A Textual Analysis of Trojan Condoms: Depiction of Gender Roles:
May 3, 2010
COMM 492 Seminar in Corporate Communication
Bridgewater State College
Have you ever been told by your mother to “act like a lady”, or been told by your father,
“be a man”? Do you remember growing up and only girls wore the color pink, and boys the
color blue? These are some differences in gender which have maintained their position as the
‘norm’ in our society. Embedded in our culture are guidelines which determine what is
appropriate for a male and female. For the most part, these expectations are given to us through
advertising messages in the media. The portrayal of gender has become so strong, it cannot be
ignored. The proposed study aims to examine this vital area of research.
The advertising industry generates more than $180 billion a year. It has been estimated
that, on average, most people see 3,000 advertisements each day, and each person spends
approximately 3 years of his or her life watching advertisements (Mastin 230). Thus it is
understandable that advertising critics argue that a) advertisements are deeply woven into the
fabric of American culture, both drawing on and redirecting commonly held perceptions and
beliefs; and b) advertisements have a major role in both shaping and mirroring society (Mastin
Advertisements are more complex than just simplified messages which promote a
product or service. More specifically, advertisements shape society by using stereotypical images
to establish shared experiences among consumers, and advertisements mirror society by
promoting stereotypes, biases, and the dominant values of patriarchal society (Mastin 230).
Advertising images are often assimilated into people’s learned expectations of individuals
comprising various groups, and therefore have the ability to influence individuals’ perceptions of
and interactions with others. In particular, advertising images can reflect, reinforce, and
perpetuate sexist and racist attitudes, opinions, and behaviors already engrained within a given
society (Mastin 230). With such an influence on our consumer-driven society, it is important for
research to be done dissecting the messages which we are so vulnerable to.
Using a critical approach, this study will examine a specific birth control advertising
campaign, which has strongly portrayed gender in their advertisements and products. The
contraceptive industry remains an unexplored chapter of American History. Studying the birth
control movement chiefly as a medical or political phenomenon, historians have discounted the
social significance of its commercialization (Tone 487). Therefore, using textual analysis, Trojan
Condoms’ advertising campaign featured in magazines published for young men from 2006 to
2010 will be the focus of this paper. These magazines include: Blender, Maxim, XXL, Vibe, and
Rolling Stone. Consequently, the answer to ‘How do Trojan Condoms advertisements code
gender between 2006 and 2010?’, will be identified.
Trojan Condoms is a company which sells contraceptives in the form of condoms. Once
owned by Carter Products Division, and in 2001 sold to Church & Dwight Co. (the maker of
Arm & Hammer Baking Soda), is the world’s largest condom brand. The company currently has
over 29 brands of condoms and accounts for 76 % of all condom sales in the United States. Due
to the changing legalities and political stances of condoms over the past century, there have been
not only changes in their marketing campaigns, but at times ends to their advertising efforts.
Regardless, one theme is recurring throughout a majority of their advertisements; distinctive
gender portrayal. Their success as an organization, and with respect to their advertising
campaigns, has defined them as a powerful voice.
Provided on the company’s website are previous advertisement campaigns which will be
used for analyzing purposes. Older advertisements can also be found on advertising archives
within the internet. Previous studies related to gender role portrayal in advertisements provide a
base for this examination of advertisements for Trojan Condoms. Although there are few in
relation to deconstructing the text of contraceptive advertisements, there is a plethora of studies
which code gender in other fields. The lack of studies in this specific context provides more
reason to continue with this study and clarify its importance.
The cultural turn that has recently swept through much of American sociology has meant
that sociologists are ever more frequently focusing on the role of symbols, meanings, texts,
cultural frames, and cognitive schemas in their theorizations of social processes and institutions.
The development of cultural studies as a field of teaching, criticism and research has been among
the more influential and certainly among the more visible developments in the humanities in
western universities over the last 30 years. In its most widely known, perhaps most influential
formation, it directs analysis upon the construction of everyday life – in particular on texts
produced by culture (Turner 113). Cultural studies nominate its object of study as ‘culture’. The
normative operating definition of ‘culture’ within cultural studies is deliberately inclusive
embracing our ‘whole way of life’ (Turner 113).
Although this resurgence of interest in cultural phenomena is often associated with the
shift towards more humanistic and interpretative methodologies, an increasing number of
quantitatively oriented scholars have also begun to turn their attention to the study of cultural
meanings. In the process a new body of research has begun to emerge in which social practices,
classificatory distinctions, and cultural artifacts of various sorts are being formally analyzed in
order to reveal underlying structures of meaning (Mohr 345).
To determine what kinds of messages are being communicated through advertisements,
they must be deconstructed; peeling away the layers of meaning. The texts used in them are
strategically crafted to validate and maintain some form of power. According to Hansen- Horn
and Neff, power and control are two of the molar concepts in the theory, research, and best
practices of public relations (117). In short, companies, nonprofits, and government agencies
work to gain power, exert power to accomplish their mission, and attempt to use power to control
their destiny. To clarify further the relationship between meaning of texts and power, Barnes
noted that meaning that guides interpretations and actions is the basis of society and social order.
Hence, when analyzing content in advertisements, it is important to critically approach the signs
and symbols which are represented, rather than look at them as one-dimensional; therefore
practicing critical literacy.
Critical literacy is used for the study of texts, particularly in analyzing media texts (Iyer
163), popular culture, multiliteracies, and digital texts. It has been extensively theorized and
debated in a range of contexts, including early year’s literacy education, studies on identity, and
more recently in the context of the teaching of English by teacher educators. The scope of critical
literacy is broad ranging – from a critical examination of texts and the positioning of readers to
Gee’s (274) “socially perceptive literacy”, which is a “species of applied linguistics”, of
discourse analysis. The critical reading of images demands that the social and political ideologies
surrounding them be made transparent, that the experience of those captured be exposed. The
critical reading of images connects to social justice because it questions and challenges dominant
points of views. When images are critically read, individuals and objects representing power are
exposed and those who are oppressed find their voice (Zambo 62). So the term critical literacy is
fluid in meaning. But, for the purposes of this paper, it may be understood as critical perspectives
on texts and social practices (Iyer 163).
Goffman’s early work set the stage for much research into the nature and meaning of
advertising images. Goffman (17) long ago argued that much can be learned about gender in a
society by examining the snapshots found in advertising. Some argue that advertising mirrors
gender stereotypes, however, others maintain that advertising images actively shape attitudes,
thereby creating gendered expectations. These statements clarify how our culture is influenced
by more powerful underlying meanings in the text of the media; especially advertisements.
In 2004, Mastin conducted a study which focused on advertisements in women’s
magazines. The purpose of this study was to serve as a benchmark study regarding gender-based
product purchase decision-making behavior during the last decade of the 20th century according
to women’s magazine’s advertisements. Mastin found it important that women’s portrayals as
product purchase decision makers in advertisements featured in women’s magazines be
examined in this manner because of the power advertisements have both in shaping and
reinforcing societal roles and their power in developing and solidifying perceptions of groups in
society (232). The results of this study support previous research studies (Mastin 238) that
concluded print media advertisements more often portray women in traditional roles. A majority
of advertisements fail to place genders in the roles they actually participate in, in a more modern
Another study examined gender role and sexual content in television advertising
messages. The study was carried out having adolescents view and comment on television
advertisements of beer and non-beer products. Rouner concluded that traditional televised male
portrayals tend to match male characteristics currently valued in American and other Western
cultures. In addition, young females are socialized to think of themselves as sexual, focusing on
sexualized gender role images (451). These constructed scripts establish norms and expectations
about sex. However, it is arguable that the central content of lifestyle ads is the social role
behavior of the models, including gender roles (Rouner 449).
Lastly, the portrayal of male and female advertising characters was examined to
determine whether or not sex was used to sell a product (Monk-Turner et al. 201). Past
researchers have generally found that male characters were over-represented in advertising
images and that female characters tended to be portrayed in passive roles as sex objects (Monk-
Turner et al. 209). First, (1068) also found that women advertising characters continue to be
displayed as subordinate to men, in passive roles, and as sex objects (Monk-Turner et al. 207).
Coltrane and Adams (342) concluded that regardless of the primary viewing audience of the
commercial, women advertising characters tended to be shown as sex objects. Generally, this
work found that images directed at specific target audience varied in predictable ways. When
women were the primary targeted audience, fewer advertising characters were portrayed as sex
objects compared to targeted male audiences. Still female sexual objectification was a common
theme through advertisements as a whole (Monk-Turner et al. 202). The interest of gender role
portrayals is complex and guided by power struggles.
The issues of gender, culture, and power are not hidden in our history’s past, yet continue
to fester in our society. Agger’s theoretical method (555) is one of turning what he considers to
be the most salient interests of postmodernism, feminism, and critical theory against each other
in an effort to extract what is valuable from what is not (Agger 556). Agger says,
“The integration of feminism, post-modernism, and critical theory allows me to theorize
the possibilities of the liberation of women and household labor, the imagination, and the
popular, the respective aims of these three social theories… which have been
equivalently devalued by male supremacy, a modernist philosophy of history, and
cultural mandarism, respectively. Feminism politicizes the household and sexuality;
postmodernism interrogates the modernist philosophy of history; and the culture industry
Agger’s literacy expresses the issues which resonate within our culture still to date; issues of
gender, power and culture. The context of our society calls for a need of continued textual
analysis of advertisements.
Seldom are we aware of how gender portrayals and stereotypes develop and are
maintained. Messages about appropriate gender roles and behaviors permeate our language,
school curriculum, working life, religion, and media (Jones 231). Gender is also assumed to play
a major role in the distinct ways females and males store and process information about the self,
social groups, and experiences. Gender schema theory argues that people learn, through
socialization to the culture and in social discourse, to activate stored information which leads to
differential processing of the same messages (Rouner 437). For example, as identity achievement
is a central development task of adolescence and young adulthood, gender role serves as a strong
factor for the formation of identity, its development, and change (Rouner 437).
Furthermore, adolescents likely seek out appropriate gender role and sexual media
representations, which match a model’s gender to the advertised product’s uses (Rouner 437). It
is important in so many ways we are able to recognize and be aware of the media’s
representation of gender roles, in which we are fed every day. Research to date focuses on
gender representation in advertising; how gender roles are depicted; and the objectification of
women in advertising. This study will continue to address and identify these very important areas
Analysis of depicting gender roles in contraceptive advertisements is incredibly scarce,
yet there is much research in this subject within other contexts. Scholars who have examined
gender role depiction tend to do so using content analysis, rather than qualitative textual analysis
using critical theory and visual literacy. It has been repeated throughout this paper that
advertisers use social images and constructs to sell particular products. In that the media operate
as a powerful socialization force and that the majority of women are in the workforce, it is
imperative that women and men alike witness media images that present a more balance view of
women and men sharing responsibilities (Mastin 241). The presented study for Trojan Condom’s
marketing campaign will use these abandoned theories to examine the ways in which they code
gender, and will use the previous literature to base the premises of the analysis.
This study aims to examine how Trojan Condoms code gender within their advertising
efforts using critical theory and textual analysis. Textual analysis remains relatively new to the
social sciences, yet has proven especially useful in the deconstruction of texts and what their
underlying messages are. One reason for the neglect of deconstruction is that advertising
research has not yet caught up with postmodern criticism (Stern 61). Yet, in the same manner a
mortician must dissect its patient to fully understand the cause of death; we must deconstruct the
text to fully understand the meanings embedded in the messages.
Before considering textual analysis, it is important to clarify the definition of “advertising
text”. According to Stern, advertising text is any media artifact designed to persuade consumers,
and generated, composed, recorded, and analyzed by sponsorial agents and/ or researchers (62).
The definition posits media artifacts as persuasions to consumers that can be analyzed in a
systematic way (McQuarrie 185). A three-step method that includes deconstruction, adapted
from literary criticism, is proposed. It provides rich analysis of advertisements in terms of
language attributes, rhetorical influences, and cultural assumptions (Stern 62). In conducting this
study, these steps will be borrowed from Stern, and used in accordance to deconstruct the text of
the Trojan campaign.
The first step of textual analysis is the identification of attributes; language, character,
and plot. According to Stern (62), deconstruction begins with construction. Hence, before we can
break down the text we must be able to identify the components of which it is built. In this step it
is not necessary to try and understand cultural or underlying meanings. The basic building blocks
of what we are deconstructing, such as the visuals and text, are our only area of concern during
The next step in the process of deconstructing is identifying the construction of meaning.
After identifying the attributes of the advertisement, we can then give meaning to them. There
are two parts to be recognized in step two: genre categorization, and rhetorical tactic. The
imagery, text, and theme in a given advertisement can all be placed into some type of category,
and according to its meaning, we can define a purpose. Therefore, rather than making a simple
statement about what we can visibly see or hear we are halfway to completing our deconstruction
of the text.
In regards to cultural studies and critical theory, this last step is the most vital. Step three
addresses the contradictory meanings inherent language by disassembling the cultural
assumptions that a text simultaneously reveals and conceals. The justification for this step is that
fuller understanding of language and culture flows from viewing the words as makers that
empower one term in a binary by suppressing its opposite. The power struggles occur in
advertising as in all language, and their exposure uncovers the premises on which commercial
culture rests. To date deconstruction has been found useful in management theory “for
penetrating the surface of symbols – for silencing symbols to reveal their detached and hidden
implications (Gephart 28).”
According to Stern, just as identification of attributes is a first step in accounting for
stimulus elements that influence construction of meaning, deconstruction leads to better
understanding of the openness of meaning influenced by a shifting network of language, power,
and culture (62). It requires a closer look at familiar metaphorical descriptions of advertisements
as “social tableaux” or “mirrors” (Pollay 32), for those terms simply imply static singular
meaning encoded by social construction and decoded by consumers (Stern 63).
This study analyzes three print advertisements which were accessed online through an
advertising database, and the Trojan Condom logo itself is also a topic of examination. Lastly, it
is capable to access video advertisements on the Trojan Condoms website
(www.trojancondoms.com). Two of these videos will be used for analysis. These texts were
generally chosen by chance and at random. The theme throughout the Trojan Condom campaign
as typically remained the same.
Case #1: (refer to figure 1)
A Trojan condom print ad featured in a contemporary men’s magazine, Blender, in
November of 2006 has large text at the foot of the ad that read: “When the situation rises, be sure
you’re a Trojan Man.” The word ‘rises’ in the text stands in a lighter shade of maroon than the
rest. To the right of this text there is an image of a box of Trojan condoms, with the text written
underneath: “Pleasure you want, protection you trust.”
Above the footer is an image of a pond with exotic lily flowers floating at the surface.
There is also other exotic plant life growing in or around this pond, and to the left of the ad we
can see a little piece of land. Within this pond there are seven nude red-haired young women,
whom all resemble one another. They are all beautifully fair skinned, and have long hair stranded
with delicate white flowers nested between their locks. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, a
few of these women are holding either a box of condoms or a single condom packet in their
On the piece of land we can see to the left, there is a young man kneeling beside the pond
as these women gaze at him with longing eyes. The man is in good physical shape, has a full
head of dark brown hair, and is wearing a navy blue one-shouldered robe tied at the waist with a
bright red cord. The woman who was lucky enough to be in the pond nearest to him seems to be
seductively pulling his arm closer to him, while the other women look desperate for his attention.
This specific print ad’s imagery is strong and says a lot in its lonesome. It’s a strong
depiction of a man in his glory with beautiful women at his immediate attention. The language
chosen in this print implies that when this man is ready and has ‘risen’, he has the choice to be a
‘Trojan Man’; strong, masculine, and powerful. It further emphasizes that Trojan’s can give him
the pleasure he wants, and the protection he needs.
The text used in this print ad, the imagery and selection of words, could be critically
deconstructed in great depths. Why are only the women responsible for supplying the condoms?
Why are they all naked; waiting vulnerable and desperate for a man to come their way? And how
is it that this man was lucky enough to pass by a pond of naked women, perhaps virgins, and has
the power to choose one at his liking?
Women are capable of enjoying sex and having an orgasm just as a man. Why can’t
women have the pleasure and protection of using a Trojan condom too?
Case #2: (refer to figure 2)
A print ad featured in Blender magazine, Rolling Stone magazine, and Maxim Magazine
from September 2006 to March 2007 reads in big letters along the top: “Impart variety to thy
scepter” (scepter being translation for a male’s genitalia). The ad is promoting Trojan’s new
Pleasure Pack. At the footer of the ad there is an image of a box of condoms which are more
vibrant in color than the rest of the advertisement. It reads along the bottom: “Trojan. One pack
yields a variety of pleasures. Choose wisely.”
The imagery in the ad has an older Roman vibe; depicting a cartoon-like man dressed for
battle. He appears strong and masculine and is standing straight and tall, looking to his right.
Beneath him are two women on either side of him. The women look identical; both long-haired
brunettes with sheer and extremely short, one-shouldered robes on. Kneeling before the pedestal
which stands in front of his genitals, they are reaching for a box that stands on the pedestal, open
and filled with a variety of condoms.
The focal point of the ad is the women on their knees reaching for a condom while rays
of light strike out from behind the warrior man. This bears the question why is the man given
such strength and almost God-like features? Why are their two women to one man? And is the
placement of the pedestal on the forefront of his genitals putting his manhood in power?
The text of the ad raises other critical questions. Is the act of sex perceived as a battle for
a man rather than a symbol of love? The language of the ad gives the man not only a variety of
women, but a variety of pleasures to his genitals. Do women not have the power to choose a
man? Do they not experience pleasure and urge for variety during sexual intercourse? The ad
places the power in the man and deems women to be vulnerable and delicate sex objects, and
placing no other purpose to them other than for a man’s pleasure.
Case # 3: (refer to figure 3)
The new Trojan Magnum print ads are planned to run in the May and June 2010 issues of
Vibe, XXL, and The Source magazines; all targeted for young black males. Trojan Magnums are
a product of Trojan condoms and are simply larger in size.
The print ad has a black background with a gold border and reads in gold bold uppercase
letters across the top: “The bigger the soldier, the bigger his shield.” Towards the bottom of the
ad is the Trojan Magnum logo in which the word ‘magnum’ is set in a larger font. To the right of
this text is an image of a condom wrapped in a gold case. Lastly, the bottom footer reads: “the
gold standard in comfort and protection.”
The use of color in this ad gives it a strong and powerful message. Gold is a rich color
and represents power and status, and black is the darkest of colors giving the print a sense of
seriousness. The language used in the ad is simple and clear. A male’s penis is referred to as a
soldier; a symbol of strength, aggressiveness, and power. The condom therefore symbolizes the
shield, the protection against things harmful to the soldier. Does a man’s power come with the
size of his penis? And if it does, does a man with a larger penis put at risk because he now holds
a higher power?
Critically, this raises the question of why the man is need of such protection. Don’t both
men and women share the same risks associated with having sexual intercourse? By comparing
the condom to his shield, is that not referring to women as a potential threat to a man’s
livelihood; his penis?
Trojan’s Evolve Campaign
Trojan launched an advertising and public information campaign in an effort to reframe
people’s perceptions about using condoms. The campaign, titled “Evolve” made its debut June
18, 2007 on the television, the Web, in print, and in special events around the country. The ads
use animated images of pigs to humorously represent self-centered, immature, and thoughtless
behavior. The pig transforms to a man when he demonstrates responsibility by choosing to use
Case #1: (refer to figure 1a)
A print ad from Trojan’s “Evolve” campaign reads: “Evolve. Choose the one who uses a
condom every time.” These words are written at the footer of the text. The rest of the print ad
depicts a scene at a night at a bar. Yet, what would typically be men at the bar are depicted as
The bar is dimly lit with the exception of a couple in the upper left corner of the bar. The
tables are seated with beautiful women who seem to be unwillingly chatted up these drinking
pigs. The women are not entertained and annoyed, while the pigs appear to be drunk, laughing,
and extremely flirtatious having a ball.
The highlight of this ad is the couple in the corner underneath a shining light. There is a
man and woman who is both human and seem to be enjoying each other’s company. He looks to
be as cool as a cucumber and her as happy as pig in… well you know.
The language used in the ad gives women the advice to choose a man wisely. It depicts
men as pigs; dirty, gluttonous, and not that smart. In this ad, it is the man who evolves from a pig
when he makes the right decision to use a condom. Yet, the language is targeted towards woman.
“Evolve. Choose the one who chooses a condom every time.” So, if it is not the women
who need not to evolve, then why was the word placed before the advice for women? Is this
indirectly telling women to evolve and choose the right man? Women have the ability to choose
whether or not they want to use protection while having sex. So why is it that the women are
given the power to choose a man, but are not given the power over men to have the same
capabilities to deciding if her and her partner uses a condom during sex?
Case #2: (refer to figure 2a)
This print ad has an almost identical format to the previous one with some variations to
the setting and language. The ad reads at the footer: “Evolve. Be a man. Use a condom every
time”, with the Trojan logo to the right. The setting is strongly lit and shines with strands of
diamonds which replace a backdrop for the wall. Once again, there are tables of pigs drinking
and beautiful woman looking disinterested and disgusted with the pigs’ behavior.
The only man in the ad is with a woman in the back right corner. He stands confident and
looks suave in nature. Whatever the man has done must be working; the young woman looks
utterly flattered, and extremely attracted to him. They are the highlight of the ad.
Why are the women outnumbered and overwhelmed by the pigs? Is there a reason not
one of the women are sipping a drink at this bar? And why have a room of pigs been placed in
such a nice bar? All of these symbols of text provide us with the grounds to identify, construct,
and then deconstruct the ad.
From a critical view, we must raise questions about the text. Is it only a male that wears a
condom during intercourse every time be labeled as a ‘man’ rather than a pig? Women are just as
capable as men to provide the protection previous to intercourse. So why is it that the man is
given the power to decide if a condom will be worn during intercourse? If the man chooses not to
wear a condom, does the woman still have a choice if she wants to be intimate with him?
Trojan condoms code gender in a dramatic way in regards to power and sex. As a society,
we have different social norms for each gender we must follow to be accepted. How are these
norms developed and static through such a fast paced and changing culture? Through textual
analysis we discover that it is through the media in which stereotypes of gender are reinforced
and embedded in our culture every day. Trojan has proved within its advertisements that there is
a stereotypical coding of gender within their proposed texts, and that in fact, women are
portrayed as passive and beneath men in the decision to intercourse, and using protection during
There were limitations set for this research due to a lack of previous studies done on birth
control methods. It is surprising that as such a sexually unhealthy country with rising epidemics
of unwanted pregnancy and STD’s that this area of research would be found important. Yet, I
feel that my research can be the groundwork for future research in regards to the coding of
gender in birth control methods. The benefits of this type of research could truly be limitless,
guiding our culture into a more sexually healthy society.
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