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The Representation of Masculinity in Men's Beauty Product

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Abstract: This study attempts to investigate the representation of masculinity in the printed advertisement of Mens Biore Double Scrub. All phenomena in the advertisement are described. To present more analytical description, the signs found in the advertisement are analyzed based on Barthes’ orders of signification. Besides that, this study also employs Kress and Van Leeuwen’s method of reading images and intertextual analysis in order to obtain more comprehensive analysis. The result of this study shows that Mens Biore Double Scrub advertisement represents two different concepts of masculinity. The first one is the traditional concept of masculinity. The second one is the new concept of masculinity offered by the advertisement. Generally, words that are used to represent both concepts of masculinity are power, confidence, aggressiveness, competition, challenge, and bravery. The connotative signified success, financial independence, and physical attractiveness are emphasized to change the concept of traditional masculinity to be in line with the company’s need.
Keywords: advertisement, semiotics, masculinity
Abstrak: Penelitian ini berupaya untuk menganalisa representasi maskulinitas dalam iklan cetak Mens Biore Double Scrub. Seluruh fenomena dalam iklan tersebut dideskripsikan. Untuk menyajikan deskripsi yang analitis, tanda-tanda yang ditemukan dalam iklan tersebut dianalisa berdasarkan gagasan orders of signification milik Barthes. Selain itu, penelitian ini juga menerapkan metode reading images yang digagas oleh Kress dan Van Leeween dan juga analisa intertekstual guna mendapatkan analisa yang lebih komprehensif. Hasil dari penelitian ini menunjukkan bahwa iklan Mens Biore Double Scrub merepresentasikan dua konsep maskulinitas yang berbeda. Yang pertama merupakan konsep maskulinitas tradisional. Yang kedua merupakan konsep baru yang ditawarkan oleh iklan tersebut. Secara umum, kata-kata yang digunakan untuk merepresentasikan kedua konsep maskulinitas tersebut adalah kekuatan, kepercayaan diri, agresivitas, kebebasan finansial, dan daya tarik fisik.
Kata kunci: iklan, semiotik, maskulinitas
Advertisement is considered as one of the most effective and persuasive tools which is commonly used by a company. By using advertisement, a company can reach its potential consumers efficiently and encourage (if not dictate) them to buy or use its products or services. That is by convincing them (the consumers) that they need the products or services being advertised. This clearly shows that advertisement is very powerful, in the sense that it can make people need something that they may previously think unnecessary (Rajpal, 2010).
According to Akbar (2012, p.2), the power of advertisement lies within the information or messages it provides. Moreover, by implementing certain values to the information or messages in advertisement, a company can change consumers’ way of thinking to fulfill the company’s need. In line with this Pollay as cited by Mayr (2013, p.86) stated that a company can control consumers by weighing values differently or by implementing new values. In the case of men’s skincare advertisements, producers try to change men’s perception of skincare products by implementing certain values. In other words, men as target consumers are “brought into a value of life or ideology offered by the advertisements” (Ririn & Amalia, 2012, p.140). The value of life or ideology that is offered by the advertisements is masculinity, or, more precisely, new concept of masculinity.
With regard to masculinity, in Oxford Online Dictionary, it means possession of the qualities associated with men. Although the word ‘men’ is mentioned in the definition, it does not mean that masculinity is always connected to certain sex (men). The term sex is used to refer to “biological differences, chromosomes, hormonal profiles, internal and external sex organs“(Nobelius, 2004). It is what distinguishes men from women. On the other hand, masculinity is socially and culturally constructed. Therefore, it is more appropriate to use another term, instead of sex, to talk about masculinity, namely gender. The term gender is used to describe the characteristics that a society or culture delineates as masculine or feminine” (Nobelius, 2004).
Despite the sex-versus-gender distinction explained above, in reality the terms sex and gender are used interchangeably, i.e. masculinity is often associated with men whereas femininity with women. This is because people tend to relate gender to activities that men and women do. For example, smoking is associated with men because of the high frequency of men’s engagement in this activity. This association of a pattern of behaviors with sex is what causes gender stereotype. Brannon (2010, p.160) stated that “gender stereotype consists of beliefs about the psychological traits and characteristic of, as well as the activities appropriate to, men or women”. This is in line with Darwin (1999, p.3) who claimed character or personality, role attitudes, occupation, physical appearance, or sexual orientation to be the aspects that distinguish the masculine from the feminine. As an illustration, men and women can be identified from their characteristics, for instance men are considered to be aggressive, strong, and rational while women are often seen as graceful, weak, and emotional. In terms of interest, technologies, cars, and motorcycles are associated with men while beauty products are associated with women.
Skincare products, such as facial foam and moisturizer, if they are seen from the concept of gender stereotype, tend to fall into the category of beauty products. However, with the power of advertisement, the image of femininity in skincare products can be distorted by transmitting a set of signs which can make skincare products for men differ from those for women and appear masculine. To investigate the representation of masculinity (and how it is represented) in Mens Biore Double Scrub advertisement, the present study employs an analytical method that is commonly used for analyzing advertisement, namely semiotics.
Semiotics, in its narrow sense, can be defined as the study of signs. Umberto Eco gave broader definition of semiotics, he (as cited in Chandler, 2002, p.2) stated that “semiotics is concerned with everything that can be taken as a sign”. The word sign itself is “the smallest unit of meaning. Anything that can be used to communicate (or to tell a lie)” (Semiotics Terminology, n.d). Chandler (2002. p.2) states that signs (in semiotics) can take various forms, such as words, images, sounds, gestures and objects. However, Peirce (in Chandler, 2002) claimed that something is considered as a sign only if it is interpreted as a sign.
Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles Sanders Peirce set forth the two dominant models of what makes up a sign. For Saussure (as cited in Chandler, 2002, p. 18), a sign is the marriage between a ‘signifier’ and a ‘signified’. A signifier is the form which the sign takes, for e.g. word, whereas signified is the concept to which the sign refers to. He believed that the relation between the signifier and signified is always arbitrary, that is there is no direct relation between both.
Peirce, meanwhile, offered a triadic model of sign, i.e. the representamen, an interpretant, and an object. Chandler (2002 p.33) explained Peirce’s representamen is equal to Saussure’s signifier, whereas the interpretant is equal to the signified (with a different quality, i.e. interpretant is another sign created in the interpreters’ mind). Unlike Saussure, Peirce claimed that signs are different in terms of their degree of arbitrariness, and can be categorized into three modes. The modes are, respectively, symbol, icon, and index. The relation between the signifier and signified in symbol is completely arbitrary, just like what Saussure stated. Whereas in icon, the relation is motivated, i.e. the signifier imitates the signified, e.g. a photograph. In index, the signifier is perceived as having causal relation with the signified, e.g. smoke as the index of fire.
To interpret signs, the interpreter has to relate them with the codes. Codes are sets of rules for connecting signs and meaning. Like in advertisement, the codes, such as, fashion, color, and camera angle determines how the viewer (interpreter) interprets the sign.
In terms of meaning, a sign can be divided into two categories denotation and connotation. Denotation is the literal meaning of the sign. Meanwhile, connotation “is used to refer to the social-cultural and personal associations of the sign” (Chandler, 2002). Barthes’ orders of signification, as shown in the table below, describes how denotation and connotation work. signifier | signified | SIGNsignifier | signified | SIGN |
Source: Semiotics the Basics p. 142
The sign in the second row is the denotative sign, which consists of the denotative signifier and signified (in the first row). The denotative sign, then, functions as the connotative signifier which together with the connotative signified forms the connotative sign.
METHODOLOGY
This study employs descriptive qualitative approach because this study describes the phenomena found in Mens Biore advertisement using semiotic theories. To investigate the representation of masculinity, the signs found in the advertisement are analyzed based on Barthes’ orders of signification. Besides that, this study also employs Kress and Van Leeuwen’s method of reading images (2006) and intertextual analysis in order to obtain more comprehensive analysis.
FINDINGS AND DISCSSION

The figure shows a young man dressed in business suit trotting somewhere, probably to his office. The business suit that the man wears may indicate, as stated by Richards (1998), that he has high powered job. The choice of the suit’s color confirms the man’s presupposed social power. As can be seen from the picture, the colors of the man’s coat (and tie) and shirt are, respectively, black and white. According to Linschoten and Mansyur (as cited in Akbar, 2012) black connotes dark, mysterious, conservative, and prestigious. All of these connotations, prestigious connotation is the one that best describes the man. This is because, the man wears coat, which is often regarded as being formal, compared to t-shirts which is considered informal and casual. Therefore, the prestigious connotation fits this context. The white color also connotes something related to prestige, i.e. elegance. In line with this, Couisins (2012) stated that the combination of black and white represents power and perfection.
The word power itself clearly signifies masculinity. Kokopeli and Lakey (n.d.) state that ‘masculinity equals power’ either physically or socially. This advertisement mainly highlights the former type of power, which entails, among others, wealth and success. According to Alexander (as cited in Säkäjärvi, 2013), men’s ability to obtain wealth, fame, success and high status is what defines the masculinity of man. This is because wealth, fame, success and high status are commonly regarded as proof of man’s dominance, control, and independence.
The representation of power (hence masculinity) is also shown through the man’s (wearing business suit) appearance. The man’s hair is short and neat. The hairstyle also complements the business suit. In line with this, Seiler (n.d.) stated that short hair is often associated with, inter alia, a businessman or an executive. With regard to gender stereotype, short hair itself is considered as masculine. Moreover, the hair looks stiff, perhaps due to the use of hair gel/ wax, which gives strong and tough impression.
Regarding the man’s face, it is bright and clean, which is in line with the image of the product. According to Ririn and Bernadeta (2012) a man with bright skin stands for healthiness (besides beauty). Moreover, healthiness itself can be seen as one of masculine features because it is related to physical strength and vitality.
The smile on the man’s face (the signifier of the smile itself is the man’s corners of the mouth which moves upwards) is an index of something. Usually, a smile is thought as an index of happiness. However, smile can also mean many other things, depending on its shape and other facial expressions and gestures that follow it. According to The Meaning of Smiles (2013), the type of smile which is commonly associated with happiness is a wide smile. However, the man’s smile does not fall into this type. Therefore, it may stand for something else. Looking at his gesture, it is reasonable to assume that the smile is an index of confidence and success. This can be seen from the man who looks pleased and amused with himself. It has been mentioned before that success (and also confidence) is one feature that characterizes masculinity. Another reason why success is one of features of masculinity is that it is often associated with aggressiveness which has been stereotyped as men’s quality. Regarding aggressiveness, in Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, it is defined as the quality of being determined in order to be successful.
When looking at advertisement, the viewer tends to relate the text (the advertisement) with other texts. For instance, the viewer may relate the actor in this Mens Biore advertisement with his movies. The actor in this advertisement is Iko Uwais who is best known as the leading star of the action movies Merantau and The Raid. Therefore, this is reasonable for people to associate the product with action, and hence masculinity.
Beside the man (on the man’s right side) is the icon of mirror. However, the mirror shows different reflection, i.e. a man who is playing football. From his physical characteristics, it can be seen that the man looks similar to the one wearing business suit. Therefore, there is a high tendency to think of the men as the same person. However, in semiotics both icon of men in the picture are considered as two participants.
The mirror’s showing false reflection is of course illogical since mirror in real life always reflects what is in front of it. According to Chandler (2013), when something/ someone does not conform to the rules or norms, it can be interpreted as ‘making a statement’. In this case, both the icon of the man wearing suit and the one wearing football clothing can be seen as the representation of two different, but interrelated, colors of masculinity. For the sake of simplicity, the man wearing football clothing will be referred to as participant 1 (P1), whereas the man wearing business suit will be referred to as participant 2 (P2).
As can be seen from the figure, P2 is positioned on the viewer’s right side, whereas P1 is positioned on the viewer’s left side. This kind of positioning of course generates certain meanings. According to Kress and Von Leeuwen (2006, p. 179-180), left and right denote the ‘given’ and the ‘new’. What is meant by ‘given’ is something the viewer/ reader is ‘assumed to know already (Kress & van Leeuwen, as cited in Chandler 2013). In this case, P1 is the given, namely something which is already agreed upon by the viewer as the image of a masculine man. On the other hand, ‘new’ is something which is not yet known by the viewer/ reader. In this case, P2 is a new image of masculinity, which is not yet agreed upon the viewer, that the advertiser attempts to introduce.
It can be seen from the figure that P1 is playing football, which can be seen from the ball icon and the clothing. In many cultures such depiction is often taken as masculinity. In Indonesia, for instance, football is stereotyped as masculine sport (although the word sport itself is often associated with men). This is because football connotes physical strength and stamina. Besides that, playing football also entails the picture of sweating which often connotes masculinity. P2, as has been explained before, also shows the features of masculinity, as already explained before, however in different manner. The representation of masculinity in P1 emphasizes on physical power, whereas in the P2 the emphasis is on social power. Besides, in P2 the features of masculinity are juxtaposed with feminine features. To be more precise, the advertiser tries to distort the feminine features that are attached to skincare product by offering new concept of masculinity.
The sense of offer is also suggested by the vector. Kress and van Leeuwen (2006) stated that gaze at the viewer indicates demand, whereas absence of gaze at the viewer indicates offer. As can be seen from the figure, both P1 and P2 do not look directly at the viewer. However, it does not only suggest offer, but other ranges of potential meanings. Following the vector of both participants, it can be seen that they gaze at certain point which the viewer cannot see. Moreover, their arms and their body, which leans slightly forward, indicate that they are heading towards certain direction. Although the viewer cannot see where or to what object the vector ends, however from the gaze and gestures of the participants, it seems like they are certain about their direction. The word certainty is also associated with confidence which (as mentioned before) signifies masculinity.
The reason of not displaying where the vector ends also needs analyzing. If this is connected with the writing in the bottom of the picture “Tampil Terbaik What’s Next?!”, several potential meanings can be grasped. First, the sentence “tampil terbaik” can have two meanings in English. That is, it can mean “Do your best (in terms of performing tasks)” and “Give your best appearance (in terms of look)”. The sentence “Tampil Terbaik” in the first and the second sense is related to the word competition, which entails the word aggressive. The competition in relation to carrier suggests men’s nature to be more dominant than women and other men. The competition in terms of appearance, besides related to carrier, can be also seen as competition among men to attract the opposite sex.
The sentence “What Next?!”, if it is linked with the sentence which precedes it (Tampil Terbaik) and with the vector, explained before, it may mean that the man (P1 and P2) is “up for the challenge”. The connotative signified ‘challenge’ itself is generated from the meaning of the sentence “What Next” itself and the question mark that follows it. The sentence “What Next” which ends with the question mark complement the absence of the vector’s end. However, this sentence, also suggests confidence and bravery. This can be seen from the insertion of exclamation mark and the facial expressions (which include how the man gaze) and the gestures.
The continuation of the writing in the advertisement is also worth considering. The phrase “Double Scrub, Double Action” is related to the product as depicted right beside it. “Double Scrub” refers to the content of the product itself, i.e. black scrub and white scrub. The next line of the writing explains this: “Black scrub angkat minyak dan kotoran dengan lebih baik ” (Black scrub removes oil and dirt better); “White scrub angkat sel kulit mati” (White scrub removes dead skin). Moreover, the existence of the black and white scrub is also shown from the color of the product’s container. The phrase “double action, together with the choice of color of the product’s container is connected with the depiction of P1 and P2. That is the P1 and P2 are seen as the double action itself, the two colors of masculinity.
CONCLUSION
It can be concluded that Mens Biore Double Scrub advertisement represents two concepts of masculinity. The first one is the concept of traditional masculinity, such as strong, aggressive, and independence. The second one is a new concept of masculinity that the advertiser attempts to offer. The way the advertisement represents these concepts of masculinity is by using left and right positioning, with the first concept on the left side and the second concept on the right side. This way the two concepts of masculinity can be juxtaposed. The feminine features in P2 is distorted by emphasizing masculine features of P1 and the shared masculine features of P2.
REFERENCES
References
Akbar, M. G. (2012). Color of Masculinity: Representation of Man in Cigarette Advertisements.
Brannon, L. (2011). Gender Stereotypes: Masculinity and Femininity. Gender: Psychological perspectives (6th ed.).
Chandler, D. (2002). Semiotics: The basics. London, NY: Routledge.
Chandler, D. (2013, January 3). Semiotics for Beginners: Paradigmatic Analysis. Retrieved December 24, 2013, from http://users.aber.ac.uk/dgc/Documents/S4B/sem05.html
Chandler, D. (2013, January 3). Semiotics for Beginners: Syntagmatic Analysis. Retrieved December 24, 2013, from http://users.aber.ac.uk/dgc/Documents/S4B/sem04.html
Cousins, C. (2012, April 3). Color and Emotion: What Does Each Hue Mean? | Codrops. Retrieved December 22, 2013, from http://tympanus.net/codrops/2012/04/03/color-and-emotion-what-does-each-hue-mean/
Darwin, M. (1999). Maskulinitas: Posisi Laki-laki dalam Masyarakat Patriarkis.
Interpreting The Meaning of Different Types Of Smiles | Lifetime Smiles. (2013, October 17). Retrieved December 23, 2013, from http://atxdentistry.com/interpreting-the-meaning-of-different-types-of-smiles/
Kokopeli, B., & Lakey, G. (n.d.). More Power Than We Want: Masculine Sexuality and Violence | Training for Change. Retrieved December 22, 2013, from http://www.trainingforchange.org/masculine_sexuality
Kress, G. R., & Van, L. T. (2006). Reading images: The grammar of visual design (2nd ed.).
Mayr, S. W. (2013). Reading Culture in TV Commercials A Semiotic Analysis of A TV Commercial for The Purpose of Teaching Culture to Foreign Language Students. International Journal of Arts and Commerce, 2(1). Retrieved from www.ijac.org.uk
Media and Semiotic Theory: Key Terms and Concepts. (n.d.). Retrieved December 18, 2013, from http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/irvinem/theory/Theory-KeyTerms.html
Nobelius, A. M. (2004, June 23). What is the difference between sex and gender? Retrieved December 18, 2013, from http://www.med.monash.edu.au/gendermed/sexandgender.html
Oxford advanced learner's dictionary (8th ed.). (2010).
Rajpal, M. (2010). The power of advertising - CNN.com. Retrieved December 14, 2013, from http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/09/22/power.of.advertising/
Richards, S. (1998). A Semiotic Analysis of Wallis Ads. Retrieved December 20, 2013, from http://www.aber.ac.uk/~mcswww/Students/sar9502.html
Ririn, B., & Amalia, L. L. (2001). Two Faces of Masculinity in Axe Chocolate Advertisement. Indonesian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 1(2).
Seiler, R. M. (n.d.). Semiology // Semiotics. Retrieved December 22, 2013, from http://people.ucalgary.ca/~rseiler/semiolog.htm
Säkäjärvi, S. (2013). Myths of masculinity in luxury advertising - constructing an ideal male consumer. Retrieved from https://aaltodoc.aalto.fi/bitstream/handle/123456789/8924/hse_ethesis_13118.pdf?sequence=1

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