A Qualitative Study of Visual & Textual Cues from
1970 to 2010
Carroll University
Waukesha, WI
Shannon Smith
[email protected]
Anti-aging products have become a huge market aimed at women who are “maturing”
but still “want to look fabulous” (Ganahl, 2002). Global market sales for such products and
services was valued at $249.3 billion in 2012 alone (Presswire, 2012). The purpose of this study
is to qualitatively analyze 410 pages worth of anti-aging product advertisements offered in three
highly known beauty magazines between 1970 and 2010 to determine if the number of ads has
increased, the textual cues used to promote the use of such products has gone from subtle to
blatant, and if age, ethnicity, and style portrayed in such advertisements have changed.
Literature Review
Idealized images of beauty and youth are repeatedly transmitted through media to impact
women (Bissell & Chung, 2009). Often, models in advertising represent highly idealized images
of physical attractiveness, social achievements and physical appearances (Antioco, Smesters, and
Le Boedec, 2012). Research in this area is important because self-image affects women’s health
and self-image (Morris and Nichols, 2013). Ideal social self-concepts that are presented in
advertisements portray desirable characteristics and positively influences consumer usage of
advertised products (D’Alessandro and Chitty, 2011). The more women are exposed to media,
the more they will believe images, messages, and ideas are real (Bissell and Chung, 2009).
According to Census Bureau statistics (2002), there are 38.5 million women over the age
of 40 and over the years cosmetic companies and advertisers have become smarter about
appealing to baby-boomer women through both the creation and marketing of products targeted
specifically to this age group (Butler, Etcoff, Orback, and D’Agostina, 2006). Women of this
generation are greatly affected by media and how it connects youth with beauty because they
have been immersed, since their late teen years, in a variety of media outlets which consistently
communicates beauty expectations and connects loss of beauty to aging (Gosselink, Cox,
McClure, and De Jong, 2008). Advertisers strategically attempt to imprint specific images for a
brand and how it enhances beauty in the minds of consumers (Morris and Nichols, 2013),
creating a “distorted mirror” (Pollay, 1984). This negatively reinforces the connotation of the
acceptable appearance for aging woman (LaWare and Moutsatsos, 2013). Women must appear
youthful to conform to current cultural beauty standards (Wolf, 2002). According to Coupland
(2007), the face contains zones, “which negotiate qualities for social/sexual attraction.” Since the
face is the main focal point assessed when judging youthfulness and beauty, older women feel
they must, “hide or erase the outward signs of aging such as wrinkles and age spots” to remain
attractive (LaWare and Moutsatsos, 2013). Women feel inclined to analyze individual facial
areas that are considered flaws. As a result, anti-aging advertisements focus on these insecurities
by featuring products meant to target and rectify aging issues affecting specific areas of the face
such as eyes, lips, and skin (LaWare and Moutsatsos, 2013).
There is also a belief that matching media ideals to a specific culture makes the product
more desirable (Thesander, 1997). Sierra, Hyman, and Torres (2009) found that women form
self-concepts based on both their social and self-identity. If they perceive themselves as
ethnically similar to the model depicted in an advertisement, they are more inclined to have a
positive attitude toward the ad. In general, women’s attitudes are a strong influence regarding
their purchasing actions (Priester, Dhananjay, Fleming, and Godek, 2004).
Durvasula et al., (2001) offer two different thought processes regarding the forces that
influence vanity. One process explains vanity as first and foremost a biologically driven
personality trait that is influenced by genetic makeup. The other process considers vanity to be
social influenced. According to Mason (1981), vanity and the way a woman feels about her
appearance is largely influenced by one’s social and economic environment. Often, models in
advertising represent highly idealized images of physical attractiveness and social achievements
(Antioco et al., 2012; Durvasula and Lysonski, 2001). Empirical evidence supports the idea that
Western cultures such as the United States value physical attractiveness more than countries
found in Eastern cultures (Schwartz and Bilsky, 1987).
Bandura’s (1986, 2001) studies regarding Observational Learning Theory suggest that
three cognitive processes, attention, retention, and motivation, apply when analyzing beauty
advertising. Advertisements grab our attention when they are simple, useful, and depicted in a
positive manner (Bandura, 2001). Relating to visual and textual cues can “expand our repertoire
of behavioral options” far beyond what we would discover through our own thought and other
learning processes (Griffin, 2012). Retention is the restructuring of acquired information into
schema that is stored in memory (Bandura 1994, 2001). According to Bandura (2001), this step
is most powerful because we can encode the ambiguous information to make it vital to our selfimage. Motivation is where concepts from memory are connected to action and translated into
guides for behavior. This is the driving force behind the reproduction of observationally learned
behavior (Bandura, 2001). Motivation to act upon visual and textual cues can be immediate or
called upon at a later time, when information learned over an extensive period of time is pulled
from within long-term memory and is now at our disposal (Griffin, 2012). While opinions vary
regarding exact frequency, women must be exposed to advertisements repeatedly for a message
to make an impression that the women will retain and act upon (Kelley, Jugenheimer, and
Sheehan, 2012). Women have cultivated socially acceptable images of aging over time and
through repeated and frequent viewing of anti-aging advertisements (Van Vonderen and
Kinnally, 2012). This process may create stereotypes, which hold negative psychological and
sociological affects that represent widely held beliefs and survive over long periods of time
(Wells, 1983).
The “remedies” offered for a more youthful appearance have become more obvious in the
language used in anti-aging product advertisements as time has progressed. Advertising provides
images and semantics that are relevant to its target audience while also mindfully considering
specific cultural, economic, and social environments (Zhang, Srisupandit, and Cartwright, 2009).
Text and images aimed at an older female market portray skin care as a pertinent issue and offer
“highly technologized solutions” for treatment of aging skin (Coupland, 2007).
H1 The quantity of anti-aging product advertisements found in beauty
magazines has increased from 1970 to 2010.
H2 Textual cues found in anti-aging product advertisements have become
increasingly blatant from 1970 to 2010.
RQ1 How have the ages, ethnicities, and beauty types of women portrayed
in anti-aging product ads changed from 1970 to 2010?
The sample of 330 advertisements, displayed across a total of 410 pages, were taken from
three prominent women’s magazines, Cosmopolitan, Vogue, and Glamour that focus on beauty
and fashion, include a variety of advertisements. Median readership ages are 31, 33, and 36,
respectively (Cosmopolitan, Media Kit, 2013; Glamour, Media Kit, 2013; Vogue, Media Kit,
2013). On average, they reach more than 12 million women readers per month. Two monthly
issues, March and September, were selected from 1970 to 2010 in five year intervals (ex. 1970,
1975, 1980, etc.) Substitutions in the following instances were made due to unavailability of
specific issues: Vogue - 2005 not available, substituted 2006; Glamour - March 1975 not
available, substituted April 1975; Glamour - 1985 not available, substituted 1986; Cosmopolitan
– March 1990 not available, substituted April 1990; Cosmopolitan - 1980 not available,
substituted 1981.
Advertisements qualified for this study if they included any of the words used in a
Neutrogena Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Cream advertisement which toted the slogan: The Signs
of Aging are Written All Over Your Face (Glamour, 2000). The advertisement offered a close-up
image of a woman in her mid-twenties with words used to describe aging printed across various
facial features. The expressions, “dull skin, blotchiness and sun damage” are imprinted across
her forehead while “lines, roughness, uneven skin tone, dry skin, and wrinkles” are etched along
the side of her face, beginning at the eye and ending at her chin. Advertisements also qualified
for this study if text or images suggested or stated that a product was intended to, “regain the
feeling or appearance of younger looking skin.”
Frequency of advertisements placed were documented from 1970 to 2010 to determine
whether an increase occurred. A qualitative content analysis identified and evaluated the
prevalence of textual cues used in various advertisements that may function as motivating factors
for the purchase of anti-aging products by women between 1970 and 2010.
Visual coding was performed on anti-aging advertisements that featured a model. Women
featured were visually coded for age (20 or younger, 21-30, 31-40, 41-50, 51-60, and 60+),
ethnicity (Caucasian, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Other), and portrayal of beauty type
(Classic/Feminine, Cute, Trendy, Casual, Other; Chan and Cheng, 2012) to determine whether
these specific qualities have changed from 1970 to 2010 (Appendix A).
Specifically, two hypothesis and one question guided this research: (a) I speculated that
the number of anti-aging advertisements increased from 1970 to 2010, (b) I speculated that the
text used in anti-aging advertisement has become more blatant, and (c) I questioned whether the
age, ethnicity, and portrayal of beauty type for women featured in anti-aging advertisements has
changed from 1970 to 2010.
Number of anti-aging advertisements
Table 1
2010 (so far)
2010s (speculated)
No. of Anti-aging
No. of Pages of Anti-aging
Table 1 represents the number of anti-aging advertisements as well as the number of
pages that said advertisements were displayed on in Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Vogue in each
decade as listed. The numbers accumulated for 2010 were only for advertisements found in said
year and cannot include 2015 advertisements (as is the case in the other respective totals), so I
speculated that advertisements and advertisement pages for the 2010 decade would be double
those found in the year 2010. This trend proved to be the case in three out of four decades
researched (1970, 1980, and 2000). The 1990s saw a decrease in advertisements by three from
1990 to 1995.
Textual analysis
Youth is a term that can be found in ads from the beginning of my research and offers a
positive connotation between the use of anti-aging products and looking younger and “full of
life”. Fifty-two pages worth of advertisements used phrases such as: “smart, good girl”, “brings
out ‘fresh, country air look’ in complexion”, and “retain a youthful glow” as motivation to
purchase and use products. This method of advertising subtly reinforces the idea that self-image
is tied to physical appearance.
Language used to describe the “signs of aging” is minimal in anti-aging advertisements at
this point. Skin dryness and roughness are the main skin issues mentioned at this point and
suggestions for treatment is offered by featured products that “offer moisture to silken and soften
your skin” and create a more youthful appearance.
While youth is still the prevalent term used to describe how a women will feel after using
a product, prevention plays an important role in skin treatment in this decade. “Prevent wrinkles
from showing too soon”, “Works against aging of skin”, “Protect against aging”, “Keep skin
from looking old” are some of the textual cues spread over 102 pages of advertisements.
Urgency (1985) joins in with “Help is in sight”, “Come to the rescue”, and “No skin can
afford to be without it”. Demonstrating a sense of need that is immediate may not create an
attitude regarding a product, but it can reinforce one that is already there.
Ages are now mentioned in advertisements, (1985) offering advice on specific skin
regiments that should be followed as early as your twenties to prevent the appearance of aging.
Age as a concept is also enforced, “never too soon to start” and “betray your biological age”
suggest that product must be started early for best results.
While skin dryness and roughness received subtle mention during the 70’s, their attention
increases and is accompanied by “lines around the mouth and eyes.” Skin dryness is still noted as
the culprit for skin roughness, but in the 80’s it is also blamed for “the little lines around the eyes
and mouth”. Language created to label “signs of aging” rapidly increases during this decade.
Skin dryness, roughness, and lines “around the eyes and mouth” are joined by other labeled skin
imperfections such as sun damage, dullness, blotchiness, uneven skin tone, and wrinkles. By
1985 my study found that three other terms were added to this list: reduction in firmness,
puffiness under the eyes, and dark under eye circles. Identifying specific skin changes, relating
them to aging in a negative way, and implying that urgency to prevent and eliminate the issues is
necessary serves to reinforce the social attitude that women must maintain a youthful
Repair and defy age are the central themes stacked on top of those introduced and
reinforced in the 70’s and 80’s. Phrases such as, “Grow old gracefully, WHY”, “Defies challenge
of time”, “Age is a fact of life, but why look at it?”, and “Keep [youth] as long as you can”
dominate 99 pages worth of anti-aging advertisement text. Use of the term repair insinuates that
damage has been done to the skin’s surface that must be fixed while defy implies that aging is not
a natural process for women and any signs that might be produced because of it must be
Reasons for aging such as, “Stress”, “Fatigue”, Worn out cells”, and “Sun, wind, and
pollution” are also included in advertisements of this decade. These phrases are used to explain
that while women may take good care of their bodies, signs of anti-aging cannot always be
helped because we are victims of uncontrollable outside forces. Hence, the product will always
be necessary.
Results (1995) is yet another key theme added during this decade. Statements such as,
“instant results”, “see changes in skin in one day”, and “see visible results in just four weeks”.
Such statements allow the woman user to believe in instant gratification along with the idea that
consistent and continual use will create the much desired results.
While the 90’s does not see an increase in the usage of age defining language (wrinkles,
dry skin, dull skin, blotchiness, roughness, etc), advertisements are no longer subtle in directing
women towards use of anti-aging products. The product names now include a specific “problem”
which it is designed to “solve.” For instance, Stress Cream by Almay, “offers treatment for dry
lines, relief from tired skin, radiance, and renewed glow” (Glamour, 1990). While earlier
advertisements allowed the reader to interpret how the product was useful, advertisements of this
decade take on a dominating style of communication with the viewer. Language is direct when
explaining what is best for the product user, “Eyes look best when the skin looks firm and
smooth – unworried by lines, sags, and puffs” (Glamour, 1990). Descriptions are no longer
illusive, they are blatantly obvious and no mistake can be made while interpreting the needs
fulfilled by product featured in the advertisement.
The first decade of the new century provided 99 ¼ pages filled with anti-aging
advertisements and two new themes were added to those lingering and insistent ideas from the
70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. Drastic measures is the unashamed phrase used in the first decade of 2000.
Advertisers let women know that procedures such as, “a facelift”, “cosmetic surgery”, and
“Botox injections” are options to consider when fighting the signs of aging. Use of their product,
“the 3 minute facelift!” could help women avoid such procedures. A Total Effects by Olay
advertisements reads, “Wow! You look so much younger. New Haircut? Well, you’ve done
something. You look incredible!” (Glamour, 2000). This advertisement is elusive – the reader
must decide whether a medical procedure was performed or an anti-aging product was used –
while also being obvious that some measure was taken and the improvements are desired.
Effectiveness is also injected into the language of this decade. Products offer results, “7X
more effective than leading brand”, “40% reduction in wrinkles”, and “90% increase in overall
skin clarity”. The inclusion of percentages that are supported by scientific research validates the
effectiveness by including a professional study regarding the use of products. The information
shared by the advertisement becomes more believable and authentic.
Early 2000 recognizes an increase in how often wrinkles and sagging skin are mentioned.
Improving “firmness and elasticity while reducing the appearance of lines” provides a clear cut
message as to the products purpose. Advertisements still remind women of the need to “turn
back skin’s biological clock” and how this will help “achieve youngest looking skin possible.”
At this point in time, ads are bombarding women with a long list of skin problems due to the
aging process. One anti-aging advertisement repeated signs of aging term twelve times to drive a
point home (Cosmopolitan, 2000).
Beginning in 2010, products anti-aging products became Dermatologist recommended,
further incorporating the authority figure’s viewpoint as crucial. Many women hold their
doctor’s opinion in high regard and anti-aging advertisements are using that same premise.
Language that was created for the 70s (youth), 80s (prevention, urgency, age), 90s (repair &
defy, reasons for aging, results), and 2000s (drastic measures, effectiveness) is still incorporated
into 2010 advertisements so that women today are simply immersed in anti-aging language that
blatantly informs us of all of the skins problems due to aging. Terms such as “tough on
wrinkles”, “this is war”, “this [product] is NO LIGHTWEIGHT” are quite obvious in their
message. Women must use the methods offered to fight the signs of aging.
Ethnicity, Age, and Style Portrayal
Tables 2, 3, and 4 show how visual cues, as defined in the Methods section regarding
ethnicity, age, and style of women portrayed in anti-aging advertisement, stayed the same from
1970 to 2010. Caucasian women, aged 21-30, portrayed in a classic/feminine style are portrayed
most often in anti-aging advertisements from 1970 to 2010.
Table 2
2010 (so far)
Table 3
2010 (so far)
20 or
Table 4
2010 (so far)
As my studies suggest, the themes identified in each decade: youth (70s); prevention,
urgency, age (80s); repair, defy, reasons for aging, results (90s); drastic measures, effectiveness
(2000s); and dermatologist recommended (2010); are cumulative from 1970 to 2010. Cumulative
themes, in addition to frequent and repetitious inclusion of terms used to define the signs of
aging (dull skin, blotchiness, roughness, lines sun damage, dry skin, uneven skin tone, wrinkles,
sagging skin, under eye puffiness, and under eye circles), has created anti-aging advertisements
that have become insistent and blatant in their language usage.
It is interesting to speculate that my data support a conditioning process defined in
Bandura’s (2001) Observational Learning Theory which offers attention, retention, and
motivation as key roles in product purchase. Anti-aging advertisements grab our attention with
their subtle use of themes and signs of aging language in a limited number of advertisements in
the 70s. Retention and motivation are active in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s; decades which claim a
noticeable increase in the number of advertisements as well as an increase in the collective use of
themes and language. According to Bandura (2001), we encode ambiguous information to make
it vital to our self-image. The media bombardment of such advertisements can motivate women
to act upon visual and textual cues immediately or at a later time.
As my study data also suggests, anti-aging advertisements most frequently display
women models that are Caucasian, between the ages of 21-30, and portray a classic/feminine
style. Sierra, Hyman, and Torres (2009) found that women form self-concepts based on both
their social and self-identity. Women identify themselves with the models features in the
advertisement and strive to emulate them. Women of the baby-boomer generation have been
bombarded with media that connects the loss of beauty with aging since a young age; so this
same media has been marketing products specifically to them for decades (Butler, Etcoff,
Orback, and D’Agostina, 2006; Gosselink, Cox, McClure, and De Jong, 2008).
My study speculates that the number of anti-aging advertisements and the blatant use of
“signs of aging” themes and language will continue to increase, while the age, ethnicity and style
of women portrayed in said advertisements will remain the same.
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Appendix A
Coding Sheet
H1: The amount of anti-aging product advertisements have increased significantly since 1970.
H2: The word usage found in anti-aging product advertisements has become more blatant/insistent,
implying that these products are necessary for women.
Magazine Name__________________Year________________Month___________
# of pages (ad)______
# of pages in magazine______
Product Name_______________Manufacturer____________
Textual Analysis used as a method to Analyze:
Reasons anti-aging products
product are necessary (reward):
Negative outcome when
is NOT used (punishment):
Signs of aging words used (from ad – Glamour)
__dull skin
__sun damage
__uneven skin tone
__dry skin
Words/phrases that insinuate (1) or blatantly (5) suggest need for aging product:
1 - Slight insinuation
2 - Moderate insinuation
3 – Neutral
4 – Slightly blatant
5 – Overtly blatant
*Insinuate/Blatant use scale
Figured per word/phrase as to insinuation/blatancy level.
Score for each word/phrase per advertisement scored and average taken for total ad)
Coding Sheet (cont.)
Image Textual Analysis
Add this RQ to the two Hypothesis that will be answered by information above:
RQ1 How have the ages, ethnicities, and beauty types portrayed in anti-aging product ads changed
from 1970-2010?
Size of picture in ad:
¼ page__
½ page__
Image in Advertisement? Yes____No____
¾ page__
1 page__
Other than Woman__________________________
Woman? Yes______No____
Guesstimate of model’s age
20 or younger___
Portrayal of Woman
View of woman
Up close (face only)____
Waist up________
Shoulders and up____
Whole body_____
Facial qualities
Facing camera____
Slight look to left of right___
Profile of face___
No smile___
slight smile___
medium smile___
full smile___

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