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International Marketing Review
Relating Hofstede's masculinity dimension to gender role portrayals in advertising: A
cross-cultural comparison of web advertisements
Daechun An Sanghoon Kim
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Article information:
To cite this document:
Daechun An Sanghoon Kim, (2007),"Relating Hofstede's masculinity dimension to gender role portrayals in
advertisingA cross-cultural comparison of web advertisements", International Marketing Review, Vol. 24 Iss
2 pp. 181 - 207
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cross-national analysis", International Marketing Review, Vol. 19 Iss 4 pp. 408-419 http://
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Relating Hofstede’s masculinity
dimension to gender role
portrayals in advertising
A cross-cultural comparison of
web advertisements
Downloaded by University of Manchester At 15:13 20 December 2016 (PT)
Daechun An
Received January 2006
Revised July 2006
Accepted December 2006
Department of Journalism, University of North Texas,
Denton, Texas, USA, and
Sanghoon Kim
Department of Communication and Information,
Inha University, Incheon, Korea
Purpose – The purpose of this study is to examine cross-cultural differences in gender role
portrayals in web ads in Korea and the USA on the basis of Hofstede’s masculinity dimension.
Design/methodology/approach – A quantitative content analysis was employed to obtain a
numerically-based summary of different themes and roles portrayed by women and men in 400 web ads.
Findings – A greater percentage of Korean ads featured characters in relationship themes, featured
women as a main character, and portrayed them in family and recreational roles. To a large extent, the
results validate the use of Hofstede’s taxonomy, supporting the application of “masculinity”
framework into the determination of appropriate advertising appeals-related to gender roles.
Practical implications – International advertisers who are planning a global campaign for their
gender-related consumer products can benefit by locating the target country’s position on Hofstede’s
masculinity index and using it as a guideline for creating visual images of main characters in the ads.
Originality/value – This study adds a new contribution to an international account of web
advertising in maintaining a comprehensive understanding of contemporary gender role portrayals.
It could benefit international advertisers with both practical and theoretical implications, for no
systematic studies have ever touched the gender-role issue with web advertising yet.
Keywords Worldwide web, Advertising, Advertising media, Gender, South Korea,
United States of America
Paper type Research paper
Over the past three decades numerous studies in the field of communication, marketing,
psychology, sociology, and gender studies have investigated gender role portrayals in
advertising. Marketing researchers have shown interests in this issue because gender is
one of the primary segmentation variables in marketing activities. Grounded in
cultivation theory that attempts to analyze and document the contribution of media
advertising to viewers’ perceptions of social reality, social scientists have also analyzed
This work was supported by Inha University Research Grant (No. 32022-01).
International Marketing Review
Vol. 24 No. 2, 2007
pp. 181-207
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/02651330710741811
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advertisements to examine social and psychological effects of gender stereotyping in
the media. These researchers consistently indicate that women are not favorably
represented in advertising and their roles are limitedly defined as playing subordinate,
unimportant, and supporting roles, whereas men are shown in decidedly different ways
playing important, professional, and autonomous roles (Courtney and Lockeretz, 1971;
Dominick and Rauch, 1972; Poe, 1976; Belkaoui and Belkaoui, 1976; Macklin and Kolbe,
1984; Whipple and Courtney, 1985; Bretl and Cantor, 1988; Artz and Venkatesh, 1991;
Mazzella et al., 1992; Klassen et al., 1993; Kramer and Knupfer, 1997).
As gender role portrayal has become an important issue in international advertising
(Cheng, 1997), researchers have become interested in the cross-cultural account of the
societal roles attached to women and men in advertising. Although limited to magazine
and television advertising, more than a dozen of cross-cultural content-analytic studies
have shown considerable consensus that the portrayals of women and men’s roles in
advertising differ by culture (Williams and Best, 1990; Wiles and Tjernlund, 1991;
Sengupta, 1995; Moon and Chen, 2002), corroborating the cultural historians’ (Potter,
1954; Schudson, 1984; Leiss et al., 1986) contention of culture-reflective or culture-bound
nature of advertising that advertising is an important social institution that mirrors
and transmits dominate cultural values in society. Specifically, the findings suggest
that in a society where feminine values have a dominate influence on a culture, there
tends to be less differences between women and men in the type of roles portrayed in
advertising, whereas in a society where masculine values are dominant, there tends to
be a large difference in the societal roles attached to women and men in advertising
(Wiles et al., 1995; Milner and Collins, 2000).
As one can observe rapid changes surrounding the global advertising environment,
such as an increasing use of the web and satellite broadcasting (Viswanath and Zeng,
2003) and the increase in global advertising expenditures (Advertising Age, 2006),
societal norms on the roles and portrayal of women and men are quickly communicated
through the commercial messages among people of diverse cultures. In this respect,
cross-national comparisons are of a greater importance as they could benefit
international advertisers with both practical and theoretical implications. Particularly,
the web’s prominence as a global advertising medium warrants careful attention to its
advertising content dimensions, considering its unprecedented potential to reach the
global audience (Berthon et al., 1996) and an exponential growth in web advertising
expenditures by multinational advertisers (Oser, 2004). Therefore, to maintain a more
comprehensive account of contemporary gender role portrayals in advertising, it would
be valuable to have content analyses available for web advertising. However, since no
systematic studies have ever touched the gender-role issue with web advertising yet,
this study is intended as a new contribution to an international account by comparing
gender role portrayals in web advertising from Korea and the USA.
Gender roles
A gender role is a set of culturally defined behavioral norms associated with males and
with females, respectively, in a given social group or system (Connell, 1987, p. 165).
Gender is one component of the gender/sex system, which refers to “the set of
arrangements by which a society transforms biological sexuality into products of
human activity, and in which these transformed needs are satisfied” (Reiter, 1975, p. 159).
A role is essentially performative. One learns how to play a masculine or feminine role,
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what is acceptable and what is not, how one should behave, think, and evaluate oneself
and others in a gendered manner. While age, ethnicity, class, and many other factors also
have culturally prescribed norms, gender is the most universal and salient social
organizing principle (Roopnarine and Mounts, 1987). A person’s gender role is composed
of several elements and can be expressed through clothing, behavior, choice of work,
personal relationships and other factors. Gender roles were traditionally divided into
strictly feminine and masculine gender roles, though these roles have diversified today
into many different acceptable male or female gender roles. However, gender role norms
for women and men can vary significantly from one country or culture to another, even
within a country or culture. People express their gender role somewhat uniquely. Gender
role can vary according to the social group to which a person belongs or the subculture
with which he or she chooses to identify.
Within the last century, several theoretical notions or perspectives have been
postulated to explain the concept of gender roles. Parsons and Shillis (1951) asserted
that the division of labor based upon sex has survived because it is beneficent and
efficient for society. This view states that family stability is maintained because one
member, the male assumes the “instrumental role” of breadwinner, while the female
adopted the “expressive role” of managing relationships within the family and keeping
it together. Conflict theory of gender roles (O’Neil et al., 1995) accepts the idea of how
gender roles developed, but they disagree as to why they have continued. In this case
they would argue that such a division of labor is not necessarily beneficial to society,
but has been maintained by those in power. Men have a vested interest in keeping
things the way they are because they enjoy economic, political, and social privileges.
They argue that present gender role divisions are outdated and no longer appropriate
to the modern world. According to the interactionist approach (Sandstrom et al., 2006),
gender roles are not fixed, but are constantly negotiated between individuals.
Theoretical notions have also been postulated regarding the gender role
development. For instance, rooted in biology, Freud’s (1962) psychoanalytic theory
proposes that all individuals supposedly pass through a sequence of stages toward
appropriate gender role identity to acquire gender-typed behaviors, emphasizing
parental influences. Others (Bandura, 1977; Kohlberg, 1966) believe that cognition
might be the salient factor in understanding the acquisition of gender-typed behaviors,
emphasizing the role of mental processes as mediating variables in learning. As the
women’s movement came to the forefront of American society, Bem (1974) postulates
psychological androgyny which assumes that individuals who are androgynous might
be both masculine and feminine, both assertive and yielding depending on the
situational appropriateness of behaviors. Most of the perspectives suggest that both
cognitive and social factors are involved in the acquisition of gender-typed behaviors.
Gender stereotypes and gender role portrayals in advertising
Gender stereotypes are general beliefs about gender-linked traits (collections of
psychological characteristics and behaviors characterizing men and women) and
gender roles (activities differentially appropriate for men or women). Gender role
depictions of women as dependent and emotional have been criticized for perpetuating
stereotypes and having adverse effects on a wide range of behaviors (Bretl and Cantor,
1988). Specifically, Jones (1991) summarized instances of subtle stereotyping in
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functional ranking – the tendency to depict men in executive roles and as more
functional when collaborating with women;
relative size – the tendency to depict men as taller and larger than women,
except when women are clearly superior in social status;
ritualization of subordination – an overabundance of images of women lying on
floors and beds or as objects of men’s mock assaults;
the feminine touch – the tendency to show women cradling and caressing the
surface of objects with their fingers; and
family – fathers depicted as physically distant from their families or as relating
primarily to sons, and mothers depicted as relating primarily to daughters.
Content analysis has been used as a major research method for decades on gender roles
portrayed in advertising (Cooper-Chen, 1995). Since, an extensive literature in this domain
has accumulated over the past three decades, it is quite difficult to provide an exhaustive
review in a few paragraphs (for review articles, see Courtney and Whipple, 1983; Furnham
and Mak, 1999). In the first content-analytic study on this subject, Courtney and Lockeretz
(1971) reported that US magazine advertisements portrayed women as only having a place
in their homes, incapable of making important decisions, and fully dependent on men.
In the next 30 years or so, more than a dozen of follow-up studies (McArthur and Resko,
1975; Belkaoui and Belkaoui, 1976; Whipple and Courtney, 1985; Gilly, 1988; Bretl and
Cantor, 1988; Mazzella et al., 1992; Kramer and Knupfer, 1997; Furnham and Mak, 1999;
Furnham et al., 2000) also examined the depiction of women in US magazine and television
advertising. This research has found that women are shown in advertisements as passive,
subordinate to men, dependent on men, incapable of making important decisions, lacking
intelligence and credibility, younger, and alluring, self-enhancing, and decorative. Such
stereotyping in the portrayal of women has continued into the mid-1990s although
percentage of women shown as professionals and managers has made modest gains since
the late 1950s (Cheng, 1997). It was also found that as an attention grabber in
advertisements, women were frequently shown as sex objects (Soley and Kurzbard, 1986;
Ferguson et al., 1990; Klassen et al., 1993).
While most researchers mainly paid attention to women, another body of content
analyses has examined the depiction of men and women together (Wiles and
Tjernlund, 1991; Klassen et al., 1993; Zotos and Lysonski, 1994) or male roles
exclusively (Wolheter and Lammers, 1980; Skelly and Lundstrom, 1981; Kolbe and
Albanese, 1996). These studies in general suggested that men are portrayed in
decidedly different ways as authoritative, independent, professional, autonomous,
outdoor, middle-aged, argumentative, practical, and pleasurable. Comparative studies
suggested that the difference in the portrayal of women and men existed in the mode of
presentation (i.e. men in main visual or women in background) and type of products
associated (e.g. men for technical products or women for household products). Other
researchers (Soley and Kurzbard, 1986; Bretl and Cantor, 1988; Ferguson et al., 1990;
Klassen et al., 1993) observed that advertisers have made some improvements in
gender role portrayals, particularly with the portrayal of women in less traditional way
(e.g. frequent portrayals women as business executives and professionals) perhaps due
to the increasing feminine movements along with “raising” of feminist consciousness
(Ford and LaTour, 1993).
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Hofstede’s masculinity dimension
In the late 1980s, researchers’ attention was extended to comparative studies of gender
roles portrayed in different countries. A general cultural understanding regarding the
societal roles attached to women and men is that women are fundamentally inferior
to men (Ortner, 1974). However, since some cultures practice egalitarian value
emphasizing the equality of genders (Sullivan and O’Connor, 1988; Green et al., 1983),
treatment of women, their relative power, and attitudes toward appropriate roles for
women may differ across cultures (Hawkins and Coney, 1976). Among the several
comprehensive dimensional frameworks that attempt to discover and empirically
verify cultural variations across cultures, Hofstede’s (1980) 5D model deals with the
norms governing the societal roles attached to women and men.
Hofstede’s (1980) work on cultural differences represents a significant and
innovative research on cross-cultural comparisons in the areas of management,
social psychology, anthropology, sociology, marketing and communication
(Albers, 1994; Kale, 1991). His model of five value dimensions was developed
based on an extensive data set collected from a survey with IBM employees across
the world to find an explanation for the fact that some concepts of work motivation
did not work in all countries in the same way. Like much of psychologists’ work on
cultural values, Hofstede’s (1980) study yielded a structure comprised of four major
dimensions on which societies would differ: power distance – societal desire for
hierarchy or egalitarianism; individualism – societal preference for a group or
individual orientation; masculinity – a gender-role differentiation; uncertainty
avoidance – societal resistance to uncertainty. Later, an additional Chinese value
survey in 23 nations done by Hofstede and Bond (1984) identified the fifth dimension,
long-term orientation. The model has been validated in hundreds of different
cross-cultural studies from a variety of disciplines including sociology, market
research, and medicine, and when compared to other models, Hofstede’s model is
probably the one that has been most frequently tested and validated (Dorfman and
Howell, 1988; Bhagat and McQuaid, 1982).
Like any theory, it is not complete and has certain holes in it and inconsistencies,
and plenty of objections that can be raised against it from a number of angles. First, the
generalizations about national level culture from an analysis of small subnational
populations necessarily relies on the unproven supposition that within each nation
there is a uniform national culture and on a mere assertion that micro-local data from a
section of IBM employees was representative of that supposed national uniformity
(Warneryd, 1988). Some researchers have contended that Hofstede’s research has been
culturally biased because the team only comprised Europeans and Americans, whereas
the study included many countries from other parts of the world (Roberts and
Boyacigiller, 1984). In addition, it has been criticized as being outdated because the
world’s globalization makes younger people in particular converging around a
common set of values (Gooderham and Nordhaug, 2002). Other criticisms concern the
sample representativeness (i.e. the sample came from just one firm) and the data
gathering method (i.e. an attitude-survey questionnaire was used as the only method)
(Gooderham and Nordhaug, 2002).
Despite such criticisms, it is arguably the most empirically-based and complete
theory of cultural difference to date, and that is why it has been given so much weight
within the realm of marketing and advertising research. According to Kale (1991), most
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of the classification approaches to cross-cultural comparison were either not
empirically supported or failed to distinguish the degree of differences between
cultures and suffered from lack of comprehensiveness, and this lack of a universal,
broadly generalizable framework within which to visualize national cultures draws
“too many conclusions, not enough conceptualization” (Negandhi, 1974, p. 60). It is in
this context that Hofstede’s framework hold maximum potential for applications in the
area of the cross-cultural advertising.
Among the Hofstede’s five major cultural dimensions, masculinity, relates to the
societal norms governing the societal roles attached to women and men. He suggests
that the perception of gender role differentiation is an important element that can
effectively compare different cultures. He proposes that gender roles are clearly distinct
in a society classified as a masculine society where men are supposed to be assertive,
tough, and focused on material success and women are supposed to be more modest,
tender, and concerned with the quality of life (p. 297). On the other hand, femininity
stands for a society where social gender roles overlap: both men and women are
supposed to be modest, tender and concerned with the quality of life. Therefore, gender
role differentiation between women and men is smaller in feminine societies than in
masculine societies, for instance, in job and education opportunities in professional and
technical areas. Table I lists the key differences between masculine and feminine
between masculine and feminine cultures in gender roles (Hofstede, 2001, p. 312).
Hofstede’s ordering of the nations in masculinity index scores (Table II) indicates that
Japan is the most masculine nation, whereas Sweden is the most feminine country
among the 53 nations included in the analysis. Korea is closer to the feminine end (i.e. a
rank of 41st) of the continuum, whereas the USA is more masculine (i.e. a rank of 15)
than Korea.
Feminine societies
Masculine societies
Small gender culture gap
More equal job and education opportunity
Larger share of women in professional and
technical jobs
Socialization toward nontraditional gender roles
Women describes themselves as more
competitive than men do
Gender stereotypes rooted in universal biological
Characteristics freely attributed to one or the
other gender
Women describe themselves in their own terms
Large gender culture gap
Less equal job and education opportunity
Smaller share of women in professional and
technical jobs
Socialization toward traditional gender roles
Men describes themselves as more competitive
than women do
Gender stereotypes country specific
Men allowed to be gentle, feminine, and weak
Table I.
Key differences between
feminine and masculine
societies: gender roles
Men claim suppressing joy and sadness
Women’s liberation means that men and
women should take equal share both at
home and at work
Source: Hofstede (2001)
Attribution of characteristics less easily
Women describe themselves in same terms as
Women should be gentle and feminine; nobody
should be weak
Men claim showing joy and sadness
Women’s liberation means that women should
be admitted to positions hitherto occupied
only by men
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New Zealand
Hong Kong
Source: Hofstede (2001)
Cultural aspects of gender role portrayals in advertising
The foregoing discussion on gender roles and cultural variations in masculinity
suggests that a disparity in the perception of societal gender roles exists
cross-culturally. And these differences are often reflected in advertising because of
its culture-bound characteristics (Mooij, 1998; Frith and Mueller, 2003). Specifically,
Mooij (1998) supports this view by observing that societal norms governing gender
role differentiation is a key variable to account for the cross-national differences in
gender role portrayals in international advertising. For instance, she observes that
in feminine cultures with small gender role differentiation between women and men,
men do not mind taking female roles and men are easily found wearing aprons in
advertising (p. 195). On the other hand, in masculine cultures, women are hardly
portrayed in advertising as taking men’s role (e.g. professional managers, top-level
management job, etc.).
Previous literature provides some empirical evidence for the influence of
masculinity/femininity value orientation on the portrayals of gender roles in advertising
across cultures (Table III). This research suggests that men appear in advertising
playing more important roles than women regardless of the masculine/feminine value
orientation of the nations compared, while between-gender differences tend to be larger in
masculine countries (i.e. Japan, USA, Mexico, Australia, and Malaysia) than in feminine
countries (i.e. Sweden, The Netherlands, Singapore, and Taiwan).
Gilly (1988) compared television commercials among three masculine nations,
Mexico, Australia, and USA. Her findings show that gender role differences were
visible only in Mexican commercials on the types of occupations between women
and men and Mexican commercials reflected significantly more traditional gender
roles (i.e. women portrayed as unemployed or entertainers; men portrayed as top
Table II.
Masculinity index values
among 53 nations
USA, Australia
Australia, Mexico, USA
USA, Sweden
USA, Japan
The Netherlands, Sweden, USA
Malaysia, Singapore
USA, China
UK, New Zealand
Hong Kong, Indonesia
Sweden, Russia, USA, Japan
Hong Kong, Korea
Edgar and McPhee (1974)
Gilly (1988)
Wiles and Tjernlund (1991)
Sengupta (1995)
Wiles et al. (1995)
Wee et al. (1995)
Cheng (1997)
Furnham and Farragher (2000)
Furnham et al. (2000)
Milner and Collins (2000)
Moon and Chen (2002)
Table III.
Cross-cultural gender role
Women with more traditional roles in Australian ads
Gender differences are not significant in Australian
ads, but significant in US and Mexican ads
Significant between-country differences in
non-working activities
Significant between-country differences in the type
of female role
Mixed results among three countries regarding
gender differences
Women with more traditional role in Malaysian ads
No major differences between China and USA ads
More gender differences (central figures) in
New Zealand ads
No major differences between two countries
Masculine countries (Japan and USA) have larger
gender role differences
No significant differences between Hong Kong and
Korean ads
Findings regarding female roles
Researchers (Year)
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executives or white collar) than did US ads. In response to the criticism calling for
a theory-based country selection in cross-cultural comparison (Samiee and Jeong,
1994; Sin et al., 2001), several follow-up studies improved from Gilly’s work in the
sense that their selection of countries matched up with Hofstede’s distinction
between masculine and feminine nations. For instance, Wiles and Tjernlund (1991)
compared magazine ads from the most feminine nation, Sweden, with those from a
masculine nation, the USA. As shown in Table II, Sweden received the lowest
masculinity index score of 5 (i.e. a rank of 53rd among 53 nations), whereas the
US received a relatively high masculinity index score of 62 (i.e. a rank of 15th).
Later, Wiles et al. (1995) added The Netherlands, which is the third most feminine
nation, in their comparative study with the USA and Sweden.
Television commercials from the top-ranked masculine country, Japan, were
compared to those from the USA in Sengupta’s (1995) study of types of role
(e.g. working/non-working) and types of dresses worn by women. Ads from Japan were
also compared with those from feminine countries such as Sweden and Russia (Maynard
and Taylor, 1999; Milner and Collins, 2000). Ads from other Asian countries were
compared with their Western counterparts or other Asian nations. Although most Asian
countries seem to have similar cultural characteristics influenced by Confucian
philosophy (Moon and Chen, 2002), they have their own unique aspects of history,
religion, and economic situation, which might have influenced the formation of personal
values and interest in feminist issues. Interestingly, most Asian nations are all scattered
around on Hofstede’s masculinity continuum: Japan – 1st, Philippines – 11th, Hong
Kong – 18th, India – 20th, Malaysia – 25th, Singapore – 28th, Indonesia 30th, Taiwan
– 32nd, Korea – 41st, and Thailand – 44th. The findings from Wee et al. (1995), Cheng
(1997), and Furnham et al. (2000) indicate that masculine flavor is strongly embedded in
ads from the top-ranked Japan, China, and Malaysia, whereas ads from Singapore and
Taiwan exhibit more feminine orientations, again corroborating Hofstede’s ordering of
nations on masculinity/femininity continuum. This finding may request international
advertisers to be cautious when creating ad messages toward Asian consumers.
Overall, previous findings suggest that the cross-cultural differences in gender role
portrayals are attributable to masculine/feminine value orientation. Masculine
countries (i.e. Japan and USA) are more likely to exhibit a sharp difference in the
gender roles between women and men than are feminine countries (i.e. Sweden and
The Netherlands) and, therefore, gender-role differences portrayed in advertising
would be larger in ads from masculine countries than those from feminine countries.
To this end, Milner and Collins (2000, p. 68) suggest that Hofstede’s model may provide
a method for sorting what is called the “gender of a country”. They even further argue,
“gender of a nation is superior to gender of the portrayed character in the
advertisements” (Milner and Collins, 1998). In this respect, it is not too exaggerating to
propose that Hofstede’s masculinity/femininity distinction is likely to differentiate
among different cultures in regard to gender-role portrayal in advertising.
Although previous studies provided ample evidence for the impacts of cultural
norm on the portrayals of women and men in advertising, the scope of previous
research was limited to television and magazine advertising. To obtain a
comprehensive picture of contemporary gender roles across a variety of media, it is
advisable to extend the line of research to other types of media. Given the increasing
importance of the web as an advertising media and the confounding effect of media
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types on cross-cultural variation of advertising content (Keown et al., 1992), web
advertising is worth being studied. The web’s unprecedented potential as a global
advertising medium has attracted many international advertisers to adopt the web as
part of their media mix (Advertising Age, 2006), helping them easily reach consumers
across the globe. Although some evidence for cultural variations in web advertising
contents has already been provided (i.e. information cues, visual strategies, and
creative strategies, Ju-Pak, 1999; An, 2006), to the researcher’s knowledge, no published
study investigated the gender role portrayal issue with web advertising.
The literature reviewed suggests that Hofstede’s masculinity/femininity demarcation
may serve as a conceptual guide to predict the differences in cross-cultural gender role
portrayals in a systematic way. As discussed earlier, the most essential element of
Hofstede’s masculinity dimension is the preference for masculine or feminine values in
a culture; for whereas masculine cultures strive for material success, achievement and
productivity, feminine societies value relationships. Albers-Miller (1996) and
Albers-Miller and Gelb (1996) show that these values are related to advertising
themes and appear in magazine and television advertisements. Milner and Collins
(2000) reported significant cross-cultural differences in the frequency of characters
depicted in relationships with others among the four nations, Sweden, Russia, Japan,
and the USA. According to their results, the commercials from the most feminine
Sweden featured more characters in relationships than those from other countries,
indicating that those commercials produced for consumers in countries at feminine end
of Hofstede’s continuum featured a greater proportion of characters in relationship
than those at the masculine end. Therefore, it is expected that advertisements in
feminine countries are more likely to depict relationship portrayals for both genders
than masculine countries. In addition, productivity or production situation has been
employed as another operational definition of Hofstede’s masculine value (Milner and
Collins, 2000; Milner, 2005). General expectation is that production situations as
exhibited through employment depictions for both sexes will be prominent in
masculine countries. This leads to the first two hypotheses:
H1. Characters in Korean web ads are more likely to be depicted in relationships
with others than those in US web ads.
H2. Characters in US web ads are more likely to be depicted in production
situations as exhibited through employment than those in Korean web ads.
The second element is gender differentiation, for whereas masculine countries are more
likely to embrace sharp distinction between the roles of women and men, feminine ones
are not. As such, it is predicted that there will be more significant gender role
differences between female and male characters in masculine countries than
in feminine countries. Specifically, cross-cultural gender role differences depicted in
advertisements have been operationally defined as the frequency of portrayal and the
type of roles portrayed.
With respect to the presence and frequency of female and male characters, previous
studies compared the numbers and percentages of female versus and male characters
portrayed in advertisements between different countries (Sengupta, 1995; Wiles et al.,
1995; Cheng, 1997; Milner and Collins, 2000). These studies found that the more
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feminine a country, the greater is the likelihood of its culture to feature women as a
main character in advertisements. For instance, Milner and Collins (2000) reported that
the ratio of female characters to commercials was higher for Swedish advertisements
than those for Russia and the USA. Similarly, Wiles et al. (1995) found that
The Netherlands advertisements depicted men more often than females and the
Swedish advertisements portrayed females more frequently than the Dutch
advertisements. However, it has been also shown that the frequency and percentage
of female characters portrayed in advertisements are moderated by the type of
products advertised (Wiles and Tjernlund, 1991; Cheng, 1997). For instance, women
tend to appear more often in the advertisements for personal care/beauty, clothing,
home appliances, personal accessories, cleaning products, irrespective of the cultural
origin of advertisements because women are the major users of these product groups.
On the other hand, men tend to dominate the advertisements for automobiles, alcoholic
beverages, financial services, and industrial products. However, in the advertisements
for neutral products, such as food, medicine, furniture, entertainment, etc. it is
predicted that the advertisements of feminine countries will feature women more
frequently than those of masculine countries. The foregoing discussion has led to the
study’s third hypothesis:
H3. When advertising for neutral products, Korean web ads are more likely to
feature women as a main character than US web ads.
The second dimension of gender role differentiation deals with the type of roles
attached to human characters in advertisements. Evidence exists for the cross-cultural
gender differences in the depictions of working roles although men tend to be more
frequently depicted in working roles regardless of the cultural origin of
advertisements. For instance, Wiles and Tjernlund (1991) found that the gender
difference in the portrayals of working roles was smaller in the Swedish
advertisements than in US advertisements, indicating that Swedish women were
more likely to be shown in working roles than were US women. Wiles et al. (1995) also
reported that depictions of women working were ordered in accordance with Hofstede’s
masculinity ranking (i.e. Sweden, The Netherlands, and the USA), showing that the
gender difference portrayed in US advertisements was larger than those of Swedish
and Dutch advertisements. Wee et al.’s (1995) results were mixed but the percentage of
women featured as occupational roles in feminine Malaysian commercials was higher
than that in masculine Singaporean commercials, confirming a smaller gender
difference in feminine cultures. It is, therefore, hypothesized that:
H4. Korean web ads will exhibit a smaller gender difference in the portrayal of
working roles than US web ads.
Furthermore, previous studies documented that gender differences also exist
cross-culturally in the type of working roles between masculine and feminine
countries (Wiles and Tjernlund, 1991; Sengupta, 1995). Having defined and categorized
occupational roles into high-level executives, professionals, entertainers, professional
sports players, salespeople, nonprofessional white – collar, and blue-collar, Wiles and
Tjernlund (1991) found that the Swedish magazines depicted men and women both
in more high-level business executive and professional roles than do their US
counterparts. Similarly, Wiles et al. (1995) found that between-gender difference in the
type of working roles was less often exhibited in Swedish and Dutch ads than in
US ads. Sengupta’s (1995) comparison of ads from USA and Japan shows that the type
of working roles portrayed by women significantly varied by country origin: US
women in working and high/medium level business roles; Japanese women in
entertaining or family roles. Therefore, the study’s fifth hypothesis is put forward to
examine if the difference in the type of working roles exists cross-culturally between
Korean and US web advertisements:
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H5. When women are portrayed in working roles, Korean web ads are more likely
to feature them in high-level business executives, entertainers, and mid-level
business professionals than US web ads.
Previous findings also suggest that cross-cultural gender difference exist in the
frequency of non-working roles portrayed by both women and men. Wiles and
Tjernlund (1991) found that Swedish magazines were much more likely than US
magazines to depict women in family settings while US magazines were more likely to
portray women in decorative roles. This result was in accordance with Sengupta’s
(1995) finding that Japanese women were more frequently shown cooking, cleaning,
and other household chores than US women, while the US advertisers were more likely
to show women relaxing at home. He also found that US women were much less likely
to be shown in decorative roles when compared to Japanese women. Similarly, Wiles
et al. (1995) found that there was a significant difference between Sweden and the US in
the depictions of women in non-working roles. A greater percentage of US ads
portrayed women in decorative roles than Swedish ads while Swedish ads were more
likely to show women in recreational or family roles than US ads. The sixth hypothesis,
therefore, is set to examine if portrayal of non-working characters is subject to the
variation in cultural values:
H6. When women are portrayed in non-working roles, Korean web ads are more
likely to feature them in family and recreational roles, whereas US web ads
are more likely to feature them in decorative roles.
Country selection
This study employed a quantitative content analysis approach to provide a
numerically-based summary of different roles portrayed by women and men in web
advertising from Korea and the USA. It is an appropriate method for examining
advertising messages and the mode of message presentation (Kassarjian, 1977). Korea
and the USA were selected in this study because of both practical and theoretical
reasons. As one of the emerging markets in the Pacific Rim, the Korean economy has
made a quantum leap over the 60 years since the country’s liberation from Japanese
colonial rule, turning itself into a global economic powerhouse from a poor, agricultural
nation. The economy’s size has skyrocketed 520-fold over the years, and strong exports
have sharply boosted the nation’s current account surplus. The nation’s GDP, the
broadest measure of an economy’s performance, shot up to $680.1 billion last year,
which is ranked the world’s 11th-largest after India (Asia Pulse, 2005). Korea posted
$233.4 billion in exports and $212.9 billion in imports for the first ten months of 2005,
becoming the world’s 12th largest trading partner (Korea Times, 2005). Also, Korea
has been continuously ranked one of the world’s top ten advertising markets since the
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mid-1990s (Advertising Age, 2006). Yet Korean advertising has been completely
ignored in the gender-role literature. Since, Korean cultural norms are very unique
(Hofstede, 2001), particularly as those related to gender-role issues that could
differentially affect advertising content and Korean consumer values have
continuously changed along with its economic development (Leung, 1995), a
systematic study of gender-role portrayals in Korean advertising is called for in the
sense that it can enrich our understanding of how advertising in Korea is culturally
The USA was selected as a counterpart of Korea. Hofstede’s (1980) analysis of major
cultural value dimensions indicate that Korea and the USA are fairly different from each
other in major cultural values (i.e. Korea is associated with high power distance, low
individualism, high uncertainty avoidance, and long-term orientation and the USA is
just the opposite), making them worthy of a cross-cultural comparison. Specifically,
regarding gender role orientations, Korea and the USA represent a sharp difference –
Koreans are considered feminine-oriented while Americans are considered
masculine-oriented. Second, the two countries have a lot of similarities in factors
surrounding the use of the web. For instance, the web penetration rates of the two
countries are more than four times the world’s average of 15.2 percent. Approximately,
34 million Koreans are online as of December of 2005, representing a penetration rate of
67.0 percent, while the US has a penetration rate of 68.6 percent with more than
205 million online users as of January 2006 (Internet World Stats, 2006). In Korea and the
US alike, web advertising expenditures have been sharply increasing since the late
1990s, now accounting for more than 5 percent of each country’s total advertising
expenditures (Advertising Age, 2006). Also, the demographic profiles of web users of the
two countries are similar to each other (NUA, 2002). For these reasons, it is expected that
Korea and the US provide a fruitful pair of cultures to compare. A comparison between
the two culturally different but environmentally similar countries can enrich our
understanding of the likely effects of cultural values, particularly those related to
societal gender roles attached to women and men, namely “masculinity.”
The study sample was a collection of web ads. Web advertising takes on many forms
of commercial content from electronic ads that are similar to traditional ads
(e.g. billboards, banner ads, buttons, pop-up interstitials) (Strauss and Frost, 1999) to
formats that are different from traditional ads, such as corporate web sites and
sponsorships (Ducoffe, 1996). Web advertising is defined in this study as those
commercial messages that resemble a formal print ad format, which consists of display
copy (i.e. headlines, subheads, call-outs, taglines, and slogans), body copy (i.e. text
messages and captions), visuals, and company/brand logo or signatures (Wells et al.,
1995), promoting a brand/product or service on the web. The conceptual definition of
advertising suggests that corporations’ entire web sites can be well qualified and
treated as an ad (Singh and Dalal, 1999), as it provides text information, hyperlinks,
supporting visuals, audio and video links, animated images, etc. which are all
important parts of communication messages and function as valuable tools for
achieving the desired communication objectives. However, because physical aspects of
the entire web site are in many ways different from what is traditionally considered
an ad (e.g. magazine or newspaper ad), it is understandable for this type of comparative
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content analysis, which intends to compare the visual elements of an ad containing
human characters, to examine the ads that are similar to typical magazine or
newspaper ads. Since, the front page of corporate or brand web sites, which acts like a
“front door” of the entire web site (Ha and James, 1998), would contain the main ad or
an intended primary image because, the first or the main ad appearing on the front
page of web sites became the unit of analysis unless they appear elsewhere on the
entire web site.
Like other content-analytic studies on web advertising, a difficulty was involved in
this study with attaining a perfect sampling frame because it was practically
impossible to obtain the list of all available brands’ web sites from the two countries,
Korea and the USA. The sample ads in this study, therefore, were chosen on the basis
of convenience from the list of top brands prepared by nationally credible sources for
both countries: BusinessWeek magazine for the US sample, and the Korean Culture and
Information (KCI) database for the Korean sample. BusinessWeek provided a list of top
2,000 American brands in 2002 based on the sales volume while the Korean Culture
and Information database provided a list of top 1,000 Korean brands in 2002 based on
the size of net asset. The systematic random sampling procedure was followed to take
a sample of 200 web sites for each country. If the web site was not available for the
selected brand from the sampling frame, the next available brand’s web site was
examined. The sample size of 200 advertisements would be considered large enough to
represent each country in this type of content analysis to produce generalizable results
(Samiee and Jeong, 1994; Sin et al., 2001).
The two bilingual Korean-American undergraduate students who were able to
understand both cultures coded the ads in the language of the web sites. The coding
categories were modified from previous studies (Courtney and Lockeretz, 1971; Gilly,
1988; Wiles and Tjernlund, 1991; Milner and Collins, 2000); the gender of main
characters, the relationship and employment situations portrayed by both sexes, the
type of role (working/non-working), the type of working role (high-level business,
entertainment, mid-level business, non-professional white-collar, blue-collar, and
non-workers) portrayed by women, and the type of non-working role
(family/recreational/decorative) portrayed by women. In order to produce frequency
count of characters by product types, the product category scheme was borrowed and
modified from Leung (1995) and Sengupta’s (1995) with “Internet/computer/technology”
as the sole addition. Considering the confounding effect of product category on the
portrayal of human characters and their roles (Leung, 1995), a total of 19 product
categories were broadly grouped into three categories:
(1) female products;
(2) male products; and
(3) neutral products.
Female products include personal care/beauty, clothing, jewelry, accessories, cleaning,
and home appliances, while male products include internet/computer/technology,
automobiles, insurance/bank/finance/legal service, sports, alcoholic beverages, and
toy/games. Food/snacks/soda, travel, restaurants/retail shops, entertainment,
transportation, medicine, and others are categorized as neutral products.
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To ensure coding reliability, coders were trained using uniform instructions.
This coding instruction was both read aloud and provided in writing to minimize any
influence by the researcher. The coders were trained to become familiar with the
definitions or operationalizations for the categories and variables. A total of 25 hours of
practice coding and relevant discussions were conducted during a two-week period in
the summer of 2005 with randomly selected ads beyond actual sample pools to detect
and resolve any definitional disagreements and discrepancies.
To assess intercoder reliability, 40 randomly selected advertisements (20 percent of
the actual sample size) were coded by each coder independently. Since, many web sites
are updated or changed constantly, each ad was coded by the second coder
immediately after it was done by the first one. These ads were not included in the
actual sample. After each coding set, coders were given feedback and asked to recode
the ads according to the final coding scheme. This process was repeated until they
reached an acceptable level of intercoder reliability using Scott’s pi formula (Wimmer
and Dominick, 2002). As a result, intercoder reliability of each coding category ranged
from 82 to 100 percent (i.e. 86 percent for relationship portrayals, 97 percent for
employment portrayals, 100 percent for gender of a main character, 87 percent for type
of working role, and 88 percent for type of non-working role), all above the acceptable
minimum of 75 percent.
H1 stated that female and male characters are more likely to be depicted in
relationships with others in Korean advertisements. As shown in Table IV, a greater
percentage of Korean advertisements depicted relationship portrayals for both women
and men. More than 50 percent of the Korean sample advertisements that featured
women as a main character depicted them in relationships with other characters in the
advertisements, while only 28.2 percent of the US sample advertisements did so.
The difference was significant at the 0.05 level. A similar result was found when men
were featured as a main character. Although the between-country difference was not
statistically significant, the percentage of Korean male characters depicted in
relationships (41.0 percent) was higher than that of their US counterparts (31.6 percent).
If female and male characters were taken together, there was a significant difference in
the relationship depictions between Korean and US sample advertisements
(chi 2 ¼ 8.972, df ¼ 1, p , 0.01). The first hypothesis, therefore, was supported.
The second hypothesis predicted a difference in the depiction of production
situations as exhibited through employment. As shown in Table V, a descriptive
Korean ads
Main characters
Women *
Total * *
USA ads
Notes: *p , 0.05; * *p , 0.01; women: x ¼ 5.799, df ¼ 1, p , 0.05; men: x ¼ 1.636, df ¼ 1,
p ¼ 0.201; total: x 2 ¼ 8.972, df ¼ 1, p , 0.01
Table IV.
Depictions of characters
in relationships with
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statistics show that the US sample advertisements depicted human characters more
often in working roles than did their Korean counterparts. Both women and men in US
advertisements were more often portrayed in employment situations than were Korean
characters. However, the differences were not statistically significant. The second
hypothesis, therefore, was not supported.
H3 predicted a significant difference in the frequency of gender portrayals between
the two countries by product category. As displayed in Table VI, out of a total of
174 Korean advertisements that contained human characters, 113 advertisements
(64.9 percent) portrayed women as a main character, whereas only 39 advertisements
(22.7 percent) out of 172 US sample advertisements depicted women as a main
character. This difference was statistically significant (chi 2: 63.415, df ¼ 1, p , 0.001).
With the confounding effect of the type of product taken into account, the frequency of
female presence was compared by three product groups. For the female product group,
the ratio of females and males was 3 to 1 for the Korean sample, while the US ratio was
1.0, indicating that Korean advertisements depicted women more frequently as a main
character in the advertisements for the female products than did US advertisements.
Chi-square analysis shows that this difference was significant (chi 2 ¼ 6.418, df ¼ 1,
p , 0.05). For the male product group, although both countries featured more men as a
main character, the percentage of Korean advertisements that portrayed women as a
main character was significantly higher than that of US advertisements (chi 2 ¼ 12.921,
df ¼ 1, p , 0.001). Importantly, for the neutral product group, the results show that
the between-country difference was definite. The female-to-male ratio for the Korean
sample was 2-1, whereas the ratio for the US sample was 0.2-1. The difference was also
statistically significant (chi 2 ¼ 38.575, df ¼ 1, p , 0.001). H3, therefore, was
supported (Table VI).
H4 predicted the difference in the gender difference in the depiction of working roles
between the two countries. As shown in Table VII, the categories of working roles were
collapsed into three groups because when using all of the six categories of working
role, as defined by Wiles and Tjernlund (1991), more than 20 percent of the cells in the
contingency table had an observed frequency less than 5. The results show that the
difference in working role portrayals of both genders was significant between the two
countries (chi 2 ¼ 15.150, df ¼ 1, p , 0.001). However, the direction was opposite to
H4. For the Korean sample, 88.5 percent of male characters were portrayed in working
roles, whereas only 38.9 percent of female characters were portrayed in working role.
On the other hand, the gender difference in the proportion of female and male working
roles for the US sample was only about 10 percent, indicating that US female
characters are more likely to be depicted in working roles than Korean females. H4,
therefore, was not supported.
Korean ads
Table V.
Depictions of characters
in employment
USA ads
Main characters
Notes: ax 2 ¼ 3.095, df ¼ 1, p ¼ 0.079; bx 2 ¼ 0.995, df ¼ 1, p ¼ 0.319; cx 2 ¼ 1.686, df ¼ 1, p ¼ 0.194
Korean Ads
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Product Category
Female products
Personal care/beauty
Home appliances
Male products
Insurance/bank/finance/legal service
Alcoholic beverages
Neutral products
Restaurants/retail shops
Notes: aRatio represents the number of females portrayed compared to the number of males
portrayed; bx 2 ¼ 6.418, df ¼ 1, p , 0.05; cx 2 ¼ 12.921, df ¼ 1, p , 0.001; dx 2 ¼ 38.575, df ¼ 1,
p , 0.001; ex 2 ¼ 63.415, df ¼ 1, p , 0.001
Female roles
Working a
Non-working c
Korean ads
Female (percent) Male (percent)
USA ads
Female (percent) Male (percent)
44 (38.9)
54 (88.5)
22 (56.4)
89 (66.9)
69 (61.1)
113 (100.0)
7 (11.5)
61 (100.0)
17 (43.6)
39 (100.0)
44 (33.1)
133 (100.0)
Notes: ax 2 ¼ 15.150, df ¼ 1, p , 0.001; bx 2 ¼ 28.205, df ¼ 1, p , 0.001; cx 2 ¼ 11.060, df ¼ 2,
p , 0.01
Table VI.
Gender portrayed by
product category
Table VII.
Role portrayals of
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H5 predicted the difference in the type of professional working roles (high/middle-level
business executives and entertainers, and sports players) portrayed by female
characters between Korea and USA. The results show that there was a significant
relationship between the country origin and the type of professional working roles
(chi 2 ¼ 28.205, df ¼ 1, p , 0.001). However, the results show that more American
women were shown in the advertisements being engaged in business, entertainment,
and professional sports than were Korean counterparts, while most Korea women were
depicted as non-professional workers, rejecting H5.
H6 concerned the difference in the type of non-working roles
(family/recreation/decoration) portrayed by female characters between Korea and
USA. As displayed in Table VII, there was a significant relationship between the
country origin and the type of non-working roles portrayed in the advertisements from
Korea and USA (chi 2 ¼ 11.060, df ¼ 2, p , 0.01). A greater percentage of women in
Korean advertisements were portrayed in family and recreational roles, whereas
women in US advertisements were portrayed more in decorative roles, supporting H6.
Advertising is created, to a greater or lesser extent, based on an assumption that members
of a given culture, subculture, or marketing segment think and behave in uniform and
predictable ways (Markin, 1974, p. 469). Advertising either employs or invokes cultural
values inherent in the products, the purchasers, and/or consumers (Pollay, 1983) because
most sales messages are built upon shared cultural values, and advertising relies upon
these shared value systems (Leiss et al., 1986). Different advertisements vary in the
manner in which values get utilized just as much as they vary in terms of which values get
utilized, and people understand advertisements by relating them to their culture and to the
shared values or beliefs held in common by most people (Frith and Mueller, 2003). It is,
therefore, logical to expect that cultural values have significant impact on advertising.
To this end, this study compared gender role portrayals in web advertising between Korea
and the US based on Hofstede’s masculinity demarcation, which describes Korea as a
feminine culture and the US as a masculine culture. Interestingly, the results show that the
three hypotheses on the relationship portrayals, the frequency of females portrayed as a
main character, and the non-working role portrayals of female characters were supported,
whereas none of the other three hypotheses concerning the cross-cultural difference in
working role depictions were confirmed.
First, the results indicate that Korean advertisements more frequently depicted
both female and male characters in relationships with others in advertisements. This
finding provides evidence that supports the notion that a country’s gender, as ranked
by Hofstede’s masculinity continuum, can be linked to depictions of relationships for
both female and male characters. Consistent with the findings of Milner and Collins
(2000), this study supports Hofstede’s claim that feminine societies exemplify a cultural
preference for relationships for both genders. Thus, this study adds evidence not
only to the simple association between feminine values and relationship portrayals but
also to the prediction of such relationships for other cultures.
The association between feminine values and preference of female characters in
advertisements was also confirmed in this study. The results indicate that a greater
percentage of Korean advertisements featured women as a main character, whereas
men dominated US advertisements as a main character. Other than the feminine value
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of the Korean society, this finding can be explained by the rapid strides Korean women
have made in politics and the social groups in recent years and the changing trend of
women’s role in modern Korea (Moon and Chen, 2002; Leung, 1995). Attitudes of
advertisers toward females might have changed along with those of Korean society as
the proportion of women participating in major business sectors has increased (Benson
and Yukongdi, 2005). However, since a similar trend has been observed with American
women (Sengupta, 1995; Wiles et al., 1995; Cheng, 1997), a more precise explanation is
the association between the gender of central characters in advertisements and
“country gender” (Milner and Collins, 2000).
The study also show that the majority of Korean women were depicted in family
and recreational situations, while most of US advertisers featured women in decorative
role Considering the central role that family and home play in the role of Korean
women, this finding was not surprising. Combined with previous findings (Wiles and
Tjernlund, 1991; Sengupta’s 1995; Wiles et al., 1995) and interpreted within the context
of Hofstede’s masculinity ranking, this finding shows evidence that the type of
non-working roles of female characters in different cultures are somewhat predictable.
It is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that the portrayal of women in non-working
roles is subject to the variation in feminine value of different cultures.
However, when the use of employment situation (working/non-working roles) and
type of working roles are considered, the results do not corroborate the cultural variation
due to masculine value orientation. Hofstede’s ordering of national cultures (Table II)
suggests that women in feminine countries (i.e. Korea) should be associated with a higher
proportion of working depictions than those in masculine countries (i.e. USA) and the
gender difference in the depiction of working roles will be smaller in feminine countries.
H2 predicted that Korean advertisements are more likely to feature characters in
situations related to employment than are US advertisements. However, the results were
just the opposite to the prediction, showing that both women and men in US
advertisements were more frequently depicted in working roles. Also, as contradictory to
H4 that states that the gender difference in the depiction of working roles will be smaller
in Korean advertisements, it was found that the gender difference was almost 50 percent
for Korean advertisements, while US advertisements showed only 10 percent difference
between women and men. Previous studies produced mixed results regarding this issue.
When Sengupta (1995) compared Japanese women with US women in the
advertisements, a greater percentage of US women (less masculine) were portrayed in
working role than were Japanese women (more masculine). Wee et al.’s (1995) findings
were contradictory, indicating that women in Singapore TV commercials (masculine) are
more likely to be portrayed in business-related settings than those in Malaysian
(feminine) TV commercials. No significant difference was found in Wiles et al.’s (1995)
and Milner and Collins’s (2000) comparisons, either. A possible reason for this finding is
that regardless of cultural origin of the advertisements, women are much less likely to be
featured in working roles than are men (Gilly, 1988; Wiles et al., 1995). The depictions of
women in working roles were not ordered in accordance with Hofstede’s ranking perhaps
because of such a smaller possibility of women’s being portrayed in working roles. In
fact, Wiles et al. (1995) found that the depictions of women working in the advertisements
from USA, Sweden, and The Netherlands did not concur with Hofstede’s ordering. It
seems that the use of employment as a proxy for the reflection of masculine value is
faulty and employment is not an appropriate operational definition for masculinity.
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This study also reports a failure in the use of employment as a proxy for the
masculine value exemplified in the type of working roles given to both female and
male characters. The results indicate that Korean advertisers tend to depict women more
often in nonprofessional roles, while US advertisers frequently depicted women as a
professional worker engaging in business, entertainments or professional sports. This
finding is contradictory to the results of Wiles and Tjernlund’s (1991) comparison of
Swedish and US advertisements. They reported that the Swedish magazines depicted
women in more high-level business executive and professional roles than did their US
counterparts, implying that feminine cultures feel more comfortable showing women in
more of a variety of working roles than do masculine cultures. Meanwhile, Sengupta
(1995) found no significant relationship between type of working roles portrayed by
women and the country origin in his comparison of Japanese and US television
commercials. Such mixed results in the type of role (working/non-working) and the type
of working role confirm Andren et al.’s (1978) argument that advertising do not usually
refer to working life but to life with leisure because work is not a real part of life. It
appears that the dominant role for human subjects in advertising is not working roles.
Overall, this study validates the use of Hofstede’s masculinity to explain the difference
in the depiction of women and men in web advertising, particularly those related to the
depiction of characters in the relationship theme, the gender of a main character, and
the type of non-working roles portrayed by women. Although the association between
the gender of nations and the working role portrayals is under question, the results
confirm the potential of Hofstede’s framework in marketing and advertising research
examining the types of gender-related advertising appeals that might be appropriate in
a specific culture. Despite the current critique of Hofstede’s research on temporal
grounds, generalization issues, or single-method data approach (Gooderham and
Nordhaug, 2002), Milner and Collins (2000, p. 77) boosted Hofstede’s taxonomy to a
“gender of nations” concept and concluded that advertising strategists can utilize his
framework as a rough guide to provide direction in selecting country-specific
advertising appeals. Advertising strategists, especially those charged with consumer
products, can apply the study findings on a practical level. For example, advertisers
who are planning an international advertising campaign for their gender-related
consumer products can benefit by locating the target country’s position on Hofstede’s
masculinity index and using it as a guideline for creating visual images of main
characters in the advertisements. In this regard, this study sustains previous
recommendation for international advertising that Hofstede’s framework can be used
as a useful guide for selection of appropriate advertising appeals across cultures
because standardized advertising appears to be strategically imprudent.
However, more exploration is necessary because demography and attitudes among
women have changed dramatically over the past decades (Whipple and Courtney,
1985) and women have emerged as a strong consumer class even in many masculine
nations (Frith, 1997; Mueller, 1987). There has been a decline in the support of
traditional women’s roles in American society since the 1970s and American women
have increasingly participated in the workplace in the last three decades. Everyone
became aware of the special role of women in America because of a series of laws and
regulations that addressed women’s rights and gender equality, including the Equal
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Pay Act in 1963, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Equal Employment Opportunity
Act of 1972.
There is an undergoing change in women’s role and the change is diffused into
media advertising in Asian nations such as Japan, Malaysia, and Taiwan (Buck et al.,
1984; Ford et al., 1994; Katsurada and Sugihara, 1999; Noor, 1999; Bresnahan et al.,
2001). Korean women have also experienced a dramatic change in the environmental
factors surrounding women’s role in society since the Korean government passed
“Equal Employment Act” in 1987 to prevent discriminatory practices against female
workers in regard to hiring and promotion opportunities. An increasing number of
Korean women have been entering professional jobs in the areas of education,
medicine, engineering, scholarship, the arts, law, literature, and sports (Ministry of
Gender Equality and Family, 2005). During the Kim Dae-jung administration,
noticeable advances in laws and regulations (e.g. the Women’s Business Support Act of
1999, the Law on Protecting Juveniles from Sexual Abuse of 2000, the Women
Scientists Support Act of 2002, etc.) addressing women’s rights that laid ground for
gender equality have been made. While Korean women are actively engaging in a wide
variety of fields and making significant contributions to society, it appears that their
attitude toward traditional feminine role orientation have changed along with those of
men. It is, thus, possible that advertisers and regulating bodies may have wished to
develop new strategies to deal with different groups of consumers in different ways
when sexually stereotyped images are concerned.
Another issue is the role of medium-specific factors. As discussed earlier, the web is
best characterized as informative, technological, and global. Cross-cultural variation in
advertising appeals between Korea and USA, which have been found in magazine and
television studies, might have been outweighed or weakened by the common strategy
pursued by global advertisers to minimize variation in ad messages. Also,
international advertisers may have noticed the similarity in web user characteristics
of the two countries, higher level of education and economic status than the average
population (NUA, 2002; eMarketers, 2003), and, therefore, advertisements may have
been created targeted toward those selective population groups. This might
have resulted in a failure to reflect the average value priority system of the two
countries, as related to masculinity in web advertising. This limitation must be
considered when interpreting the results.
This study has limitations, which suggest directions for future research.
First, future research may need to make a cross-media comparison to see if the
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role portrayals. Experimental manipulations of different advertisements appealing to
different gender positions would be useful to test for effectiveness in several different
countries. Finally, in order to examine the effect of different formats of web advertising
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Further reading
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Journal of Advertising Research, Vol. 37 No. 2, pp. 33-45.
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Corresponding author
Daechun An can be contacted at: [email protected]
To purchase reprints of this article please e-mail: [email protected]
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