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Aalto University School of Business Master's Theses are now in the Aaltodoc publication archive (Aalto University institutional repository)
School of Business | Department of Marketing | Marketing | 2016
Thesis number: 14714
A visual social semiotic analysis of heteronormativity and LGBT representation in advertising
Author: Leino, Leena
Title: A visual social semiotic analysis of heteronormativity and LGBT representation in advertising
Year: 2016  Language: eng
Department: Department of Marketing
Academic subject: Marketing
Index terms: markkinointi; mainonta; semiotiikka; sukupuoli; identiteetti; visuaalinen
Pages: 72
Key terms: heteronormativity; LGBT; symbolic meaning; cultural meaning; advertising; representation; visual social semiotics
Abstract:
This study examines heteronormativity and gay and lesbian representations in advertising. Hetero-normativity stands for a notion, which regards heterosexuality as a norm; the right way of sexuality. Heteronormativity also reinforces the perception of binary gender and traditional gender roles. Individuals who do not identify themselves with such norms feel exclusion and other social and psychological difficulties, when heteronormativity is present in different institutions of societies. One example of such institutions is advertising.

The marketers, i.e. the companies producing the marketing messages to consumers, take part in constructing our society. They create meaning in their marketing and branding, and with their power and visibility in the marketplace, companies can influence social phenomena, such as the social standing of sexual minorities. This study aims at recognizing the elements, which maintain the heteronormativity in advertising. Additionally, LGBT representations are examined.

McCracken's (1986) Cultural meaning transfer model explains how cultural meaning moves from the culturally constituted world to consumer goods through advertising and further to consumers through different consumption rituals. I used the Cultural meaning transfer model as a theoretical framework in my visual social semiotic analysis of the selected advertisements, focusing especially on the advertising's part in the meaning transfer process. Heteronormativity is widely discussed in gender and media studies, especially in queer theory. These research streams provided crucial theoretical background knowledge.

Six commercials were selected for analysis. Commercials had been shown in Finnish companies' online channels, thus they were targeted to Finnish consumers. A visual social semiotic analysis explains representational, interactive and compositional meaning of each commercial, giving a detailed description of components constructing the symbolic meaning in the selected advertisements.

The findings show that heteronormativity is present in many of the advertisements, mainly in the dialogues and the appearance of the characters, which both build the narratives of life, where hetero-sexuality is idealized. However, there are also gay and lesbian representations in the commercials. As demanded as the LGBT representations are, the analysis illustrates that the execution of the portrayal of sexual minorities often falls short, as they tend to be stereotypical and one-sided.
Master's theses are stored at Learning Centre in Otaniemi.