Journal of Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice, Vol 13, No 1-3 (2016)

Contraceptive advertising – A critical multimodal analysis

Theo van Leeuwen, Deborah J. Bateson, Bern Le Hunte, Alexandra Barratt, Kirsten I. Black, Marguerite Kelly, Kumiyo Inoue, Alison Rutherford, Mary Stewart, Juliet Richters
Issued Date: 31 Dec 2018


Co-authored by a discourse analyst, a branding expert and medical researchers and practitioners, this paper presents a multimodal discourse analysis of advertisements for contraceptive products in magazines and journals aimed at general practitioners, gynecologists and obstetricians. It combines genre analysis and multimodal image, layout, colour and typography analysis to show how such advertisements link specific types of women to specific products and product attributes and benefits, and how product branding invokes values such as health, sexual freedom, sexuality, femininity, strength and reliability, which combine in different ways to create distinct identities for specific products. The findings show that the way the advertisements link products and users does not align with medical evidence, and that in general they do not represent the full range of factors that play a role in choosing contraceptive methods and products - indeed, they are far removed from the realities of the consultation room.

Download Media

PDF (Price: £17.50 )

DOI: 10.1558/japl.31862


Arowojolu, A. O., Galo, M. F., Lopez, L. M., Grimes, D. A. and Garner, S.E. (2009) Combined oral contraceptive pills for treatment of acne. Cochrane Database for Systematic Reviews 8 (3): CD004425 pub4

Barthes, R. (1973) Mythologies. London: Paladin

Barthes, R. (1977) Image-Music-Text. London: Fontana.

Berger, A. A. (2010) The Objects of Affection: Semiotics and Consumer Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Berger, J. (1972) Ways of Seeing. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin

Boeriis, M. and Holsanova, J. (2012) Tracking visual segmentation: Connecting semiotic and cognitive perspectives. Visual Communication 11 (32): 259–281.

Briggs, P., Kovacs, G. and Guillebaud, J. (eds) (2013) Contraception: A Casebook from Menarche to Menopause. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (2010) Contraception Choices for Young People: Clinical Effectiveness. London: Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Available online:

Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (2015) Intrauterine Contraception Clinical Unit. London: Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Available online:

Fairclough, N. (1993) Critical discourse analysis and the marketization of public discourse: The universities. Discourse & Society 4 (2): 133–168.

Fu, H., Darroch, J. E., Haas, T. and Ranjit, N. (1999) Contraceptive failure rates: New estimates from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth. Family Planning Perspectives 31 (2): 56–63.

Kress, G. and Van Leeuwen, T. (2006) Reading Images – The Grammar of Visual Design (2nd edition). London: Routledge.

Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M. (1980) Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Machin, D. (2004) Building the world’s visual language: The increasing global impor­tance of image banks. Visual Communication 3 (3): 316–336.

Martin, J. R. (1992) English Text: System and Structure. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Sarangi, S. (2005) The conditions and consequences of professional discourse studies. Journal of Applied Linguistics 2 (3): 371–394.

Van Leeuwen, T. (2001) Semiotics and iconography. In T. van Leeuwen and C. Jewitt (eds) Handbook of Visual Analysis, 92–119. London: Sage.

Van Leeuwen, T. (2005a) Introducing Social Semiotics. London: Routledge

Van Leeuwen, T. (2005b) Towards a semiotics of typography. Information Design Journal 14 (2): 139–150.

Van Leeuwen, T. (2011) The Language of Colour. London: Routledge.

Williamson, J. (1994) Decoding Advertisements – Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. London: Marion Boyars.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Equinox Publishing Ltd - 415 The Workstation 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)114 221-0285 - Email:

Privacy Policy