Current advertising has the ability to influence so many lives at once, without the viewer even being aware of the extent that it shapes their thought and day-to-day life. Companies as large and well known as Budweiser are able to create their own social guidelines through their advertisements, which many people will internalize subconsciously. With Budweiser being the most advertised beverage in all of America in 2012, spending $449 million dollars (Lockhart, 2006) one would wonder what messages Budweiser is sending to the public.
Advertising was a critical component of Budweiser to help get their brand off the ground in its early days. Budweiser played into the American social dynamics at the time for the people to relate to. In specific, the social role of women is a critical element in the advertising of the Budweiser brand as they are in almost every ad. Over the span of 60 years Budweiser had changed their angle on women drastically. From 1956 where the ad’s used woman as a relatable figure for other women to a campaign where a real woman is an afterthought in the early 2000’s. This leads us to the question; how has the image of the ideal woman in Budweiser advertisements changed since 1956?
One of the first ads that Budweiser released was their “When there’s life… There’s Bud” campaign just before the brand was number 1 in all of America. One of the first ads in this campaign was released 1956, defining the ideal woman as a hardworking, witty housewife. The advertisement consists of a recently married woman in the fore ground of the picture with her groom in the background.
The text in the ad uses all modes of persuasion to convince the woman to buy Budweiser. “There’s always that inner man, you know…And to think of all that planning that goes into meals”. This opening to the ad attempts to connect to a woman living in this time, by relating to her perceptions of her husband. It recognizes all of the work that goes into maintaining a home and commends her for it, which did not happen to women often, as it was seen as the expectation at the time. This separates Budweiser from other ad campaigns of the time, by being sympathetic to a women’s struggles, giving the reader faith that the advertisement is on her side. This connection to the viewer asks the woman questions such as “Do you compliment your delicious dishes by serving the best beer ever brewed?” This makes the woman question if she is doing the best job possible at making meals for her husband, which was thought to be a woman’s main priority in the eyes of society. After instilling this concern into the woman’s mind that she might not be doing a sufficient job in the eyes of society, the ad reassures the woman that there is solution, “It’s a fact, Budweiser has delighted more husbands than any other brew ever known.” The confident tone of the narrative voice persuades the woman that an essential part of keeping your husband satisfied is serving him Budweiser beer. The ad gives proof that this beer will make your husband happier with an unsourced and unproven “fact”.
Above this passage we see a woman looking coyly into the camera, and the audience is able to connect her to the text. This woman is shown to be proud of herself because she has realised that if she buys Budweiser beer, she will have the ability to keep her husband happy. Keeping him happy is portrayed to give the woman a high sense of self-worth. The audience for this ad is woman similar to the one depicted in the ad, as it is recognized that women were the ones who did the grocery shopping and the ones who would be buying the beer. This ad places the value of a woman on their ability to keep your husband content.
The next ad was released a year after (1957) in the same campaign yet in it the perception of woman has altered drastically to sell the beer. Budweiser’s target audience has transitioned to men but still uses women as the focal point of the ad. We see a man and a women outside on a picnic together, both drinking a Budweiser (Fig. 2). The advertisement is selling the power dynamic between the man and woman along with the beer.
The ideal women shown in this advertisement is one who is a carefree, simple minded partner for their man. She is on a much lower frame in the photograph than the man, which immediately establishes her as beneath him and submissive to him. She is bending over the beer and putting her lips towards the Budweiser in a provocative way, enticing the man, while not even being aware that she is doing so. Her innocence is a trait that Budweiser defined in the ideal woman of this time. The innocence of the woman is further shown by the child-like ribbon in her hair making her look even younger than she is.
This ad’s main audience is men, as it shows the viewer what he will be like if he buys Budweiser by giving the reader someone to compare themselves to. The man in the advertisement is on a much higher plane in the picture than the woman, hovering over her and staring at her very aggressively. This projects the ideology where one must be dominant over woman to be masculine. The woman’s awareness is portrayed in an opposite light to the 1956 ad. In the earlier ad the woman was the one who was in on the joke due to the fact she was aware of how to control a man’s emotions whereas in this ad the man is the one who is in on the joke as the woman is oblivious to the fact that she is being hyper sexualised.
In 2007 Budweiser bought advertising space in “Sports Illustrated” magazine, consisting of woman in a bathing suit, resting on a beer bottle (Fig. 3). The reader is instantly able to make the connection from the woman, to the beer bottle merging the two images together due to the writing across her body that follows onto the can. This ad is clearly defining the ideal woman as one who is an object of a man’s sexual desire.
The focal point of the ad is the woman’s breasts, which are staged in the centre of the photograph, while her face is cast in the far upper left of the frame, a mere afterthought. This highlights what Budweiser defines as the most important part of the advertisement and also the woman. Wearing this bathing suit shows that she is “branded” and “owned” by the Budweiser brand. The “ownership” of the woman creates the idea that if you buy the Budweiser beer, you will simultaneously be buying the women in the ads along with it.
The only quality shown in the woman is that she is hypersexual. This is shown through her eyes looking directly at the camera seductively, attempting to make a connection with the viewer of the ad. This is also seen in the woman’s body language. As she is lying down she is perceived as powerless and dependent, while still inviting the viewer closer by opening her body to the camera and sprawling out her legs as well as lifting her bathing suit up to show she is sexually available. These ideas are only heightened by the angle of the camera, hovering just above the women, similar to the ad from 1957. This angle portrays the woman as an object. This further pushes the patriarchal idea that the man is the spectator and woman should be a spectacle.
Although the main demographic for this ad is men, this ad will bring in a women customer base as well. Women trust that this depiction is what the ideal woman looks like due to the fact that Budweiser is such a large brand and is therefore credible, and that this is the woman they should strive to be like. Consumers see the woman on the ad fully aware of the power she holds in her sexuality and become envious of this. Not only is the woman in the ad aware she is being sexualized, she is enjoying it, as shown with the smirk on her face. This conveys that she is confident that viewer is attracted to her. This leads woman consumers to believe that if they purchase this product, she will become as desirable and confident as the woman in the ad. This is where a difference between the 1957 ad and the 2007 ad appears. This change in depiction of the sexuality of women is likely due to the third wave of feminism that happened in the 1990’s between these advertisements. Although this advertisement does not emulate all qualities of the feminist movement, it does incorporate aspects of the movement such as sex positivity. The woman in the 2007 ad appears to want to engage in sex rather than being innocent and unaware like the woman in the 1957 ad.
Although this ad is drastically different from the ad in 1956, the woman appears to have the same coy look on her face. This is due to the fact that both of these woman have power in some way. In the ad from 1956, the woman’s power comes from the fact that she has a “secret trick” in which she is able control her husband. This is compared to the woman in the 2007 ad where her power is based on her ability to sexually entice men. Both ads show the promised power gained by living up to the impossible standards of the ideal woman at that time by giving the woman someone to look up to. The value of a women living in 1956 is measured by her ability to be a keep her husband happy by being good chef and housewife for him. In the 2007 ad it is very clear that the only quality being portrayed in the woman is her looks and her ability to sexually appeal to men. Although both advertisements depict woman having power over men, the more progressive ad is the one released in 1956, which although pushes the strict gender norms of the time, shows the hidden power behind the fact that woman are the ones who are taking care of the men compared to the 2007 ad where they are nothing more than a temporary object for a man to play with.
This advertisement plays off of a woman’s insecurities of their appearance by showing this unattainable, overly edited and sexualized woman, and then offers Budweiser to solve this problem which is a common theme throughout the ads. Budweiser profits from this culture created through the ad, creating men who want women to be nothing more than an object, and women who want to be objectified and wanted by men as it makes them feel validated.
A twitter ad from Budweiser released in 2014 shows two beer bottles pressed against each other to resemble a woman’s lower back and bottom (Fig. 4). This ad implements the farthest extreme that objectification can reach, where a woman has been turned into a physical object, exhibiting that a woman’s value is at its peak when she is acting as an object. Similar to the 2007 ad, the focus of the ad is on a highly sexualized part of the woman, implying that it is the most important part.
The first part of this ad reads “Break the Internet” which is a direct reference to Kim Kardashian’s cover in “Paper Magazine” with the same title (Fig. 5). The larger text below reads “Big Buds” which is referring to Kim Kardashian’s “big butt” which is seen in her cover. This was a tactical move by Budweiser as the ad came out right after the release of the magazine, connecting their ad to what everyone was already paying attention to at the time. Kardashian is one of the largest innovators of the generation, with over 100 million followers on Instagram alone. Within this following Budweiser is able to focus their target of this ad on a specific, yet large group of young, straight males who are active on social media. The cover of Paper Magazine shows Kardashian being hypersexualized, with her famous bottom shown on a side view which is mimicked by the Budweiser ad, making an unapologetic link between Kardashian and the bottles. By objectifying this mega celebrity to nothing more than two bottles of beer gives the reader the subconscious idea that they have the power to “own” Kim Kardashian when they are buying Budweiser. This ad is able to connect the Budweiser brand to this influential celebrity, without having to pay anything for the endorsement. The ads from 2007 and 2014 both use the objectification of women to sell their beer.
The decline of the humanization of woman in Budweiser ads happened with the increased sexualization and objectification over time. This is curious due to the fact that as a society, we believe that the woman’s movement has come so far since the 1950’s, yet it is evident through these ad’s that woman are depicted to have less power now than ever before. Although sexist, the ad in the 1956 depicts the woman as a hardworking individual who is providing a service to her family. This is compared to the most recent ad in 2014 where there is not even a woman present in the picture, just two objects meant to be a placeholder for her body. This branding separates a woman’s mind from her body, to an extent where the only thing that a man will want from a woman is her body, leading to a culture where woman are seen as disposable as they could be replaced by two beer bottles.