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A Multimodal Critical Discourse Analysis Of Advertisements Portraying Women In Domestic Roles

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There is often much more meaning behind the language used in speech, texts and advertisements than what appears on the surface. Ideologies, from a critical point of view, are considered to be descriptions of worldly features which build, support and challenge the dynamics between different groups of individuals (Fairclough, 2003). Dominant groups embed these ideologies in different methods of communication in order to manipulate and persuade the public to conform to an idea that primarily promotes the interests of the dominant group (De Saussure & Schulz, 2006).

Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) is a range of instruments used by scholars to analyse and decipher written texts as well as spoken language (Machin & Mayr, 2012). Together with semiotics, or the study of how meaning is made and represented through signs, it allows a view into the ideology hidden in the words and icons (Chandler, 2001). CDA does not seek to categorize these implied meanings into right or wrong, but rather make audiences aware of the implied meanings and assumptions (Wodak & Meyer, 2001). In the case of advertisements, which this analysis will focus on, the ideology is not always obvious, and analysts must look beyond what is present on the page and figure out what is missing, or what is left unsaid, in order to determine the true intentions behind the piece (Fairclough, 2003). The phrases and words used can seem neutral on the surface, but when each is viewed as a lexical choice, attempts to shape the perceptions of the target audience become visible.

Since the ideologies behind the advertisements are used until they become legitimised, scholars such as Machin, Mayr and Fairclough state that the study of critical discourse analysis aims to ‘reveal connections between language, power and ideology that are hidden from people’ (Machin & Mayr, 2012, p.5). While the language used is important to consider, most advertisements also rely on images, or icons, and the relationship between the language and visual is what most effectively communicates meaning (ibid.). Using CDA, the following analysis seeks to demonstrate that the ideology of women fulfilling their role as wives and mothers by being in the home and focusing on home tasks is present in advertisements for different products, even though they are years apart (Kroska, 2007). We will look at the different linguistic strategies used by the advertisements to promote the ideology as well as the multimodality of it, and how the images complement the language.

First, we look at an advertisement for the fast food restaurant Hardee’s from the 1940s. The icon shows a woman standing at the kitchen sink, she is wearing a white dress, and her hair is neatly done. She is looking through a window and outside is a smartly dressed man carrying a young girl. Of the accompanying text, one sentence is in bigger font than all the rest and it says, “Women don’t leave the kitchen!” This has two possible interpretations, it can be understood as a command due to the exclamation point, but the following sentence leads us to believe that it is intended to be interpreted as a commonly known fact. It begins “we all know …’ the use of a factive verb presupposes that the target audience, in this case men, are already familiar with the information presented (Goddard, 1998). It also suggests that the ideology is legitimized since the phrase implies a consensus of the information.

This advertisement also employs structural opposition. With the use of the pronoun we, the advertiser has placed themselves in a group with the target audience and placed that group against women (Bloor & Bloor, 2007). The word ‘we’ can also be considered synthetic personalization, which Norman Fairclough states is a method of building a relationship between the advertiser and the consumer (Fairclough, 2001). The distinction between the two groups is emphasized by the lexical choices used in relation to each. Women are described as ‘little miss’, are meant to be ‘cooking a delicious meal’ and ‘waiting on’ their men. The use of the attributive adjective ‘delicious’ would suggest that only the best tasting meal would be good enough to please a man, yet the meal offered by Hardee’s is ‘sloppy’ and ‘hastily prepared’. The contrasts between the descriptions of the meals are indexical of the differences between the single life, and the married life.

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Next, we examine a cereal advertisement from the 1970s. In this advertisement the masculine figure is completely suppressed and is therefore not shown in the image. The image is simply a woman cleaning a window and across the middle, in bold text it says, “Keep up with the house while you keep down your weight”. The typographical layout suggests that this is the message that is important to the audience (Goddard, 1998). This phrase not only presupposes that women are the ones who do the house work, but also that they want to lose weight (ibid.). In the small print beneath that, the advertisement uses a few loaded words in an attempt to capture the reader’s attention. One example is the use of the word ‘vitality’, in this context they could have used words such as energy or stamina but the choice of the word vitality, which means full of life, is an attempt to persuade the target audience, in this case women, to purchase their cereal.

Another attempt to manipulate the audience is seen further down in the text when they write “Total watches your vitamins, while you watch your weight”, this gives the impression that the cereal is doing something for you (Wodak & Meyer, 2001). This advertisement uses statistics but has no credible source to support them. They claim that their cereal ‘gives you 100% of the minimum daily adult vitamin and iron requirement’ but there is no official source substantiating this claim. They also state that their cereal contains more vitamins than any other cereal, but this language is ambiguous and doesn’t tell the target audience which vitamins, or which other cereals.

Finally, we have an advertisement from 2011 that was part of a coupon for a household cleaning product brand. The image shows a woman cleaning with a child standing next to her and helping. Even though it uses the passive voice and does not explicitly say that women are the ones being referred to, through the reference to Mother’s Day and the icon chosen, we can infer that they mean women. Though this ad is the one with least language of the three analysed, it implicitly says the most. The text that follows reads, “get back to the job that really matters”, this phrasing diminishes whatever other jobs women may hold, and reinforces the ideology that women should be housewives and look after their homes while also being nurturing and passing those traits onto their daughters (O’Barr, 2006). The use of the adverb ‘really’ in the phrase also adds emphasis to the importance of the ‘job’ they are referring to.

Unlike ad number 2 which suppressed men, this ad does show a masculine figure, but it portrays him as an authoritative figure as if he knows best about the cleaning product. This authority is supported by the use of the colour red in the writing of his name, since the colour red is historically known to be a dominant colour (Kaya & Epps, 2004). The graphology of the icon can also be analysed since the masculine figure is placed towards the front with the woman cleaning in the back, this symbolises that the role of the woman is secondary to the role held by the man (Hodkinson, 2017).

Overall, though the three ads are from different time periods, the ideology is consistent. Women are portrayed as individuals whose primary focus should be cooking, cleaning, and losing weight. As shown in the analysis above, the use of structural opposition, synthetic personalization, emotive words, suppression, and presupposition as well as the typographical and graphological choices made all aid to push the ideology forward. These elements would not be as effective if used individually, instead they all come together to manipulate the public into adopting an ideology that which accepts the concepts presented and promotes the sale of these products. Through Critical Discourse Analysis scholars have the ability to break down these advertisements as well as written texts and other forms of communications in order to inform audiences, from a neutral point of view, of the implications behind them.

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A Multimodal Critical Discourse Analysis Of Advertisements Portraying Women In Domestic Roles. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved August 12, 2022, from
“A Multimodal Critical Discourse Analysis Of Advertisements Portraying Women In Domestic Roles.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022,
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