Appealing to Women: An Analysis of Print Advertisements in Three Women's Interest Magazines

By Kelly Beane
Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications
2013, Vol. 4 No. 2 | pg. 1/4 |


The purpose of this study was to analyze advertisements in magazines targeting women readers and find the preferred type of appeals advertisers used. This study analyzed 590 advertisements in three women's interest magazines from October 2012 to April 2013. It was found that the top three product categories advertised were food and drink, personal care, and laundry and household products. The most frequently used appeals were performance, availability, and components/contents. This study provided details on the application of the Resnik-Stern Content Classification System and laid the foundation for future studies in advertising appealing to women.

I. Introduction

What do women really want? In the AMC series Mad Men, advertising creative Don Draper boldly stated, "Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It's freedom from fear" (Weiner, 2007). Do women want products that free them from fear? Do they want products that ensure safety? Are they interested in the newest products on the market? This author was interested in analyzing print advertisements targeting women and what appeals advertisers most frequently appeal to in order to affect their buying intentions.

Contrary to a general thought that magazine readership is decreasing because of new technology, magazine readership has grown over the past five years. Additionally, magazines deliver more ad impressions than TV or Web in a half-hour period. People still spend a lot of time reading magazines – the average reader spends 43 minutes with each issue ("11 Facts About Magazines," n.d.).

The research performed in this study is important because print advertisements are still relevant. The more effectively advertisements sway the buying intentions of women, a demographic that is predicted to control two-thirds of the consumer wealth in the U.S. over the next decade, the more the product or service will sell ("U.S. Women," 2013). The average cost of a full-page, color advertisement in the three publications analyzed in this study amounts to $178,037 (The Hearst Corporation, 2013; Martha Stewart Omnimedia, 2013; Real Simple, 2013). It is important to analyze the advertisements that are being printed because a return is expected on the huge investment on brands.

II. Literature Review

Appealing to Women

There has been much research that looked at how gender affects advertising. Baird, Walhers, and Cooper (2007) found that men and women respond differently to advertising. They found that one's emotional involvement with stimuli tend to enhance memory and that this linkage appears more highly pronounced for women than for men (Baird, 2007).

Additionally, Cramphorn (2011) found that women typically respond more positively to advertisements than men. Although there has been little research dealing with advertisements aimed specifically at women, there has been a lot of research that looked at how gender relates to advertisements.

Emotional Advertising

The use of emotional advertising is very prevalent in print advertisements (Baird, 2007). Whether it is the use of a visual of a couple in an advertisement for a car, the use of dramatic copy in an advertisement for a television series, or the use of a visual of a family holding hands in an advertisement for a cruise line, emotion is frequently used. Using an emotional appeal can lead to a positive attitude toward the brand and may sway the buying intentions of the consumer (Baird, 2007).

An important study has found that emotional appeals may affect memory (Canli et al., 2002). Memory is crucial for a successful advertising campaign. The message in the advertisement must be stored in the memory and then recalled later when a brand decision is being made to affect the buyer's intent (Ambler, 1999).

Baird, Wahlers and Cooper found that using emotional appeals can be beneficial for advertising to women and could be expanded by using emotional appeals to products normally devoid of emotion, such as tires. For example, the use of a baby in an advertisement for tires to stress the safety of the family could be more memorable, especially for women (Baird, 2007).

Women as Socially Oriented

It has been found that men respond better to advertisements about self or ego, while women respond better to advertisements that are more externally focused (Brunel & Nelson, 2003). From early ages, girls play "dress up" and "try on" social roles. Women are more socially oriented and have more empathy towards their friends (Brizendine, 2007). Women respond to images or situations that they can empathize with. Additionally, photographs are more effective with women (Cramphorn, 2011). Advertisements that use celebrities, typical people, and personalities have been found to effectively grab the attention of women (Cramphorn, 2011).

Cultural Priorities

Advertising affects buying behaviors by associating particular values to a brand and then emphasizing how these values may be gained or experienced through the purchase or use of the particular brand or product (Morris, 2013).

Pamela K. Morris and Katharine Nichols performed a content analysis of advertisements from magazines in the United States and France. They found that American advertisements show people smiling more often than those in French Magazines. U.S. magazines also present more women, non-working women, and "women as decoration" in their print advertisements than their French counterparts (Morris, 2013). In comparison with France, the U.S. had more advertisements for makeup and hair care products. Additionally, they found that Americans prefer makeup to skincare products, and they use makeup to cover flaws and treat makeup as a commodity. They found that American women value great hair because of the prevalence of hair care products. By looking at how frequently certain products or product categories are advertised, assumptions can be made about the cultural priorities of the culture that the magazine is distributed in.

The Importance of Advertising

In 2004, American businesses spent over $260 billion on advertising. Advertisers rarely direct advertising to a particular gender, and most advertising is "broad-brush" (Cramphorn, 2011). Cramphorn (2011) found that no matter what style used, advertisements targeting women are overwhelmingly more effective. It is important that advertisers are successful in advertising towards women because women in America today have tremendous spending power – and it's growing. Women's purchasing power is estimated to grow from $5 trillion to $15 trillion annually. Fleishmann-Hillard Inc. estimates that women will control two-thirds of the consumer wealth in the U.S. over the next decade. Additionally, women handle the bulk of purchasing decisions for consumer goods in the U.S. and are likely to influence or manage many other big ticket purchases – such as homes, automobiles, appliances, furniture, etc. as well as a large portion of the apparel, groceries and everyday purchases ("U.S. Women," 2013).

Theoretical Framework

Taylor's Six-Segment Strategy Wheel was the theoretical framework used in this study (Taylor, 1999). Taylor stated that there is no single way that advertising works. Advertising depends on the situation, which consists of the type of product, the nature of the target audience, the purchase motivation, and the importance of the decision to the consumer.

The Six-Segment Message Strategy Model is a wheel that contains six segments. The left-hand side of the wheel represents the transmissional or informational view while the right-hand side represents the ritual or transformational view.

The transmissional view contains three segments: Ration, Acute Need, and Routine. The ration segment is characterized by the Marshallian Economic Model (Taylor, 1999). Consumers require a lot of information before purchasing products in this segment. Consumers are concerned with the product features, services, warranties, and price. The acute need segment is characterized by the acute need that consumers have to buy a product. The need for these products pops up unexpectedly and consumers must make decisionsuickly. The routine segment is characterized by the Pavlovian Learning Model. Consumer decisions are often made in a routine way for products in this category. The consumer does not think much about the product before they purchase it. These products are often purchased in a habitual way.

The ritual view contains three segments: Ego, Social, and Sensory. The Ego segment is characterized by the Freudian Psychoanalytic Model (Taylor, 1999). This is the "I am me" segment. Consumers buy products that define who they are. The social segment is characterized by the Veblenian Social-Psychological Model (Taylor, 1999). Products in this segment are used to make a statement to others (Taylor, 1999). Consumers buy these products to gain social approval from family, significant others, and other people in their lives. The sensory segment is characterized by Cyrenaics philosophy (Taylor, 1999). These products provide consumers with "moments of pleasure" or "life's little treats" based on the senses (Taylor, 1999).

Coding Strategy

The coding strategy used in this study was the Resnik-Stern Content Classification System (Harmon, Rassouk, and Stern, 1983) as adapted by Robert R. Harmon, Nabil Y. Razzouk, and Bruce L. Stern in their study, The Information Content of Comparative Magazine Advertisements. This original coding sheet can be found in Appendix I. This strategy was chosen because of its comprehensive categories and continued relevance and accordance with today's product categories and advertising appeals used.

Research Questions

Based on the literature review, the following five research questions were asked:

  • RQ1: What product categories are most advertised in women's interest magazines?
  • RQ2: Are there significant differences between product categories advertised or appealssed in Harmon, Rassouk, and Stern's 1983 study and this study?
  • RQ3: Are there significant differences between Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living, and O, The Oprah Magazine in terms of product categories?
  • RQ4: What informational cues do advertisers most frequently use to appeal to women?
  • RQ5: What informational cues do advertisers most frequently use within different product categories?

III. Methods

Sampling Procedure

Using a content analysis, this study examined the message strategies most frequently used in print advertisements as they appeal to women. The author analyzed print advertisements in four women's inter-st magazines from October 2012 to April 2013. To reduce the number of ads, she selected magazines every other month from October 2012 to April 2013, resulting in a total of 590 advertisements were selected.

Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living, and O, The Oprah Magazine were chosen based on their readership statistics. Real Simple has a readership of 90% women, while Martha Stewart Living has a readership of 89% women, and O, The Oprah Magazine has a readership made up of 88% women.

Some advertisements were excluded because they were too small to contain the information. Those were found in the "Simply Shopping" section of Real Simple, in Martha Stewart Living's "The Marketplace" section, any "advertising promotions," "promotions," or "retail promotions."

Coding Strategy

Coding for this study was based on the Resnik-Stern Content Classification System (Harmon, Rassouk, and Stern, 1983) as adapted by Robert R. Harmon, Nabil Y. Razzouk, and Bruce L. Stern in their study, The Information Content of Comparative Magazine Advertisements. This original coding sheet can be found in Appendix 1.

The coding scheme was adapted further for this study. The magazine categories were changed for this study from Ladies Home Journal, Newsweek, Esquire, and Reader's Digest, to Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living, and O, The Oprah Magazine. The month of the publication was added to the coding sheet so that the data could be analyzed according to the month.

One criterion omitted was "number of products compared" because none of the advertisements analyzed compared one product with another. The study dropped the "Other Durable Products (autos, etc.)" and "Agricultural Products" option under the "Type of Product" criterion and added 10 new criteria including automobiles, clothing/accessories, electronics, entertainment, Banking services, paper goods, philanthropic organizations, service/program, toys, and travel.

The question of "What limited-time, non-price deals are available with a particular purchase?" was changed to "What limited-time deals are available with a particular purchase?" so that the researcher could look at non-price deals as well as price deals.

The coding sheet used in this study can be found in Appendix II. And examples of coded advertisements can be found in Appendix III.

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