A Baby or a Purse?

Between school and scholarship applications, this week has been hectic. But I did not want to fail my New Year’s resolution of a blog post per week, so here’s my ad analysis from last semester’s writing course. I never knew how many subtle messages one ad could contain, but our professor opened our eyes by showing us that even the smallest details have a purpose. Many of the details in this ad were pointed out by my professor, otherwise I probably would not have noticed half the hidden messages. Of course, people interpret ads differently, but this was my impression. 


A woman dressed in black, holding two purses, stands in front of a wall. An engraved message poses a question from Kenneth Cole: “Should it be a woman’s right to choose if she’s the one carrying it?” Cole’s advertisement demonstrates the tendency of marketers toward veiled messages that promote not only products but also social platforms.

“To live is to choose,” says Kofi Annan, a diplomat from Ghana. His words ring true around the world, and the American ad industry echoes a resounding confirmation. Using $173 billion dollars per year, U.S. companies promote their products at all costs, often employing less than ethical methods. Consumers face choices every day—approximately 3,000 of them.

The word “choice” is attractive. Whether choosing what college to attend or what cereal to eat for breakfast, choice implies power and individuality. From toddlers to teenagers to adults, most people crave more independence and less outside control in their lives. This leaves consumers increasingly vulnerable to ads that advocate personal choice.

Kenneth Cole took advantage of this concept when his clothing company released this handbag ad as part of his “Where Do You Stand” advertisement campaign. While it may seem harmless enough—after all, Cole is just asking a question—the underlying message is disturbing. On the surface, the main decision involves the two handbags the woman is choosing between. But in the twenty-first century, the buzz phrase “woman’s right to choose” is the well-known mantra of the pro-choice, pro-abortion movement. Few consumers would miss the double entendre.

Detaching emotion from the issue, the question itself is written in industrialized Arial font. All capital letters stress the importance of the question, one that women and governments alike must face. The picture is completely black and white, subtly signifying that the answer is obvious. For many women, a handbag is not just an accessory, but becomes a nearly inseparable extension of their own bodies. Of course women should choose their own purses, and according to the ad, a woman should also be able to choose whether or not to give birth to her own baby.

The background appears to be an alleyway, conjuring up images of back-alley abortions. Standing legs shoulder-width apart, hand on her hip, the woman’s body language expresses confidence. Black gloves shroud her arms like armor. Her short black dress and leggings are surprisingly unrevealing, showing that her body is not a slave to men’s desires, but she purposefully tilts her upper body at a provocative angle. She is the ideal combination of femininity, sexiness, and strength.

The handbags are black leather, adding to the overall impression of power. The woman holds the handbags so closely they appear continuous, looking like a bassinet or cradle—certainly spacious enough to hold a baby. Her arm positions the handbags below her abdomen, suggestive of the birth process. The wall behind the woman mirrors her shadow, which appears to be looking downward reflectively. She originally debated over her choice, but now she has decided. After all, she has complete power over her body; her decision is hers alone.

Despite all these symbols of power, several things suggest that the woman is somewhat in bondage. Her hair is tucked into a fur neck warmer, hinting that something attempts to stifle her femininity—perhaps the pro-life movement. Also, her hair partially covers her face, representing that some of her supposed “rights” as a 21st century female are ignored. These components subtly condemn anyone who would dare infringe on her rights, specifically her right to choose.

Kenneth Cole said, “Every season I take the opportunity to convey a much larger message than just hemlines and trends.” His 2011 ad compares babies to handbags—a priceless human being to a $300 inanimate handbag. Cole’s message? “To live is to choose,” and the choice of life itself is held in a woman’s hands.

Direct link to image: http://www.jillstanek.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/kenneth-cole-abortion-e1315509136461.jpg

Ad created by: http://www.awearness.com/#Page_IssuesArchiveCivilLibertiesPage

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