Stereotypes in advertising

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Stereotypes in advertising
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Stereotyping is based on common beliefs which lead to social categorization. There are two types of stereotypes: functional and dysfunctional. Functional is when it is treated as a normal process to understand, guide our beliefs. Because of these stereotypes, it is easier to adapt to the culture of a particular country (e.g. German punctuality). Dysfunctional stereotyping is when individuals are wrongly judged and classified as part of a group. Such a categorization affects our perception of people (e.g. Poles are thieves).

Advertising shows simplified reality. It needs to include a brief message and draw people's attention. Therefore, in advertising are used stereotypes which can be easily recognized. Some stereotypes are common in several European countries as a German sense of humour being incomprehensible. The Spanish branch of Volkswagen used it by writing in one of the commercial “People see this and smile. At least, they understand German humour”(M. de Mooij 2010, p. 51-52). However, there should not be used strong national stereotypes in advertising as it may be insulting[1].

Gender stereotyping

The most popular is gender stereotyping. There are companies which decided to show how powerful are stereotypes and how they influence people behaviour and perception[2][3]:

  • ‘Like a girl’ commercial made by Always. The expression ‘like a girl’ is normally accepted in everyday language. It is used to insult someone fragile or to emotional. In this commercial women, boys, men and girls were asked to run or fight ‘like a girl’. The first group acted in a silly way while young girls behaved with confidence, they fought as hard as they could. For girls, making something ‘like a girl’ means being themselves and do their best. Obviously, the media and stereotyping still not influenced their perception of womanhood.
  • Gender stereotyping is also used in Pantene commercial ‘Labels against Women’. This ad shows criticism of women who behave in commonly ‘male’ way in the workplace. For example, when a man is called boss in the enterprise, a woman is labelled as bossy.


Using stereotypes, especially gender ones, is criticized worldwide. It has a negative effect on both women and men[4]. Many studies claim that it has a bad influence on how people are perceiving themselves and others. The Advertising Standards Authority is working to introduce strict regulations concerning this problem. New regulations are going to restrict advertising where gender stereotypes are being used (e.g. women shown only as housewives or men failing to do parental or household tasks)[5].

Examples of Stereotypes in advertising

  • One of the most popular examples of stereotyping in advertising is the use of gender roles. For example, a car commercial might depict a man driving the car and a woman in the passenger seat, suggesting that men are better drivers than women. This type of advertisement reinforces gender roles and stereotypes.
  • Another example is the use of racial stereotypes in advertising. This can be seen in advertisements that attempt to appeal to certain ethnic groups by using stereotypical depictions of that group. For example, a recent advertisement for a Mexican restaurant depicted a Mexican man wearing a sombrero, playing a guitar, and drinking tequila. This advertisement perpetuates the stereotype that all Mexicans are the same.
  • Stereotypes can also be used when advertising products to different age groups. For example, an advertisement for a toy might depict a child playing with the toy, suggesting that the product is only suitable for children. This type of advertisement reinforces the stereotype that certain products are only suitable for certain age groups.

Advantages of Stereotypes in advertising

One of the advantages of stereotypes in advertising is that it can be a useful tool to create brand awareness and recognition. It can also help organizations to target their message to specific audiences. Here are some of the advantages of using stereotypes in advertising:

  • It provides a quick, easy way for people to recognize a product or service. Stereotypes can be used to create a memorable image that people can associate with the brand.
  • It can also help organizations to convey messages to a large number of people in a short amount of time. Stereotypes can be used to quickly get the message across and make it easier for people to understand.
  • It can be used to create an emotional reaction from the audience. Stereotypes can be used to create empathy or evoke feelings of humor or nostalgia.
  • It can also be used to create brand loyalty. Stereotypes can be used to create a connection between the customer and the brand.
  • It can also be used to create a sense of belonging by creating a sense of unity among the audience. Stereotypes can be used to create a sense of community among people who share the same interests or values.

Limitations of Stereotypes in advertising

Stereotyping in advertising can have serious consequences, and should be carefully considered when making decisions. Here are some of the limitations of stereotypes in advertising:

  • Stereotyping can lead to negative associations and connotations, which can be damaging to the reputation of a product or company. This can be especially damaging when the stereotype is untrue or exaggerated.
  • Stereotyping can be insensitive and offensive, leading to a lack of respect for those who may be represented in the advertisement.
  • Stereotypes often fail to represent the diversity of the population, leading to a misrepresentation of the target audience.
  • Stereotyping can be used to manipulate consumers by using stereotypes to evoke certain emotions and reactions.
  • Stereotyping can lead to a lack of creativity, as companies may rely on stereotypes to create their advertisements rather than exploring new ideas.
  • Stereotyping can also lead to an oversimplification of complex issues, and can reinforce existing inequalities in society.

Other approaches related to Stereotypes in advertising

One approach to dealing with stereotypes in advertising is by using counter-stereotyping. Counter-stereotyping involves presenting a group in a way that goes against the typical stereotypes associated with that group. This technique can be used to challenge the expectations of viewers and undermine existing stereotypes. Other approaches related to stereotypes in advertising include:

  • The use of stereotypes: Stereotypes can be used to attract consumers, as long as the message does not contain any negative connotations. It can be used to create a humorous advertisement or to emphasize certain characteristics associated with the product or service being advertised.
  • Making stereotypes more inclusive: Advertisers can also use stereotypes in a more inclusive way, by presenting a variety of people and experiences as opposed to a singular narrative. This technique can help to create a more diverse representation in advertising.
  • Addressing negative stereotypes: Negative stereotypes can be addressed head-on in a positive way. This can be done by presenting a positive alternative to the negative stereotype that is being portrayed.

In summary, there are many approaches to dealing with stereotypes in advertising, such as using counter-stereotyping, using stereotypes, making stereotypes more inclusive and addressing negative stereotypes. Each approach has its advantages and can be used to create a more positive and diverse representation in advertising.



  1. M. de Mooij 2010, p.51-52
  2. A. Coscia 2014, p.5-6
  3. M. de Mooij 2010, p. 51-52
  4. M. Zawisza-Riley 2019, p.54-55
  5. G. Datar 2018, chapter 3

Author: Anna Woroń