The objective of this study was to examine the portrayal of women in local and multinational brands’ advertisements in Ghana while drawing a comparison between the two.

The study is underpinned by the frame analysis theory and uses qualitative content analysis to determine the portrayal of women in advertisements shown on Ghanaian television between 2011-2016. Literature suggests that advertisers enlist social frames in ads so that their audience can relate to the message of the ad and identify with its content. Using five coding indices from Goffman 1979, this study finds that there is minimum record of feminine touch, infantilisation, licensed withdrawal, ritualization of subordination and codes of masculinity. These five categories according to Goffman (1979) help uncover the disparities in gender portrayals in advertisements.

The study also uncovered some themes which revealed that local brands’ advertisements more than multinational ones tend to portray women in domestic roles in the food and healthcare sector. Whereas, with fewer appearances in the financial sector, women in local brands’ ads are presented as consumers rather than players, but multinational ads in that sector draw a better picture of women as players in the sector.



This chapter gives precursory information on the study undertaken and explains the framework of the research.


Advertising is said to reflect societies’ realities meaning (Slachmuijlder, 2000). Whatever we see in advertisements is the social reality of the context in which the advertisement is being shown (Slachmuijlder, 2000). This means, it is easier for audiences to identify with the content of the ad and therefore patronize or consider patronising the product or service. Thus, advertisements can be said to be a medium for socialization.

Advertisements come through different media: radio, television, newspaper, new media. For the purposes of this dissertation, we look at television advertisements because of the advantages it gives by the use of video, audio and text in portraying situations, thus giving a better measure to evaluate how reality is portrayed (Soley & Reid, 1983; Moschis & Moore, 1982; Butler, 1991; Gerber et al., 2014).

Research suggests that over time exposure to television content has the ability to affect and influence people’s perceptions of reality. The more one is exposed to television content, which includes advertisements, the more the representations in these ads appear real to the viewer and thereby influence what the person does or how they act in the real world (Gebner et al., 1976).

Advertisements serve as content for television. Flowing from the logic of the preceding argument, this means that when a viewer is exposed to advertisements on television, a

possibility exists for what is presented in the ads to influence how that viewer perceives reality. Because advertisements are a major source of funding for the media, ads will always be around and the influence of ads on the perceptions of social reality of its audiences cannot be undermined (Gill, 2003).

Lazier-Smith (1989) compares the influence of advertising to that of education and organized religion. Given that education and organized religion socialize individuals, this means advertising plays a major role in shaping people’s views on reality.

Advertisements make use of male and female actors to send across the message of a brand or service. The growing rhetoric on how women are portrayed in various forms of media therefore gives room for the content of television advertisements to be scrutinized to determine what the portrayal of women is in that media form.

The basic claim made by research in this area is that over time exposure to advertisements can influence views and philosophies on gender roles in societies (Hovland et al., 2005).

In the Ghanaian context, findings of research on gender in television advertisements show that men are portrayed in superior and expert roles as compared to women (Addy, 2006; Tsegah, 2009). This is in spite of broadcasting guidelines requiring broadcasters and advertisers to avoid publishing content that promotes stereotypes or in any way denigrates any individual or group (National Media Commission, 2010).

Literature also suggests that there is a relationship between role assignment and product category where particular products are assigned to specific people because of their gender (Tsegah, 2009; Chyong-Ling & Jin-Tsann, 2009). For instance, women are found to feature predominantly in ads promoting skin-care products and domestic products, whereas men are used in formal occupational settings, for products that communicate power and assertiveness (Gill, 2003; Fedorenko, 2015).

In looking at advertising and gender issues in a country, it is worth noting that there may exist both advertisers of local brands and advertisers of multinational brands. In 2010, Ghana obtained the status of a middle income country. What this has meant is that the country has become more attractive to foreign investors, who have brought their brands onto the Ghanaian market (Nketiah-Amponsah, 2014; MacDonald, 2011). To compete with local brands of the same categories, these multinational brands have to advertise their products. In so doing, research has shown that multinational brands do either of two things: First, multinational brands who want to gain leverage in a country tend to adopt the way advertisers of local brands represent issues and people in their ads (Keegan, 1970; Al-Olayan & Karande, 2000). The assumption here is that the frames used by advertisers of local brands in their ads are copied by advertisers of multinational brands so as to fit into the trend. By extension it can be said that if the frames used by advertisers of local brands in their ads portray women  in a particular manner, the same will be reflected in ads of multinational brands. The second option takes into account feminism. Research suggests that when multinational brands from countries with a long history of feminism come into a local context, they tend to be more sensitive to the portrayal of women in their ads (Chia-When & Baldwin, 2004). This means that notwithstanding how local brands’ ads portray women, ads of multinational brands, based on the country of origin’s history of feminism, will be more sensitive and portray women more favourably.


Gender relations in Ghana look at the social relationship between men and women in Ghana, that is, their social status and the roles that define them (Akotia, 1999). The Ghanaian society has typically been characterized as patriarchal (Agadjanian & Ezeh, 2000; Baden, Green, Otoo-Oyortey & Peasgood, 1994). This means that men enjoy more privileges in most

influential sectors like education, the economy, the media and even the home. Women in Ghana have for many years been placed in the shadow of men. This is to say the more assertive leadership roles in society are consciously or unconsciously reserved for men.

These disparities in gender relations in Ghana have however, seen some changes over the years. The glass ceiling that relegated women to the background and placed them in the shadow of men has been broken with more women venturing into male-dominated spaces (Baden et al., 1994; Yeboah & Thompson, 2013). This is mostly the case in the southern part of the country.

Yet, in the northern part of the country, patriarchal relations are still quite profound. This is particularly characterized by the strong patriarchal family structures coupled with women’s lack of influence in decision making (Baden et al., 1994).

Literature suggests that the differences that exist between the gender relations in the south and north of Ghana are informed principally by the kinship systems in these areas (Agadjanian & Ezeh, 2000; Baden et al., 1994; Akotia, 1999). Ethnic groups in the north are predominantly patrilineal in inheritance whereas the south has matrilineal and in some cases (Ga) anomalous lines of inheritance. These kinship structures are said to have different implications for access to resources and decision making power by gender (Agadjanian & Ezeh, 2000; Baden et al., 1994; Akotia, 1999).

Gender relations in Ghana have improved a great deal because of education and globalization. Yet, the unequal distribution of resources (education in particular) in addition to the fact that Ghana remains a traditional country, could be said to influence gender relations in the country.

This is reflected in the gender relations and portrayals across various aspects of the social, political and economic spectrum of the country. This includes the media as an economic industry.


Advertising uses simple messages to send across information to viewers in order to get them to patronize a product or service. In so doing, some gender stereotypes are employed and these have been argued as having the potential to affect perceptions on the role of men and women in society (Hovland et al., 2005; Tsegah, 2009). The representations of women in ads have been described as predominantly unrealistic, unbalanced and limited in not taking into consideration the diverse roles women play in society (Addy, 2006; Lindner, 2004; Gill, 2007). Modernity and globalization have contributed to changes in many conservative and closed societies where hitherto, women were suppressed and not allowed to play certain  roles, work in certain places, dress in a certain manner et cetera. The change in the societal norm which was precipitated by industrialization, advocacy, education and globalization has meant that women can venture into spaces previously considered male-dominated (Gill, 2007).

Also, globalization has meant diversity of economies and trans border business transactions. Many multinational companies expand their business to countries whose economies they consider can accommodate and sustain their financial mobility (Keegan, 1970).

The presence of these multinational corporations means competition for local businesses. Both local and multinational companies tend to advertise their brands to their potential patrons in order to boost sales. Since advertising, most of the time, uses human actors to send across the brands’ messages it is prudent to look into how this all-so-subtle but effective means of socialization is representing women (Addy, 2006; Tsegah, 2009).

Whereas research has looked at the portrayal of women in ads in Ghana, finding literature on a comparative analysis of ads of local brands and those of multinational brands which seeks to uncover parallels in how they each portray gender roles of women in particular proved difficult. Furthermore, product category has been posited to have implications for gender role portrayals in ads such that women appear principally in ads that promote domestic and beauty products (Gill, 2007; Chyong-Ling & Jin-Tsann, 2009). Yet, no such evidence seems to have been explored in Ghana. With these in mind, this study examines women’s portrayal in local and multinational brands’ ads in Ghana to gauge the extent of similarity and difference, and to explore the implications of product type for such portrayals.

It is therefore based on the need for a comparative analysis of women’s portrayal in local and multinational brands’ ads in Ghana and the need to explore if product category determines gender role portrayals in these ads that the current study was undertaken.


To address the problem identified, the objectives of this study are:

  • To find out how women are portrayed in local and multinational brands’ ads in Ghana and to determine if there are differences in the portrayal of women in these ads.
  • To examine if product category determines the nature of portrayal of women in these advertisements


To address the objectives of the study the following research questions were posed;

  • RQ1: How do local brands’ ads and multinational brands’ ads portray women?

The argument is made by Gilly (1988) that the portrayal of men and women in advertisements are used to accentuate the differences between sexes. This, Gilly argues is based on societal orientation despite the fact that humans innately have the ability to tell apart gender differences of masculinity and femininity. This argument presupposes that beyond the natural differentiation of sexes, roles assigned to male or female are a societal phenomenon and since advertisements are said to replicate this social phenomenon, this question seeks to find out what roles women and men are assigned in local and multinational brands’ ads in Ghana.

  • RQ2: In what ways does the product category shape how women are portrayed in local and multinational ads?

Investigations into the subject of gender and advertising are more or less incomplete without the consideration of product category and role-assignment. Literature suggests that there is a relationship between role assignment and product category where particular products are assigned to specific people because of their gender (Tsegah, 2009; Chyong-Ling & Jin- Tsann, 2009). Women are found to feature predominantly in ads promoting skin-care products and domestic products, whereas men are used in formal occupational settings, in ads to sell products that communicate power and assertiveness (Gill, 2003; Fedorenko, 2015). This question seeks to find out if the role definition for women in local and multinational brands’ ads in Ghana is determined by the product type.


Although a substantial amount of research has been conducted on the portrayal of women in ads, there is hardly enough available literature where the Ghanaian advertising industry is concerned. Scholarship presents a limited scope of research on the subject (Addy, 2006; Tsegah, 2009) and industry research is even more limited in that regard, to the extent that, the most accessible document from industry on the subject is the 2005 Ghana All Media and Products Survey (GAMPS). Whereas there is some data available from media watchers like the Ghana Media Monitoring Project on the portrayal of women, the information gathered from such projects generally reflect what is seen in the news. Advertisements are hardly considered.

Beyond looking at the portrayal of women in advertisements in Ghana, there is the need for a comparative consideration of how women are portrayed in local and multinational brands’ ads in Ghana. This will give researchers and players in the advertising industry in Ghana an idea of how gender is portrayed in that industry and present an opportunity for further investigations on the subject matter. Also, the fact that discourse on advertising and gender issues is gaining momentum on the global front (Gill, 2007), presents a need for the Ghanaian reality to be investigated.

The gap as discussed above must be filled to understand better what the situation is in the Ghanaian context. This study therefore presents as significance the following:

It provides empirical evidence on the portrayal of women in local and multinational brands’ ads in Ghana.

It serves as a source of information for advertisers and or agencies on their choices in their representations in ads.