Animal Studies Bibliography

Magdoff, JoAnn and Steve Barnett. 1989. Self-imaging and animals in TV ads. In R. J. Hoage (Ed.), Perceptions of Animals in American Culture (pp. 93-100). Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

TV ads with animals in them are very popular. This study aimed to describe how audiences perceived such ads. Advertisers use animals because they can produce strong responses in which they become as-if' representations of the viewer's idealized self-image, in terms of both positive attributes and desired relationships (94). Animals are useful in producing such images because Americans believe animals have families like human ones, make pets part of human families, and connect certain characteristics with particular kinds of animals (e.g. owls are wise, cats are finicky). Animals are useful in TV ads because there is cultural consensus about their meanings. A stereotypical animal, often anthropomorphised and sometimes animated, can quickly demonstrate one central characteristic of a product. Animals can also represent pairs of opposites relevant to self-image and relationships with others, including tame/wild, lovable/dangerous, powerful/weak, dominant/submissive, and playful/austere (94). Involving 230 adults from across the country, representative of the American population in income, age, education, and ethnicity, in focus groups to watch and discuss animal ads for beer, cars, pet food revealed that men and women responded to animal ads differently and that these responses were changing due to changing gender roles. Women connected animals with nurturant relations, (94) whereas men understood animals as models of desirable traits. Cat food ads show cats as finicky family members and link this choosiness to the finicky behavior of husbands and children, appealing to the wife/mother as the one can get all three to eat because she knows the proper appeals. When men are shown with cats, the men are prissy, older bachelors and shown as old maids (96). Wild cats (cheetahs, etc.), on the other hand, were shown in car ads in which a male driver was generally shown in charge of the situation, controlling nature and its strength. These ads were well-received by men. Dog food ads aimed at men often show a dog with an outdoorsman, representing desirable male attributes like bravery, spirit, and loyalty (96). Women identify not with the product or its traits, but rather with the results of the product--e.g. a family's or pet's pleasure after eating the product. Men, on the other hand, identify with the products and traits (such as control of danger, power), not the relationships. Car ads which showed both wild cats and sexy women identified both these dangerous forces with the car and allowed men to feel in control, in the driver's seat. The Budweiser Clydesdales represents the desirable traits of strength, vitality, and virility (98), and again emphasizes the duality of wild nature with the possibility of taming it. These overall gender differences varied according to personality traits--men who scored high on nurturing qualities and women who scored high on autonomy scored more like the other sex. When the ads were divided into attributional and relational types, however, 80% of viewers said the former were aimed at men, and 72% said the latter were aimed at women. These gendered patterns may be changing, however. Newer ads are showing more varied ways of using animals, for example by appealing to women's feelings of sensuality without including men, or showing a woman's relationship with a pet without making a larger-family appeal. Further, the younger, working women in the sample responded much more positively to the attributional ads than did the older women, who were mostly housewives. Association with the attributional aspects of the ads may reflect a sense of entitlement that has come with the me decade.



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