Evan Williams Bourbon
Hannah Kapell

This print advertisement from 2002, in clearly linking the commodity (Evan Williams bourbon) to a woman, demonstrates idealized masculinity and femininity through the assumptions the audience makes in interpreting it. The ad clearly suggests that if you buy the product, you get the girl. Perhaps it is even more explicit than that; the 'before aging' and 'after aging' captions create a metaphoric connection between woman and alcohol, so that the smoothness of the bourbon is the smoothness of the older woman's skin and the sensuality of her persona. The ad, that I found in an online compendium of alcohol advertisements,[1] is just one example of the tendency of advertising to 'objectify' women through metaphorically linking them to the commodity for sale. This one is particularly direct, however, as it highlights the difference between the two pictures (supposedly the same woman, seven years apart). It clearly stereotypes one as ugly and the other as beautiful. The audience, assumed in the heteronormative framework to be male and attracted to the sexy woman, is supposed to appreciate the years that have gone into 'aging' the woman for 'consumption,' as once she is older, the woman is more (sexually) appealing to men and, drinking, more interested in them. The statement may also be alluding that once the consumer drinks a quantity of the product, even girls who looks like the first girl will seem like the second as alcohol clouds the vision. The ad also conspicuously ignores a fundamental problem with linking the woman to alcohol and proposing that it just gets better with age; there is no third picture of a grandmother on the page!

The ways each picture is shot and presented highlights how the audience is supposed to react to it. In the original, the younger woman's picture is in black and white and it is pixillated to look older. The woman on the right's tan stands out as the first color to catch the observer's eye. Furthermore, the close-up shot of the younger woman makes her look overly large and awkward as she gazes at us with a gap-toothed, almost ashamed grin. Her clothing -- a turtleneck, state university sweater, and horn-rimmed glasses -- demonstrate a lack of fashion sense and general studiousness, a quality presented in this context as opposed to sexuality and sexual availability. The older woman, on the other hand, is further back from the camera and looking seductively out at the observer. She exudes sexuality, from the tiny shirt which exposes much of her breasts (pushed together to become the focal point) and stomach, to the hand resting lightly on her hip. The makeup and necklace she is wearing are indications of class and a care for her appearance, identified with an older, more mature woman. The obvious qualitative differences between the two women indicate the desired features in a woman, however the advertisement clearly is directed more towards male consumers.

A web page posting opinions of Evan Williams 7-year Bourbon[2] epitomizes the image of Evan WiIlliams consumers. Of the five reviews, only two people (men) liked this bourbon, and the others (two women and a man) characterized it as harsh, inexpensive, and only worth getting drunk with. One of the supporters wrote, "I enjoy nothing more than coming home from a long ride on my Harley, grabbing a bottle of Bourbon, a glass, good cigar and heading out to my deck late at night with my dog and listening to the coyotes howl."[3] The product is thus associated with qualities of masculinity characterized by motorcycles, cigars, and dogs -- masculine men who are stereotyped as being interested in women such as the one in the second picture. These linkages complete a picture of ideal masculinity as well as ideal femininity in the minds of the audience. Sut Jhally (1995) writes that the qualities of the good life that people are searching for in order to be happy have become connected with material goods. Thus, "the marketplace cannot directly offer the real thing, but it can offer visions of it connected with the purchase of products."[4] The image the above consumer connects with Evan Williams is not only his ideal of what the 'good life' consists of, but it is actively constructed by the advertising imagery and branding of the product. Furthermore, this identification inherently stems from a heteronormalized sexuality as masculine identity. The advertisement displays an idealized form of masculinity by showing an eroticized woman alongside an unattractive one, clearly saying to the viewer, 'you should be attracted to this one, not the other.'

Part of these masculinity and femininity ideals have to do with an individual's age, a quality often referenced in bourbon advertisements. Another web page devoted to marketing strategies of bourbon indicates the qualities of and identifications with the particular liqueur that come across in the advertising campaign. It reads, "bourbon brands have also mined the marketplace in a variety of other ways: by incorporating back-to-basics consumer research; by recognizing and targeting younger adult consumers; by updating packaging; by supplying drink recipes; by building strong consumer relationships; by varying their promotional programs; and by extolling the benefits of age."[5] Bourbon, a liquor traditionally made in Kentucky, is usually associated with a cowboy-type rugged, gritty masculinity, as described by the consumer above. Many other bourbon advertising campaigns cite this association, such as Jack Daniel's and Jim Beam ("there is no disagreement that arm wrestling can't solve"[6]), for example. In this ad, the small print along the left side of the page says "please act your age and drink responsibly," again citing age as a qualifying feature (although citing it in a very different context; focusing on responsibility rather than drinking alcohol and having sex). The younger girl may be too young to be consuming alcohol, thus she may not be interested in the 'average guy' the ad is directed towards. The reference "the longer you wait, the better it gets" is implicitly sexual but advocates patience for the bourbon, and the girl, to be old enough, or drunk enough, to be interested.

[1] http://www.med.sc.edu:1081/alcoholads.htm

[2] http://www.epinions.com/fddk-Spirits-By_Name-All-Evan_Williams_7_Year_Old_Sour_Mash_Straight_Bourbon/display_~reviews

[3] http://www.epinions.com/content_78177209988

[4] Jhally, Sut. (1995) "Image-Based Culture: Advertising and Popular Culture," in Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez, (eds.) Gender, Race and Class in the Postmodern Era. London: Sage. p.79.

[5] http://www.beveragenet.net/bd/2001/0110/0110sb.asp

[6] http://www.med.sc.edu:1081/alcoholads.htm