What are advertisers really trying to sell us?


Advertising is an over $200 billion a year industry. We are each exposed to over 3000 ads a day. Yet, remarkably, most of us believe we are not influenced by advertising. Ads sell a great deal more than products. They sell values, images, and concepts of success and worth, love and sexuality, popularity and normalcy. They tell us who we are and who we should be. Sometimes they sell addictions.

In her slide presentations, Jean Kilbourne examines images in advertising with the incisive wit and irony that have delighted and enlightened her audiences for years. With expert knowledge, insight, humor and commitment, she brings her audiences to see that, although ads may seem harmless and silly, they add up to a powerful form of cultural conditioning. She is known for her ability to present provocative topics in a way that unites rather than divides, that encourages dialogue, and that moves and empowers people to take action in their own and in society’s interest.

She explores the relationship of media images to actual problems in the society, such as violence, the sexual abuse of children, rape and sexual harassment, pornography and censorship, teenage pregnancy, addiction, and eating disorders. She also educates her audiences about the primary purpose of the mass media, which is to deliver audiences to advertisers. The emphasis is on health and freedom — freedom from rigid sex roles, freedom from addiction, freedom from denial, and freedom from manipulation and censorship.

The presentations can be adapted for a wide variety of audiences from high school students to college students to community groups to professionals in a wide range of fields, including addiction, health, women’s issues, domestic violence, media literacy, eating disorders, criminal justice, and many others. In addition to these presentations, Dr. Kilbourne sometimes does workshops and seminars of varying lengths on all of these topics.

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Presentations Include:

So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood

Jean Kilbourne - Lectures

While some people are fighting to keep sex education out of our schools or to limit it to abstinence only, children are getting a very powerful and very damaging kind of sex education from the popular culture. Even very young children are routinely exposed to portrayals of sexual behavior devoid of emotions, attachment, or consequences. Media messages about sex and sexuality often exploit women’s bodies and glamorize sexual violence. Girls are encouraged to objectify themselves and to obsess about their sex appeal and appearance at absurdly young ages, while boys get the message that they should seek sex but avoid intimacy. These messages shape their gender identity, sexual attitudes and behavior, values, and their capacity for love, connection, and healthy relationships well into adulthood.Using many illustrations and examples of these sexual images and messages, this presentation examines the harmful consequences of the sexualization of children and teenagers and suggest some strategies for change. The presentation can be tailored for those interested primarily in adolescents, for students, for parents, for teachers, and for many other groups.This presentation is based on Jean’s book So Sexy So Soon (co-authored with Diane Levin).

The Naked Truth: Advertising’s Image of Women

Jean Kilbourne - Lectures

Jean Kilbourne’s pioneering work helped develop and popularize the study of gender representations in advertising. This presentation reviews if and how the image of women has changed over the past 20 years. So many problems today, such as acquaintance rape and other forms of violence, eating disorders, and increased rates of drinking and smoking for women, are considered “women’s issues.” Unfortunately, sometimes the people who most need to learn more are reluctant to attend lectures on these topics. Jean manages to discuss these issues in a way that includes and reaches men as well as women and that powerfully illustrates how these images affect all of us. Entertaining, fast-paced, sometimes hilarious, the presentation is also profound and deeply serious. It encourages dialogue and discussion and a new way of looking at oneself as well as one another.There is also a version of The Naked Truth that is targeted to boys and men, as well as one that deals more directly and more fully with violence and sexual assault.

Deadly Persuasion: Advertising & Addiction

Jean Kilbourne - Lectures

Addiction is arguably the number one public health problem in our country, one that affects all of us. This presentation exposes the manipulative marketing strategies and tactics used by the alcohol and tobacco industries to keep people hooked on their dangerous products. Jean Kilbourne presents a compelling argument that these cynical industries have a clear and deep understanding of the psychology of addiction – an understanding they exploit to create and feed a life-threatening dependency on their products. She also educates the audience about targeting and the primary purpose of the mass media, which is to deliver audiences to advertisers. In addition, she demonstrates how the objectification of women and the obsession with thinness are related to addiction. The presentation contains sections from most of Jean’s other presentations and can be adapted for many different audiences, from health professionals to high school students.It can be difficult to talk about alcohol and tobacco to young people without sounding moralistic and preachy. This lecture works with students because it is fast-paced and funny – and because it takes an entirely new angle on the problem. Instead of saying that students are “bad” to drink and smoke, Jean shows them how they are being manipulated by very powerful industries – and what a terrible price they are paying. Most students haven’t heard this before, and it always makes them think, often makes them angry, and sometimes moves them to action.

Deadly Persuasion: Advertising & the Corruption of Relationships

Jean Kilbourne - Lectures

This version of “Deadly Persuasion” examines alcohol and tobacco advertising, but also focuses on ads that encourage us to be mindless consumers and to feel passion for products rather than for people. Jean explores how and why advertisers encourage us to feel in a relationship with our products, especially with addictive products.

Marketing Misery: Selling Addictions to Women

Jean Kilbourne - Lectures

This presentation illustrates how advertisers and the media target women and sell addictive products to them, such as alcohol, cigarettes, diet products and prescription drugs. The presentation also examines how sex role stereotypes undermine female self-esteem and encourage sexual abuse, addiction, and violence against women.

Pack of Lies: The Advertising of Tobacco

Jean Kilbourne - Lectures

Cigarettes kill more people every year than alcohol, cocaine, heroin, car accidents, homicide, suicide and AIDS combined. In the U.S. alone, the tobacco industry needs to get 3000 children to start smoking every day simply to replace those smokers who die or quit. This presentation exposes how pernicious and how deadly cigarette marketing is. It also shows how the media cooperate with this industry that sells a product that will kill one out of every ten people alive today in the world. The presentation also examines how the tobacco industry targets different ethnic and socioeconomic groups and how it exploits our national obsession with thinness for women.

You’ve Come the Wrong Way, Baby: Women & Smoking

Jean Kilbourne - Lectures

This version of “Pack of Lies” explores how women are targeted by the tobacco industry. It juxtaposes the ads with the facts about smoking. It also discusses the link between smoking and the obsession with thinness and the relationship for women between smoking and stress, depression, and anger.

Slim Hopes: Advertising & the Obsession with Thinness

Jean Kilbourne - Lectures

This presentation explores the origins and terrible consequences of our national obsession with excessive thinness for women. Most women suffer from this obsession, not just those who develop eating disorders. The presentation examines ads for rich foods and junk food, ads for cigarettes, and ads for diet products. It also illustrates how the ideal body image has changed in the past thirty or forty years, and explores the fact that thinness has become a moral issue (the menage a trois that women are made to feel ashamed of these days is with Ben and Jerry). It offers a new way to think about life-threatening eating disorders and provides a well-documented critical perspective on the social impact of advertising.

Falling in Love with Food: Connection & Disconnection in Food Advertising

Jean Kilbourne - Lectures

This version of “Slim Hopes” additionally explores how women are often encouraged to use food as a way to deal with the pain of disconnection and as a way to connect, to find love and even passion.

Eating Our Hearts Out: Advertising & Obesity

Jean Kilbourne - Lectures

Obesity is epidemic in the United States. Two-thirds of adult Americans are overweight and childhood obesity is sky-rocketing. This presentation examines the root causes of obesity and exposes the industries that profit from it. The focus is on the advertising of junk food, soft drinks, and diet products, and the way that advertisers encourage us to use food as a way to connect and to escape from the pain of disconnection.

Under the Influence: The Advertising of Alcohol

Jean Kilbourne - Lectures

From corporate boardrooms to college campuses, there is increasing concern about alcohol-related problems. One out of three Americans says that alcohol has been the cause of trouble in his or her family. Meanwhile the alcohol industry spends over three billion dollars a year on advertising and promotion, often targeting alcoholics and young people.In this dynamic slide presentation, Jean Kilbourne shows how advertising falsely links alcohol with precisely those attributes and qualities – happiness, wealth, prestige, sophistication, success, maturity, athletic ability, virility, creativity, sexual satisfaction, and others – that the misuse of alcohol diminishes and destroys. She educates her audiences not only about alcohol advertising but also about media censorship on behalf of the alcohol industry and the special issues of alcoholics, young people, women, minorities, and the children of alcoholics.The presentation can be adapted for many different audiences from treatment and prevention specialists to community groups to students. Drinking is the number one problem on virtually every college campus in the country, but it is often so difficult to find a program that won’t turn students off. This lecture works with students because it is fast-paced and funny — and because it takes an entirely new angle on the problem. Instead of saying that students are “bad” to drink, Jean shows them how they are being manipulated by a very powerful industry — and what a terrible price they are paying. Most students haven’t heard this before, and it always makes them think, often makes them angry, and sometimes moves them to action.