Rolling back the years: a comparative analysis of anti-ageing advertisements in women’s magazines between the 1970s and 2000s
Over the last fifty or so years, advertising has become a pervasive part of many people’s lives. To persuade their customers to buy a product or service in now overcrowded markets, advertisers discursively construct a problem that their product is purported to solve. One phenomenon that is discursively constructed as a problem in contemporary advertising is ageing, which is stigmatised by the discourse used in advertising texts (Bazin & White, 2006, p. 171; DeRenzo & Malley, 1992). The majority of anti-ageing advertisements target women. In their techniques that persuade women to buy anti-ageing cosmetics, advertisers have become increasingly sophisticated. This study aims to investigate how persuasive strategies have changed over time in anti-ageing advertising for women since the 1970s, which were marked by the rise of the feminist movements. It also examines how representation of women has evolved in these advertisements. In doing this, the study has analysed the techniques used by advertisers. It has also looked into the construction of ageist discourse in anti-ageing advertising texts and examined how femininity and sexuality have been discursively constructed to induce the desire to purchase anti-ageing products. The study examined four advertisements in women’s popular magazines, two from the 1970s and two from the 2000s as four in-depth case studies. Due to the increasing importance of images in advertising, a multimodal approach to analysis that involved social semiotics and critical discourse analysis (CDA) has been employed. This has provided the opportunity to study the historical context in which the advertisements were embedded and to explicate the semiotic and linguistic strategies employed by advertisers. Findings revealed that both eras exploited scientific discourse and reference to France to add credibility and authority to advertising claims. In the 2000s, scientific discourse developed significantly and became more dominant. Thus, beauty received the status of a science. Even though science and technology was prominent in 1970s anti-ageing advertising, in the 2000s, advertising has become progressively technologised and scientised as it utilised computer programmes to design pictures and made the layout of the advertisement appear technological. The new genre that the 2000s advertisement used was religious discourse. It seemed an important constituent of the 2000s advertisements and positioned beauty as a new religion. The study found that there was a change in the construction of femininity and sexuality over time from explicitly ladylike and hyperfeminised towards more a chiselled sci-fi, perhaps even unisex ‘look’. However, the study discovered more similarities in the construction of anti-ageing advertisements in the 1970s and 2000s than differences in respect of the portrayal of women attesting to the conservatism of advertising discourse over time. The advertisements from both eras presented the models as white, presumably heterosexual, sexualised and submissive. The discourse in the 1970s and the 2000s was constructed in a way that disempowered the reader. This in-depth multimodal study has highlighted the range and sophistication of strategies employed in the advertising of anti-ageing products. It has also contributed to research in the field of advertising discourse and ageist discourse. Important areas for further investigation in the areas of scientised and religious discourse have also been identified.