Billboard Advertising and Sexualisation in Metro Manila

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Several billboard ads in Metro Manila have stirred controversy in the past decade for using images suggesting sexual acts or revealing private body parts. Politicians and church leaders have criticised them as being ‘indecent’ or ‘pornographic’. But in spite of this advertising strategy being abandoned, a fresh wave of billboards in Metro Manila has continued to use sexualised images, arguably in innovative ways. A content analysis of some of these billboards suggests that two representational techniques are emergent: purposive and referential. Public criticisms have then been strategically circumvented.

The discourses that have surrounded billboard sexualisation in Metro Manila unravel the moral conservatism of religious institutions and the state. The purposive and referential techniques on billboards are an attempt to navigate such conservatism. Two possibilities are discernible. As the attention is on viewers’ imagination, the referential technique affords space for the cultural critique of these norms. In contrast, the purposive technique is limited as it focuses on the product’s benefit to the customer. This has led to the reinforcement of sexual stereotypes concerning masculinity and femininity, for example. The article ends by reflecting on the state of sexualisation in Metro Manila.