index.html Social and ideological stereotypes in children’s toy advertisements in Greek television

Maria Keramyda
University of Western Macedonia


This study provides an approach to an analytical framework for cultural studies of ideological representations in visual mass media. Our aim is to explore the use of gendered codes, dominant ideologies and stereotypes in children’s toy advertisements and in order to do so we also try to propose/produce an inter-scientific analysis model for the purposes of children’s TV advertisements. We also apply the semiotic model to the specific advertisement of the baby doll- Baby Amore and we detect a gendered and familial code which emphasises the role of motherhood.


The study of toys as material objects and also of children’s advertisements as toys’ visual material, leads to a spiral scheme, where the channel (advertisement) and the message (toy) cross, forming signs as “forming mediums”, as “carriers of meanings” and as “practice, goal” (Duroy, R. & Kerner, G., 1995). It is the syntactic, semantic and pragmatic semiotic analysis, which is applied in the present study. Advertisements are signs and at the same time the advertised products are signs themselves. Hence, we search the syntactic, semantic and pragmatic elements of the visual material and the product-message in two levels.

In the schematic representation (Figure 1) the arrow stands for the advertised product, the toy. The spiral that moves around it and progressively through time/space stands for the advertisement, which concerns the toy, presents it piece by piece and which ends with the “reformation” of the product and the reference to its name. However, the question that remains is if, eventually, different toys serve the same aims/goals. Are girls still getting prepared to become good and caring mothers? Do boys still learn how to play war? In other words, do contemporary toys promote the same old stereotypes, and in what level do they reflect the structures of our society? It has been argued that contemporary toys have not ceased to form stereotypes; (Brown, N. M., 1998). And if that is the case, then why do we insist in giving our children the same old kind of toys and stereotypes?

Many people think that traditional toys constitute healthy stereotypes for their children. Mothers who express their worries through letters on the Internet condemn the Barbie stereotype (the young, modern woman, which possibly represents them), but favour the traditional mother role represented by baby dolls (Mastellou, Ε., 2006). Eventually, is it natural for girls to grow up and become mothers and for boys to be aggressive? If the term “gender” did not exist in our society, would children still choose to play with certain toys?

Research on monkeys showed that male monkeys preferred and played longer with “male” toys (a car and a ball), whereas female monkeys preferred “female” toys (a doll and a pot). Both groups played equally with “neutral” toys (a book and a stuffed dog) (Garcia, R. A., 2002). Researches such as the above claim that the children’s preferences for their toys and the discrimination between male and female toys does not depend on social impacts only, but it also depends on biological factors. Still, these researches do not explain boys’ preferences for dolls or girls’ preferences for football, irregardless to their sexual preferences as adults.


As mentioned in the introduction, the aim of this paper is to explore the use of gendered codes, dominant ideologies and stereotypes, the tracking of discourses in the advertising text, as well as to examine the social practices in the media, which form “social and cultural changes” (Fairclough, N. 1995). Taking into consideration the above aims, the analysis focuses on the visual representations and their technical and structural features, which are the final products of the TV text in the media, without studying the audience’s/receivers’ response.

The aim of this research is the proposal/production of an inter-scientific analysis model for the purposes of children’s TV advertisements. Fairclough (1995) argues that we can form three types of questions about visual material. How are subjects represented, what is the relationship between them, which identities are being structured? According to these three questions, we assume that any part of any text can represent and form relations and identities at the same time.

In our sample we detect the social values and social stereotypes, the representations of gender and childhood, as they appear in the children’s advertisements, through the signifieds and the codes, which are traced on the moving images, as well as the oral and written text. Furthermore, we search for the categories of ideologies and stereotypes which appear in the TV text, in order to show the process of the meanings’ production in the modern TV image/representation of children’s toys and in the toy itself, as a type of product and as an action, where roles and behaviours are being formed.

In this field the research on children’s toy advertisements concerns the audience, children, parents and also teachers, who need to become familiar with “visual literacy”. The sample used in this paper consists of 147 TV toy advertisements, which were video recorded from television during 22/12/04 and 02/01/06. The video recording took place mostly on periods that a large number of advertisements were expected to appear, such as Christmas and Easter holidays. The recording includes state and private TV channels with countrywide range. The selection of the channels depended on their broadcast, that is we preferred channels that broadcast children’s shows and films. The video recording took place after 10:00 p.m., because Greek legislation prohibits the broadcast of toy advertisements aiming at children from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The number 147 refers to all the advertisements that appear at least once in the sample. It should be noted that most of the advertisements are foreign productions that have been translated in Greek and there are only a few Greek productions. The research’s aim is the qualitative analysis and elaboration, based on the stereotypes and the ideologies which advertisements construct.

Sample Documentation

The quantitative and qualitative data of the advertisements were registered in two semiotic tables. Table 1 is called “Technical and material documentation of advertisements” and contains data which relate to the way the product is being presented (paradigmatic analysis). Table 2 is called “Technical and material documentation of toys” and contains data which relate to the advertised product. In this way the sample is being analysed semiotically as a “sign”, which consists of a) the visual material, the advertisement as a channel and b) the toy, which is being advertised as a material object/message made for the audience, the children and parents. The documentation took place as follows:

Table 1: Technical and material documentation of advertisements

The table consists of 18 fields:

  1. S/N: serial number of the advertisement

  2. Name of product: the name of the product is being recorded in Greek or English, exactly as it appears on the advertisement

  3. Time: the period of broadcast is being recorded (Christmas, Easter holidays, end or beginning of school year)

  4. Duration: the duration in seconds is being recorded

  5. Space: the space where the plot of the advertisement is taking place is being recorded. Five sub-categories were identified:

a) Indoor (house), b)Indoor (TV studio): an inner space that does not contain special features that resemble a private or public place and usually contains a one-colour or colourful background, c)Indoor (other): an inner space that does not match the above sub-categories. In particular, in three cases the action takes place in a cafeteria, a hospital and a girls’ locker room, d)Outdoor: a public place, usually defined by elements such as the earth and sky and e)Cinematographic: contains extracts of cartoon films or shows, which relate to the advertised product

  1. Oral signifieds: the speech of the narrator or the speaker is being recorded

  2. Written text: the written text which is being displayed on the TV screen while the advertisement is being broadcasted

  3. Musical signifieds:

Lyrics: we record whether the music contains lyrics or not

Type of music: the type of music used in the advertisement is being recorded. In this field thirteen sub-categories were identified:

a)Jingle: short, simple rhyme or song that is designed to attract attention and be easily remembered, especially one used in advertising on radio o television (The Oxford Dictionary, 1994), b)Famous song: popular songs of famous artists not written for children, c)March: music that resembles a military march, d)Electronic music: music created using electronic devices, e)Sound effects: sounds of motors, electrical equipment, cars, etc., f)Comic: funny, happy music, g)Indefinable music: sounds/melodies that don’ t have a certain theme, are usually related to girl’s toys and establish a fairy/fictitious atmosphere, h)Orchestral: music which resembles classical music, i)Childish: sweet, frolicsome music, j)Pop music, k)Rock music, l)Rap/hip-hop and m)No music.

  1. Colour (dominant): As dominant colour is defined the one which is being displayed more often in the advertisement and therefore gets impressed in our minds after the broadcast. Thirteen sub-categories were identified:

a)Colourful: no dominant colour, b)light blue, c)pink, d)red, e)blue, f)green, g)purple, h)orange, i)grey, j)white, k)yellow, l)black and m)brown.

The above sub-categories are further sorted in warm and cold colours, as well as “no colour”, according to Kandinsky’s (1981) classification.

  1. Animation: the presence or absence of animated figures, cartoons and extracts of animated films is being recorded

  2. Self-presentation: we record whether the product is self-presented or presented by others.

  3. Presenter: as presenters we define the subjects which take part in the advertisement as consumers and/or narrators. Eight sub-categories were identified:

a)Boy-s, b)Girl-s, c)Woman-women, d)Man-men, e)Baby-ies, f)Children’s limbs: refers to children’s hands shown handling the toys, g)Family and h)Animal-s.

  1. Narrator: as narrators we define the subjects which take part in the advertisement as consumers and narrators. Six sub-categories were identified:

a)Boy-s, b)Girl-s, c)Woman-women, d)Man-men, e)Doll and f)Cartoon.

  1. Action: the actions, occupations, activities of the subjects are being recorded.

  2. Voice-over: the “invisible” speaker’s sex is being recorded. Four sub-categories were identified:

a)Boy-s, b)Girl-s, c)Woman-women and d)Man-men

  1. Voice over (dialogue): we record whether the voice-over contains a dialogue or not (speakers talking one after the other, not to each other).

  2. Company: the name of the manufacture company is being recorded. Thirteen sub-categories were identified:

a)AS, b)Fisher Price, c)Giochi Preziosi, d)Hasbro, e)Mattel, f)Playmobil, g)Simba, h)Imago, i)Lego, j)Nicki, k)Parker, l)Play Doh and m)Playschool.

  1. Webpage: we record whether the written text contains a webpage address or not.

    Table 2: Technical and material documentation of toys

    This table consists of 10 fields:

      1. S/N: serial number of the advertisement

      2. Name of product: the name of the product is being recorded in Greek or English, exactly as it appears on the advertisement

      3. Receiver’s sex: we record the sex of the receiver to whom the toy/game is addressed. Three sub-categories were identified:

    a)Girls, b)Boys and c)Boys & girls

      1. Receiver’s age: we record the age of the receiver to whom the toy is addressed. Since in the advertisements there are no specific references to age, we classified the toys in three sub-categories according to the age of the presenters:

    a)Preschool: toys/games which address only to children younger than 6 years old, b)Elementary: toys/games which address only to children between 7 and 12 years old and c)Both (preschool and elementary): toys/games which can be played by both categories e.g. dolls

      1. Number of players: we record the number of players, according to the information provided by the advertisement. Three sub-categories were identified:

    a)One-player toy/game: toy/game that can be played by one player only, b)Team/Table game: toy/game with certain rules that needs at least two players and c)Mixed: toy/game that can be played by one or more persons

      1. Type of toy/game: we identified twenty sub-categories, which resulted from the semiotic description of the dominant signifiers and signifieds:

a)Educational/instructional game, b)Table game, c)Stuffed animals, d)Computer/electronic game, e)Karaoke, f)Constructions, g)Kitchenware, h)Action figure, i)Model doll, j)Baby doll, k)Beauty model: head and shoulders of a doll or animal which can be made up or combed, l)Vehicles, m)Lullaby: device that lullabies babies, n)Speedway, o)Beauty products/cosmetics, p)Clothing, q)House, r)Action field: game that constitutes the action field of a hero, e.g. Peter Pan’s Island, s)Amusement park: game that constitutes the amusement park of a doll, e.g. Polly’s Hotel and t)Other.

    1. Signifiers: in this field we describe all the objects/items of which the toy/game constitutes in pro-iconographic and iconographic terms.

    2. Material: we record the material of the toy/game. Five sub-categories were identified:

      a)Plastic, b)cloth/fabric, c)wood, d)paper and e)electronic devise

    3. Signifieds: we detect the meanings/concepts presented through the toys/games and form seven sub-categories/representations:

      a)Representations of gender: refers to toys/games which present the male or female role through certain characteristics of gender, b)Representations of art: refers to toys/games which have to do with music, dancing, singing, amusement, c)Representations of conflict: refers to toys/games which contain situations of conflict, battle, war and promote competition between players or teams, d)Representations of wealth: refers to toys/games which contain objects/items that define a certain social status, e.g. crown, e)Learning environments: refers to educational/instructional toys/games which support children’s cognitive development, f)Representations of team spirit: refers to toys/games which presuppose that the players follow certain rules and g)Adult environment: refers to toys/games which represent the roles and activities of the adults.

    4. Codes: we detect the codes, the communicative context within signifiers and signifieds relate and give meaning

      a) Gendered/class code: used in advertisements which present the product through social constructions, such as gender and class, b) Bodily/commodity code: used in advertisements which present the product through external/physical characteristics of heroes, such as the body and clothing, c)Aesthetic/artistic code: used in advertisements which present the product as a medium to achieve high performances in singing, dancing, painting, styling, d)Mythology/history code: used in advertisements which present a product that relates to a mythological or historical character or event, e.g. Robin Hood, e)Religious code: used in advertisements broadcasted during Easter, that presented toys which contained an Easter candle, f) Environmental code: used in advertisements in which animals are shown in a natural environment, g)Educational/technological: used in advertisements which present products that support cognitive development and exercise certain skills related to technology, h)Family code: used in advertisements in which the product is presented through family relationships, i)Professional/social: used in advertisements which represent the characteristics, as well as the social status of a profession, j)War/athletic code: used in advertisements which represent conditions of battle or competition and k)Intercultural code: used in advertisements, which show the coexistence of different cultures and races.


The purpose of this study is to analyse only the text and not the audience’s responses to it. However, it is judicious to mention that this limitation, which would be of great interest for teachers and parents, may affect wider implications drown from the data. The qualitative analysis method is used due to the fact that our basic aim is the qualitative study of the present, as well as the absent signifiers. We chose semiotic analysis, because it has already been used for the analysis of communicative texts: “a semiotic analysis analyses the various signs thoroughly, trying to define the structure and locate possible meanings” (Mc Quarrie, E.F. & Glen Mick D. 1992).

In our sample, we detect the speech of the children/presenters and the adults/speakers as a message carrier, which is divided in: the theme-information, “what the speech is about”, that is the toy, and the verbal information, “what comments on the theme”, the predicate, the action and the roles that are proposed as social and ideological stereotypes by the toy as a medium. In this field the speakers/subjects, for example the boys that are presented in the advertisements as acting subjects, “win, achieve, attack, trap” in games of action and attack. The present study focuses on “the effect of the speech” on the co-speakers/viewers. In the boys’ speech for example, one verbal unit is enough (νικήσαμε! = we won!) without a subject or theme, because the predicate is the one applied to the subject, the victory, the attack, the achievement with special emphasis on the personal pronoun (i/we) in a personal or/and collective level of domination. As far as the structure of the advertising argument is concerned, it is serial and hierarchical and consists of three basic elements: i) a number of propositions (definite, axiological), ii) an evidence (common knowledge, allegation, facts) and justifications (motives) (Tolson, A. 1996). The pragmatics of the speaking subject describes the way in which the subject itself comments on the elements of its utterance, while the pragmatics of the acting subject detects the verbal/linguistic, that does not depend on the co-speaker’s reaction, which in our case are the receivers/viewers. The utterances “We won”, “I did it”, “Attack”, “I beat you” do not describe anything and they do not refer to elements of the reality, but effectuate acts: the act of attack, of success, of victory, of capture, actions which contain exclamation marks as signifiers of punctuation, crave for the admiration of the community and enforce the social Ego.

The reading of texts leads us to their smaller elements, such as the syntax, the analysis of sentences, phrases and words. The use of passive voice instead of active, for example, can perplex the meaning, because the subject of the action becomes “invisible”, since it can be omitted. Similarly, by replacing a verb with a noun in a sentence, the active subject “vanishes” (O’ Halloran, K. 2003). Hence, we could argue that the different linguistic structures of the same language can lead subjects to perceive the world in different ways (Whorf, B. L. 1940). As far as vocabulary is concerned, the choice of words such as “invasion” on behalf of boys, for example, in order to describe the girls’ effort to join a football game, represents a certain point of view about football as a purely male activity and at the same time considers the girls as “others” (Politis, F. 2006). The social semiotic analysis follows the methodic Aristotelian form, by giving priority to the plot (Hodge, R. & Kress, G. 1988). In their study about children’s understanding of television R. Hodge & D. Tripp (1986) divide the syntagms in four genres, which can exist synchronously, in different times (diachronically), at the same place (syntopic) or in different places (diatopic):

  1. Synchronic/syntopic (one place, one time: one shot)

  2. Diachronic/syntopic: (same place sequence over time)

  3. Synchronic/diatopic: (different places at same time)

  4. Diachronic/diatopic: (shots related only by theme)

In our study we also try to detect the basic material of narration in the TV advertisements, the metaphor and the metonymy. For the semiotic analysis we use the connotation, the absence/presence, the codes and the gaze theory. The most obvious typology is based on who is doing the looking, of which the following are the most commonly cited: the spectator’s gaze, the intra-diegetic gaze, the direct [or extra-diegetic] address to the viewer (Chandler, D. 1998). In the present study we are interested in the issue of the gaze, because it is closely related to that of identification. The viewer may subjectively identify with the camera’s point of view, with that of a person that it depicts or with both (Burgin, V. 1982).

Application of the semiotic model to the advertisement of “Baby Amore”

Table 3: Technical and material documentation of advertisements

  1. S/N: 2

  2. Name of product: Baby Amore

  3. Time: Christmas 2004

  4. Duration: 16’’

  5. Space: Indoor (house)

  6. Oral signifieds: Girl: You want to feel my love. You blink your eyes, and when you are hungry, you cry. You suck your thumb, fall asleep and breathe like a real baby. Woman: Baby Amore. Giochi Preziosi (jingle)

  7. Written text: blinks its eyes, cries, sucks its thumbs, real breath, real baby, Baby

Amore, Giochi Preziosi trademark

  1. Musical signifieds: Lyrics: yes, Type of music: jingle

  2. Colour (dominant): light blue

  3. Animation: no

  4. Self-presentation: no

  5. Presenter: girl

  6. Narrator: ---

  7. Action: nursing

  8. Voice over: girl, woman

  9. Voice over (dialogue): no dialogue

  10. Company: Giochi Preziosi

  11. Webpage: ---

Table 4: Technical and material documentation of toys

  1. S/N: 2

  2. Name of product: Baby amore

  3. Receiver’s sex: girls

  4. Receiver’s age: Preschool

  5. Number of players: One-player toy/game

  6. Type of toy/game: baby doll

  7. G. Signifiers: baby doll, nursing bottle, and white bib

  8. Material: plastic, fabric

  9. Signifieds: representations of gender

  10. Codes: Gender/class code, family code

The advertisement about Baby Amore is addressed to girls and refers to a baby doll (C, F). In the first shot, the mosquito net of the cradle reveals to the spectators a white baby sleeping. The baby doll has the natural position of a baby that sleeps; the head turned on one side, closed eyes and bended arms, while the right thumb is in the baby’s mouth. The doll’s clothes and the cradle’s fabrics in a denotative level are white and light blue, while in a connotative level they seem clean and luxurious. The angle of the camera is from up above, placing the spectators in the position/role of the parent, the person who nurses the child. Connotatively it seems that an act of cuddling will follow. A white, soft light is scattered in the shot, a metaphor of innocence and childhood, while the baby doll is sleeping calm. This shot corresponds to the western model of upbringing: children must be brought up in a safe, clean and healthy environment.

1st shot

2nd shot

The second shot presents the person who nurses the baby: a blond, white girl with long hair and light blue clothes; we can see only the upper part of her body. In this scene, the girl bends forward and takes the baby in her arms, while the speaker says in a definitive manner: «You want to feel my love». It is a double verbal sentence in second singular person that refers to the doll, stressing verbs of desire and emotion “want-feel” which metonymically reveal a relationship in which the baby depends totally on the girl/mother. The nounlovewith a possessive pronoun signifies the offering of the female nursing.

3rd shot

4th shot

In the third shot the camera is placed behind the girls left shoulder and the viewer can see the babys face and chest. The baby blinks its eyes. At the same time the speaker says: “You blink your eyes…” and on the lower part of the screen appears the phrase “blinks its eyes”, creating a dialogue with the receivers by transforming the direct speech into indirect.

In the fourth shot the baby doll is placed on a chair in the centre of the screen, while the girl is behind it, trying to put a bib on it. We can see only the face and chest of both figures. The speaker continues: “…and when you are hungry you cryand on the screen appears the word “cries”, following the same grammatical form as previously. The verbal signifiers of the advertisement, both oral and written, place the narration in a double level, because the speaker addresses the doll/toy in second person singular, while the written text uses the third person and addresses to the audience in a synchronic and syntopic syntagm.

5th shot

6th shot

The fifth shot resembles the first, differing in the fact that it is not static, because we can see the baby putting its thumb in the mouth, as well as its lips moving. The narration describes the scene denotatively with the phrase: “You suck your thumb…” and almost immediately the shot ends.

The sixth shot contains a close-up of the dolls face, which has the right thumb in its mouth and slowly closes its eyes. The narration continues the phrase of the previous shot: “…you fall asleep…”, while on the lower part of the screen we can read “sucks its thumb”.

7th shot

8th shot

The narration continues in the seventh shot: “…and you breathe…”, while the camera focuses on the movement of the baby’s chest, that imitates the human respiration, and is finally completed –“…like a real baby”- in the eighth shot, where the baby doll lies supine with closed eyes and its thumb in the mouth. It is an image of the metaphorlike a real babytowards the receivers; the virtual sign/the reality that is connotated becomes the receivers’ dream.

In the ninth shot the girl places the baby doll back into bed, tucks it in and kisses it on the forehead in a metonymic gesture of affection. The tenth and last shot of the advertisement is a static shot, which presents the toy placed on a table, in the house where the previous action took place, while the voice of a woman speaker is heard, referring to the toys’ name “Baby Amore”. The shot presents the toy and all the objects that it contains, as well as the toy’s packaging, probably in order to make it easier for the viewer/receiver to recognise it the moment of the purchase. It is worth noting that almost all children’s advertisements end with a similar static shot, which resembles a print advertisement.

9th shot

10th shot


The Baby Amore advertisement presents to little girls the stereotype of the good mother. The signifier-baby, as presented here, is connected to signifieds such as motherhood, affection, tenderness, love and caring. The little girl, like a good mother, nourishes the baby tirelessly: she holds it, feeds it, kisses it goodnight, fully dedicated to her role. The presenter does not look towards the camera not even once; instead she is constantly busy nourishing the baby, smiling in content. In the gaze theory, the representation of the girl resembles the characteristics of the category “maternal” (Chandler, D. 1998). In the first shot we also detect the intra-diegetic gaze, where the viewer adopts the gaze of the presenter towards the baby. The arguments that support the visual material and the advertisements rhetoric are mostly detected in the representations of nourishing and the emphasis on the way the baby doll is presented.

The music, the colours and the lighting signify softness, which creates a sense of calmness and security. The space is the interior of a western house and the plot follows a linear form: the diachronic/syntopic syntagm. As far as the choice of music is regarded, it is noted that the sounds/melodies do not have a specific theme; they refer to a fictitious atmosphere and usually appear in girl’s toy advertisements. The light blue colour is connected to calmness and is often used in bedrooms. In the present advertisement, the dominant social gendered stereotype presented is the aesthetics of motherhood. This role is assigned to a little girl and any other person is absent, stating this way the close/strong relationship between a mother and a child, which is obviously absent in a father-child relationship. The male absence seems self-evident, since the upbringing and nursing of babies is traditionally related to females. In this advertisement, similarly with most advertisements for girls, we choose to swap a certain signifier, gender, and note that a different model of fatherhood is produced: a white western boy nourishes and talks to a baby doll. In this case, the advertisement refers both to girls and boys and the advertisement, as well as the toy, is no longer gendered but mixed.


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