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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Informing Contexts – Decoding the Advertisement


Figure 1: BMW, “The Ultimate Attraction”

Decoding the advertisement

Whilst considering the topic of gaze during this module, I have been studying advertisements to understand what is commonly used to sell products. I came across this advertisement for BMW. I am quite surprised that they actually considered this a suitable representation of their brand. It makes me question the values of BMW. The advertisement is from 2002 and did receive widespread condemnation for gender stereotyping and their blatant objectification of the female body.

This advertisement shows a man and woman having sex. The woman’s face is covered with a magazine open at a page showing an advertisement for a BMW car. The text “the ultimate attraction” implies that the man is more attracted to the car than he is to the woman and that the attraction the viewer feels towards this car will be so intense they simply need to buy one. The man is portrayed in the dominant role in the image, he is positioned above the woman. The view is very stereotypical in that it portrays men linking sexual prowess with model of car, and with women as an ornament.

The advertisement is aimed at promoting the brand rather than the car. There are no details about the car’s performance, safety or efficiency. The message is, drive this car and get noticed. The brand is portrayed as sexy and powerful. Covering the woman’s face is powerful, she doesn’t matter but the car does. This is intended to make you feel that you would be in control in this car.

The advertisement is shot in such a way that you feel that you are watching an intimate moment between the attractive man and what we assume will be an attractive woman. Both of the models have slim, toned bodies which sends out a message to both genders about what is seen as normal and ‘beautiful’. The choice of these models is very important as it symbolises to the viewer that this is how people looking at you in the car will perceive you. There is also the message to men that if you have this car the driving experience will be better than being with a woman with a body like this. As in so many car advertisements, the woman is merely there as ornamentation to sell the car. Her presence in the image is purely to attract men to the brand. She is completely objectified here.

The red BMW in the magazine covering the woman’s face is also symbolic. Red is the colour of passion, dominance and is usually associated with men. This image is totally aimed at men. Women would feel that the image is very sexist. As a woman, I feel this image is meant to make me feel inferior to men and to cars! The woman in this advertisement is degraded to being seen purely as an object. She has no real identity, but is meant to signify all women. I do worry that this advertisement has the effect of reducing the position of the woman to one where she has no say, no emotions and no position in the ‘reality’ of the image. Being portrayed as an object in the image could cause deviants in society to take the same view of women.

How would I change this advertisement?

If I was shooting this image, I would change the following:-


The theme of the original advertisement exploits the idea that “Sex Sells”. I am not sure that this is still so true today. I would change the theme to one where there is a relationship portrayed between the subjects. There may be sexual tension portrayed between the models, but neither one of them would be more dominant than the other.

I would also consider making the advertisement more about the vehicle as well as the brand. Text on certain aspects of the vehicle’s safety rating or efficiency could be included to address this.

The title could remain the same and lead the viewer to deem that the relationship between two people was on a par with the experience of owning a BMW. The implication could be that people would view you as happy and fulfilled if you drive the car.

Target Audience

In order to attract a larger demographic, I would choose models who have an average weight. I would also consider the use of models who were of different ethnic backgrounds and skin colour. The BMW advertisement is very limited in its choice of white models. These changes would allow more people to relate to the image.

There is also a case to consider the portrayal of a same sex couple in a variant of the advertisement. This would really open up the market for the car.

Model clothing

To remove what appears as quite explicitly sexual, I would have both models fully clothed. This would ensure that neither one was objectified in the way the BMW advertisement has the woman.


I would change a few things here. Firstly, I would not have the man in such a dominant pose over the woman. There are other positions where they could both be seen as equals in the relationship. The positioning of models on the bed could also be altered. The bedroom in the advertisement above is sterile. It does not look romantic, so I would introduce elements of romance if I were to use the same type of location. They could also be in an outdoor location, on a beach etc. This would open up the message portrayed by BMW.

Secondly, I would not have the woman’s face covered. She should be visible and have a voice in the advertisement. I would have the magazine in the image, but as a prop to the models.

Gender roles

If the couple are portrayed as equal and are both engaging with each other, it will be easy to remove the dominance of either of them. In the BMW advertisement the man is portrayed as both shallow (the car is better than sex with the attractive woman) and dominant over the woman. The woman is objectified and only there to sell cars. I would position the models to give them equal status and to make the attraction between them mutual on all levels. This would help appeal to all sexes when comparing the attraction of the models to the attraction the viewer would have towards the brand.

What have I learnt from this exercise?

  1. To always make sure that I have taken care of all the details in any image I produce.

  2. To analyse some of my existing images to see what ‘hidden’ messages I might be giving out.

  3. Although this advertisement is from 2002, there are still issues of objectification and stereotyping in advertisements today. I am aiming to do my bit to reduce that.


Figure 1: BMW. 2002. The Ultimate Attraction. FROM. The Gr8s – Class Activities. 2017. Uncategorized | The Gr8s – Class Activities. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 01 April 2017].

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