Arts politics: The image of advertising

Adverts have long since been an integral element of popular and media cultures. The relationship between art and advertisement is problematic due to cultural conceptions of the highbrow and lowbrow. Like art, however, advertisement is designed, it appeals to the senses, and it aims to provoke reaction (even if it is just to make you buy something).

Advertisement is part of 21st-century everyday life. Ads permeate the radio, the television, the internet and social media forums, and by tracing the development of advertising and its content, one can trace the trajectory of westernisation.

Arguably, through fashions and through social media, the individual’s association with self-advertisement is rapidly increasing. We promote ourselves through Twitter and Facebook, and just like brands, we manipulate the image of ourselves we would like to promote to the world.

Adverts have been causing a stir in the run up to Christmas. The John Lewis Christmas advert has had 2,174,983 hits in two weeks, and Coca Cola’s tagline “Holidays are Coming” trended on Twitter for days.

Recently there has been much debate concerning the image of motherhood which companies such as Asda, Morrisons, and Iceland have been promoting through their ads. Iceland’s recent Christmas ad received over 1000 complaints objecting to what viewers classed as a sexist portrayal of women in the kitchen.

Similarly, three weeks ago Asda posted their latest Christmas advert (entitled ‘Behind every great Christmas there’s Mum’) to YouTube; a vicious backlash on social media and in the press made it clear that such representations were not acceptable in 2012.

Indeed, aside from portraying mothers as screaming, nagging, and slightly incompetent, the father is almost absent from the video (except for when he asks “what’s for tea, love?” after Christmas lunch). ‘Mum’ singlehandedly runs about hoovering, cooking, feeding the baby, and performing household chores. The advert’s tagline is “behind every great Christmas there’s Mum, and behind mum there is Asda”. Notably, ‘Mum’ is never described as ‘great’.

Whether or not you give a flying fig about Asda’s Christmas ad, it is important to assess the presentation of gender within popular culture. Are these adverts simply mimicking current social stereotypes, or are they preventing them from being reformed?


About Author

harrietfarnham Harriet is the editor of Arts. Email her at

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May 2022
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