Media Literacy: How Dodge uses Language and Image to Boost Our Testosterone

The Company

The effects of advertising on culture are tremendous. Through advancements in technology, advertisers are now able to communicate to the public in lightening speed through an assortment of media. As a result, the viewers are bombarded with messages and exposed to greater numbers of products than ever before. Advertisers can shape people’s perceptions, encouraging them to change their behavior and their view of reality. One automobile company is hoping to do just that. By rapidly attacking a targeted demographic with language and image, Chrysler is working to convert shoppers to buyers.

Chrysler currently has three main brands: Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge. However, in an effort to reconstruct and reposition, the company has made it clear that it is splitting off its pickup truck business into a new brand, Ram. Chrysler hopes that the division will allow the company to focus solely on the pick-up truck, the vehicle that made up almost half of its year-to-date sales in 2009.


The promotion of the truck centers on “The Ram Challenge.” It is an obstacle-course driving competition with four pairs of competitors, competitors that mirror stereotypical Ram drivers. Contestants are made up of cowboys, military men, firefighters, and contractors. With a reality show-style competition and a rugged environment, the ad campaign is testosterone-laden. Every team races through an obstacle course filled with pyrotechnics and destruction. Chrysler hired Tony Scott, who directed action films like “Enemy of the State” and “Top Gun,” to direct the multi-part “webisode.” With props such as a sleek, black military-style chase helicopter and a pump-action shotgun, Scott uses small touches to create the sought-after dramatic atmosphere. The “Ram is all that is man” motif that has been in existence for some years now is perpetuated by this challenge.

In 2004, Chrysler created a commercial for television to promote the Dodge Durango. Since its airing, the commercial has been banned, but it serves as a great example of the advertising strategies now being used by the Ram brand. The three male personas in the 5-year-old clip speak volumes about the pickup truck’s target audience. The commercial opens with a man sitting in the bathroom stall reading the sports section of the newspaper. Soon, two other men walk into the restroom and discuss the new Durango while using side-by-side urinals. It is important to note that both of these men appear to be single, as they are not wearing wedding rings, although the owner of the Durango does have a girlfriend who is briefly mentioned in their conversation.


Assumptions & Innuendoes

The most prominent assumption being made about men in this commercial is that they are obsessed with sex and shallow. The language used by the two younger men is ambiguous and riddled with sexual innuendos. It depicts the situation in a humorous way but assumes that the male audience will identify with the sexual language used to describe the SUV like “big size”, “smooth ride” and “seven inches longer.” Dodge implies that the new Durango can be likened to sexual stimulation and the attributes that men consider important. It is supposed to link their product with a sensory experience; in this case, sex. The two men discuss back and forth: “I love the way it looks”, as the other man responds “and power, I take this bad boy out I get respect”. The image of power is something that is supposed to be valued by men. This goes along with the assumption about men being sex-driven. The image of power and strength is supposed to make men desirable and stand out amongst other men in the herd. It is a sort of animalistic depiction of the role that men play in society.

Sports analogies also take root in this commercial as strength, speed, height, and agility are described. The man in the stall is even reading the sports section of the newspaper as he eavesdrops on the other men’s conversation. Dodge is assuming that men cannot understand a concept unless it is described in sports terms. Another one of the underlying themes of this commercial can be said to be homophobia. The man in the stall is shocked as he hears the two men’s conversation out of context. He becomes increasingly uncomfortable as their dialogue progresses and eventually is bold enough to see for himself what is going on. It implies that men are paranoid of being considered homosexual, building on the notion that men are obsessed with appearance and would be uncomfortable around other males who are homosexual. Besides the allusion to sex in this opening scene, even the presentation of the truck can be seen as sexual. The makers of the commercial decided to use a red truck in the advertisement. The color red can be seen as the sexiest color known to man.


In more recent years, Chrysler’s Dodge brand has created some web-only spots in order to help evoke the bold, confident and assertive attitude of Ram. The Ram Rash videos feature various people inflicted with a rash in the shape of the Dodge Ram logo. These individuals inflicted with the rash become stronger and more assertive. Reminiscent of Dodge’s earlier Durango commercial, this marketing campaign also uses masculinity to promote the brand.

Dodge “Catch the signs” Game


By simply examining Chrysler’s advertising campaigns, one can see the need for education in media literacy. As a young person, it is crucial to become aware of how the media uses image and language to influence viewers. When students are asked to view commercials and critically analyze them for their hidden agenda, they become more aware of the techniques advertisers use to lure them into buying their products and services. One must learn to ask questions regarding the advertisements they are viewing, such as:

  • Who is the intended audience of this advertisement?
  • Why is it being told from this perspective?
  • How will this ad be interpreted by different people?

Through questions like these, students begin to realize that advertisements are carefully constructed for a specific purpose. Not only are advertisers wanting to make a profit, they are doing everything that it takes to make it happen. Teachers can use these and similar advertisements to introduce the concepts of pathos, ethos, and logos. Students can analyze and discuss the underlying meaning behind the marketing campaigns and compare and contrast various commercials. With compare/contrast, students may practice using venn diagrams leading up to a major research paper about the media. By studying banned commercials, dialogue can be created about censorship and what makes the videos inappropriate. Teachers can also point out the subtleties in the advertisements or have students identify them.


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