We live in a world inundated with messages that seek to promote products varied and eclectic in their feel and purpose. Capitalism has rooted itself in many societies; corporate enterprises enthusiastically advertise their products around the world. Over the years we have had countless advertisements bombard us through our TV sets, newspapers, billboards and now through our smartphones. While attention-grabbing, these advertisements are unfortunately often considered questionable. Rising competition among advertisers for consumer attention has led to the production of advertisements that are increasingly risqué and frequently downright offensive. There have been growing concerns about the increasingly low standards of advertisements. Be it excessive sexual content, discrimination on grounds of gender, or propagating regressive philosophies, advertisements seek attention for the wrong reasons. While some advertisements were once downright discriminative towards the female population, things seem to have gradually gotten better over the past few years. However, that is not to say that stereotyping and sexism have been wholly eradicated from advertising; these issues are still prevalent today. Though some consumers watch advertisements through a critical lense and critique unethical advertisements, many offensive and discriminative advertisements have still become widely known and popular among viewers. The present paper seeks to explore the idea of offensiveness in advertisements through an analysis of advertising content on the basis of gender discrimination and stereotypical portrayals of gender. Further, a focused group discussion adds audience perspective to the issue as well. Straddled by Uses and Gratification Theory, Social Responsibility Theory, and Self-Construal Theory, this study attempts to explore the concept of the offensiveness of controversial advertisements and to determine the reasons why an advertisement is deemed offensive. It is never too late to question “How ‘Offensive’ is offensive?”

Author Biography

Iwona DeSouza is currently pursuing her Masters in Media and Communication Studies at Christ deemed to be University, Bangalore, India. She is a published author of a historical travelogue titled "Journeying through History- Jordan, Palestine, Israel, and Egypt."  desouza.etain@mcn.christuniversity.in

Suparna Naresh is an Associate Professor at Christ Deemed to be University Bangalore, India in the Department of Media Studies. She is an author of 15 published research articles and has been awarded the Certificate of Achievement from Open Universities Australia. suparna.naresh@christuniversity.in