Advertising Educational Foundation

Key Concepts in Advertising articles provide short lectures on an important concept to help understand advertising’s place in society, culture, history, and the economy. This article focuses on the concept of objectification. This term is addressed within the disciplines of women’s studies, sociology, philosophy, visual culture, and advertising; in the latter field, feminist Jean Kilbourne has used the term for decades in her critique of modern advertising and its use of sexuality. Other scholars have also used the work of sociologist Erving Goffman, especially Gender Advertisements (1979), to discuss the ways that objectification works within ads through gendered and racialized depictions of models. A series of short videos define objectification and provide background information about Kilbourne’s and Goffman’s work, among other theorists. After several ads are deconstructed, viewers are encouraged to analyze an ad, using these terms to unpack the meaning within advertising in the ways it treats women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Two media scholars join the authors to help with these analyses. The last video in the series looks ahead at challenges for the industry, in terms of self-objectification, depictions of transgender people, and the use of Big Data. A recommended reading list provides other sources for learning more about objectification, self-objectification in the age of selfies, and sexuality in advertising.


feminism, intersectionality, male gaze, objectification, postfeminism, representation, semiotics, self-objectification, sexuality in advertising, transgender people

Introduction to the Concept of Objectification.
Video 1.

Introduction to the Concept of Objectification.

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This video introduces the concept of objectification, especially as it relates to the use of gender and sexuality in advertising.

Theoretical Understandings of Objectification.
Video 2.

Theoretical Understandings of Objectification.

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This video introduces the work of sociologist Erving Goffman and activist Jean Kilbourne, and their categories of gender display and sexual objectification.

Analyzing Some Ads with Leading Scholars: Student Activity Part 1.
Video 3.

Analyzing Some Ads with Leading Scholars: Student Activity Part 1.

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This video prompts viewers to analyze an advertisement, after a discussion with media scholars Mia Moody-Ramirez of Baylor University and Kim Golombisky of the University of South Florida. Dr. Moody-Ramirez is department chair and professor in the Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media program at Baylor, and she is the co-author of From Blackface to Black Twitter: Reflections on Black Humor, Race, Politics, and Gender. Dr. Golombisky serves as a faculty member in the Department of Women and Gender Studies at South Florida and recently edited two books about feminism and advertising, listed in resources below.

Analysis of 2007 Dolce & Gabbana campaign: Student Activity Part 2.
Video 4.

Analysis of 2007 Dolce & Gabbana campaign: Student Activity Part 2.

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This video continues the analysis of an advertisement that viewers were asked to consider, with more conversation with Drs. Moody-Ramirez and Golombisky.

Summary Points about the Concept.
Video 5.

Summary Points about the Concept.

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To summarize, this video reminds viewers about the concerns surrounding objectification, especially with current and future issues related to representations of transgender women, to self-objectification, and to the uses of Big Data, which may dehumanize consumers for advertisers. Also included are guidelines for not objectifying people in advertising, as well as information about Madonna Badger, who has fought objectification inside the industry.

Gallery of In-Video Illustrations

Publicoffee Commercials, “Secret Deodorant - Ladies’ Room - #StressTest,” YouTube video, October 30, 2016, .
Video 6.

Publicoffee Commercials, “Secret Deodorant - Ladies’ Room - #StressTest,” YouTube video, October 30, 2016,

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WomenNotObjects, “We Are #WomenNotObjects,” YouTube video, January 11, 2016, .
Video 7.

WomenNotObjects, “We Are #WomenNotObjects,” YouTube video, January 11, 2016,

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Subaru, “2021 Subaru Crosstrek | Subaru Commercial | Girls’ Trip :60,” YouTube video, September 14, 2020, .
Video 8.

Subaru, “2021 Subaru Crosstrek | Subaru Commercial | Girls’ Trip :60,” YouTube video, September 14, 2020,

Click to view video

Jacqueline Lambiase

Jacqueline Lambiase is Professor in the Department of Strategic Communication in the Bob Schieffer College of Communication at Texas Christian University (TCU). Jacqueline collaborates with other scholars to interrogate the ways advertising uses stereotypes, to understand the use of sexuality in advertising, and to examine an industry that needs reformation in order to provide healthy work environments for all. Through her strategic communication work with the public sector, she has consulted for the US Department of Labor and cities across the nation. In 2013, she co-founded (and still directs) a graduate-level certificate program called the Certified Public Communicator Program at TCU.

Carolyn Bronstein

Carolyn Bronstein is the Vincent de Paul Professor of Communication and Media Studies in the College of Communication at DePaul University. She is a feminist media scholar whose work focuses on mediated representations of women’s bodies and gendered issues like sexual violence, especially as depicted in advertising, news, and pornography. She is the author of Battling Pornography: The Feminist Anti-Pornography Movement, 1976–1986 (Cambridge University Press, 2011) and co-editor of Porno Chic and the Sex Wars: American Sexual Representation in the 1970s (University of Massachusetts Press, 2016).

Recommended Readings

Badger, Madonna, Carolyn Bronstein, and Jacqueline Lambiase. “#WomenNotObjects: Madonna Badger Takes On Objectification.” Advertising & Society Quarterly 19, no. 1 (2018).
Bronstein, Carolyn. Battling Pornography: The American Feminist Anti-Pornography Movement, 1976–1986. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Butkowski, Chelsea P., Travis L. Dixon, Kristopher R. Weeks, and Marisa A. Smith. “Quantifying the Feminine Self(ie): Gender Display and Social Media Feedback in Young Women’s Instagram Selfies.” New Media & Society 22, no. 5 (2020): 817–837.
Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge, 2000.
Courtney, Alice E., and Sarah Wernick Lockeretz. “A Woman’s Place: An Analysis of the Roles Portrayed by Women in Magazine Advertisements.” Journal of Marketing Research 8 (1971): 92–95.
Goffman, Erving. Gender Advertisements. New York: Harper and Row, 1979.
Golombisky, Kim, ed. Feminist Perspectives on Advertising: What the Big Idea? Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2018.
Golombisky, Kim, and Peggy Kreshel, eds. Feminists, Feminisms, and Advertising: Some Restrictions Apply. Lanham, MD: Lexington/Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.
Harrison, Martin. “Large Numbers Are Dehumanising, So Should Big Data Worry Us?” The Guardian, April 16, 2015.
Hurtado, Aida. The Color of Privilege: Three Blasphemies on Race and Feminism. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1996.
Jhally, Sut. “Advertising, Gender, and Sex: What’s Wrong with a Little Objectification?” (n.d.).
Kang, Mee-Eun. “The Portrayal of Women’s Images in Magazine Advertisements: Goffman’s Gender Analysis Revisited.” Sex Roles 37, no. 11/12 (1997): 979–997.
Kilbourne, Jean. Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women. Boston: Cambridge Documentary Films Inc., 1979.
Kilbourne, Jean. Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel. New York: Touchstone: 1999.
Lambiase, Jacqueline, and Tom Reichert. “Promises, Promises: Exploring Erotic Rhetoric in Sexually Oriented Advertising.” In Persuasive Imagery: A Consumer Response Perspective, edited by Linda Scott and Rajeev Batra, 247–266. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 2002.
Lambiase, Jacqueline, Tom Reichert, Mark Adkins, and Michael LaTour. “Gender and Media Literacy: Women and Men Try On Responses to Objectification in Fashion Advertising.” In Gender, Culture, and Consumer Behavior, edited by Cele C. Otnes and Linda T. Zayer, 139– 159. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2012.
Langton, Rae Helen. Sexual Solipsism: Philosophical Essays on Pornography and Objectification (1st ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Merskin, Debra. “Where Are the Clothes? The Pornographic Gaze in Mainstream American Fashion Advertising.” In Sex in Consumer Culture: The Erotic Content of Media and Marketing, edited by Tom Reichert and Jacqueline Lambiase, 199–218. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum: 2006.
Nussbaum, Martha C. “Objectification.” Philosophy & Public Affairs 24, no. 4 (Autumn 1995): 249–291.
Reichert, Tom. The Erotic History of Advertising. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2003.
Sivulka, Juliann. Soap, Sex and Cigarettes: A Cultural History of American Advertising. New York: Wadsworth Publishing, 1998.
Steinem, Gloria. “Sex, Lies, and Advertising.” Ms., July/August, 1990, 18–28.
Stern, Barbara B. “Two Pornographies: A Feminist View of Sex in Advertising.” Advances in Consumer Research 18 (1991): 384–391.
Tsai, Wan-Hsiu Sunny. “Assimilating the Queers: Representations of Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexual, and Transgender People in Mainstream Advertising.” Advertising & Society Review 11, no. 1 (2010).
van Oosten, Johanna M. F. “Adolescent Girls’ Use of Social Media for Challenging Sexualization.” Gender, Technology and Development 25, no. 1 (2021): 22–42.
van Zoonen, Liesbet. Feminist Media Studies. London: Sage, 1994.
Williamson, Judith. Decoding Advertisements. London: Marion Boyars, 1978.
Zayer, Linda Tuncay, and Catherine A. Coleman. “Advertising Professionals’ Perceptions of the Impact of Gender Portrayals on Men and Women: A Question of Ethics?” Journal of Advertising 44, no. 3 (2015):1–12.

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