How advertising got ‘woke’
: the institutional role of advertising in the emergence of gender progressive market logics and practices

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

Academic research over many decades has lamented the prevalence of gender role stereotypes in advertising portrayals and noted that females are stereotyped more often than males. Such stereotyping is seen to be harmful because of the pervasive nature advertising; while women are placed in inferior roles to men in advertising depictions, these roles are so cultivated in society. Nevertheless, in recent years a welcome surge in ‘femvertising’ or advertising that celebrates female empowerment has been observed. This thesis considers a change in advertising practices and an accompanying shift in marketplace logics, providing an account of the rationale and mechanisms that have led to more socially-responsible gender portrayals. It presents a series of four qualitative research papers. The first of which, reviews the literature on cross-cultural variation in female gender role advertising portrayals and offers recommendations for future research. The second takes an emic approach to the examination of Brazilian advertising creative professionals’ mental models of female portrayals. The third employs a thematic analysis of netnographic data to advance understanding of the rhetorical strategies used by consumers and the journalistic media to subvert sexist advertising. Finally, the fourth paper examines the market system conditions operating upon professional advertising actors resulting in transformed market logics and practices on the portrayal of gender. Overall, the thesis identifies four propositions that delineate the influences on advertising professional advertising actors that have resulted in this transformation. These are (1) societal discourses provide legitimacy for renewed market logics and advertising practices, (2) the moral conscience of new entrants to the profession mobilizes change, (3) collective consumer opinion puts pressure on organizations to change institutional logics and practices, (4) salient gender progressive advertising has influenced the disruption of gender portrayal market logics. The thesis provides new insights on the institutional role of advertising in a dynamic market system. It contributes an original conceptualization of the recursive nature of advertising, determining that while advertising plays a significant role in shaping shared meaning in the market via iterative and recursive processes, it similarly has the capacity to transform society and its institutions. The contributions of the thesis signal the potential for socially-responsible, purpose-led advertising to address grand challenges and institutionalised inequities in society.
Date of AwardApr 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorSarah Turnbull (Supervisor), Helen Thompson-Whiteside (Supervisor) & Giampaolo Viglia (Supervisor)

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