put significant effort into their appearances and selves, perfect for a night out dancing with friends and attracting the opposite sex. With celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Eva Longoria as the face of the brand, companies appropriate entertainment culture through what is known as cultural cannibalism (Goldman & Papson, 89). There is an overarching theme of what Jackson Lears coined the “therapeutic ethos” here, offering these particular brands of alcohol as a crutch for women when they are in an environment of imbibing; by swigging on Midori, an average woman experiences a transformation to an extraordinary one (Leiss, Kline, Jhally & Botterill, 74). She, too, can be Kim Kardashian and stand out in the crowd. While these types of sexualized women, or “hotties,” in alcohol ads for men usually represent the unattainable prizes they pine after, the “hotties” in these ads targeted at women emulate role models. Women, therefore, want to purchase Midori and be that girl who is confident, sexy and garnering attention (Messner & Montez de Oca, 1887).
While these ads aren’t outright ridiculous or offensive, a few implications may come off disgracefully. First, in order to have fun, one must put on pounds of makeup, silhouette-enhancing dresses, and six-inch stilettos before heading out to guzzle down cocktails made with the advertised product. Secondly, women are incapable of standing out from a crowd simply by being themselves, and require the aid of alcohol to sparkle. Liquor advertising partakes in “lifestyle branding,” through which “rather than simply attaching a name to a product, the brand emanates from a series of images that construct a plausible and desirable world to consumers” (Messner & Montez de Oca, 1880). As these ads suggest a glamorous lifestyle in which the people are polished and enjoying their nights, the advertisers also trust their target market is one that can understand this. Therefore, they’re attempting to appeal to a group of people with a particular level of cultural capital (Leiss, Kline, Jhally & Botterill, 305). They also position these products as those aligned with a leisurely routine. To spend time idly sipping cocktails at a bar with friends, or dancing the night away requires leisure time and disposable income.
Analyzing these ads from within an ideological context, one must acknowledge the contradictory nature. While the women depicted are free and independent, “meanings of choice and individual freedom become wed to images of sexuality in which women apparently choose to be seen as sexual objects because it suits their liberated interests” (Goldman, Heath & Smith, 338). Here we have women who don’t need a man in their lives, but simultaneously dress and act in overtly sexualized manners, evident in these ads. Furthermore, under Goldman and Papson’s principles of ideology, these ads construct the “right,” normative way for women to enjoy nightlife by dressing in a particular way and consuming particular brands of alcohol, best suited for the image women want to obtain. Furthermore, they completely neglect the ugly, unfortunate side of women who drink too much; alcoholism and even traumatizing events such as being taken advantage of are real, albeit upsetting occurrences which may occur when women attempt to lead these glamorous lives.
In order for a spoof of these ads to transpire effectively, they must play with the central theme of living the life and having it all by partaking in drinking. Liquor ads always portray the current moment in which people are enjoying the product, but never show the after effect. Envision a standard bar scene with women initially laughing, flirting, dancing and having the time of their lives. Instead of cutting the commercial with the women still enjoying their nights, they would be displayed stumbling around, slurring sentences, knocking into things and carrying their shoes, with their makeup smeared over their faces as they fall to the floor to cradle a toilet. The humor here comes from acknowledgment of the reality that comes from drinking too much.
This would act as a culture jam because liquor companies strive to portray their products as the key to making women shine and stand out from the crowd as they laugh, flirt and dance the night away, but most people know that by doing so, their nights end in poor decisions, nausea and hangovers the next morning. This detournement would speak truth to advertising companies, exhibiting the accurate experience that comes with consuming liquor by subverting the glamorized version put forth by the media and advertisers (Lasn, 417). Contrary to the message presented by these ads, the girl who is the center of attention at a party where the liquor is free-flowing, usually is so for undesirable reasons. Consider the advertisement I’ve included which, as an effective culture jam, encapsulates the ugly side of drinking too much. It also demonstrates the negative reputation society will brand women who don’t know their limits with, suggesting there are unpleasant circumstances which arise from drinking.
This parody would overall deteriorate the notion that drinking particular brands, as well as the act of drinking in general, are gateways to a glamorous lifestyle, while shedding light on the “after” effect which comes with alcohol. Through this culture jam, advertisers’ method of manipulating women’s desire to be what they see on televisions would face serious challenges.
– Victoria O.