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1.0 Introduction

1.1 Background of the study

Advertisements are generally characterized by their persuasive nature. Television advertising is characterized by the ability of the medium to transmit content to a mass audience simultaneously (Barker and Angelo 2006:12). These characteristics of television advertising have been the subject of concern, criticism, and continuous study (Jones 1999: 165). Bignell (2004:210) explains that it is the perception that television has connections to the real world of culture and society in which it exists that makes it critical in research. Bignell (2004) also states that television is fascinating to study because it seeks to provide the audience with elements, issues and events that they are currently experiencing.

Bolland (2005:11) defines advertising as the “paid placement of organizational messages”. Cook (1992:5) states that, “advertising can tell us a great deal about our own society and our own psychology”. Cook (1992) like many other researchers in this field (Branston and Stafford 1999, Kim and Lowry 2005) acknowledge that advertisements can serve as a gauge of social norms, values, as well as the interests of society.

Bovee and Arens (1992) define advertising as ‘a non-personal communication of information usually paid for and usually persuasive in nature, about products, service or ideas by an identified sponsor’.

Research has shown that television advertising often uses stereotypes gender specific roles of men and women thereby reinforcing existing clichés, (Kim and Lowry 2005). Olabisi (2002) asserts that in the world of television advertisements, women are more negatively stereotyped thus undermining the struggle for gender equality. She added that men and women are aware of the cultural prevalence of traditional gender stereotypes (mostly in women) and television contributes to this awareness. Bardwick and Schumann (1976) analyzed the portrayal of women in television commercials and concluded that to an amazing extent women are preoccupied with dirt, and the television woman in commercials is shown as housebound. (p. 18).

This shows that people watching televisions are bombarded with images and slogans through advertisements. In a 2000 Nielsen Media Research and Radio Advertising Bureau survey it was found that on average, U.S. households watch more than seven hours of television per day (Albarran, 2000).

People memorize slogans and absorb images without questioning them. More importantly people do it without thinking. This is what Gerbner, Gross, Morgan and Signorieli (1980) called the cultivation effect. The effect of all this exposure to the same messages produces what has been called cultivation, or teaching of a common worldview, common roles and common values. (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan & Signorieli, 1980, p.10).

According to Gerbner, one of the most common findings from media and cultivation studies is that increased television viewing is associated with more stereotypical views, especially of gender (Allan & Scott, 2006). Gerbner, Gross, Morgan and Signorieli (1980) argued that for heavy viewers, television virtually monopolizes and subsumes other sources of information, ideas and consciousness. Furthermore, the heavy viewers perceive the world as what is shown on television (Gerbner, et al., 1980).

Based on Gerbner’s findings, it can be argued that if on average an American household watches over seven hours of television a day, this can lead to heavy indoctrination of television stereotypes. People are likely to perceive the world as what is depicted through television.

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