Contraceptive advertising – A critical multimodal analysis


  • Theo van Leeuwen University of Technology, Sydney
  • Deborah J. Bateson University of Sydney
  • Bern Le Hunte University of Technology, Sydney
  • Alexandra Barratt University of Sydney
  • Kirsten I. Black University of Sydney
  • Marguerite Kelly University of Western Sydney
  • Kumiyo Inoue University of New South Wales
  • Alison Rutherford University of New South Wales
  • Mary Stewart
  • Juliet Richters University of New South Wales



contraception, critical multimodal analysis, genre, joint problematisation, medical magazine advertising, pharmaceutical branding


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.

Author Biographies

Deborah J. Bateson, University of Sydney

Deborah J. Bateson is Medical Director of Family Planning NSW, Clinical Associate Professor in Obstetrics, Gynaecology and Neonatology at the University of Sydney and Adjunct Associate Professor at the Australian Research Centre for Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University, Melbourne. Her research interests include the areas of contraception, abortion and cervical screening. She has published widely and is a frequent media commentator in these areas.

Bern Le Hunte, University of Technology, Sydney

Bem Le Hunte has worked in the creative industries as a creative consultant, brand strategist and writer. She is an Associate Professor at the University of Technology, Sydney, and Course Director of the Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation. She is also a novelist and has been published globally to critical acclaim. She has a BA and MA in Social Anthropology and a Doctorate in Creative Writing as well as professional qualifications in journalism and advertising. She has research interests in theory and practice of creativity, as well as an interest in innovation, storytelling and the social, cultural and political impact of media consumption.

Alexandra Barratt, University of Sydney

Alexandra Barratt (MBBS, MPH, PhD, FAFPHM) is an epidemiologist and Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney. She has participated in a wide range of health services and public health research over the past 20 years, including studies on the benefits and risks of early detection programmes for breast and prostate cancer, interventions to support shared decision making in healthcare, and contraception provision.

Kirsten I. Black, University of Sydney

Kirsten I. Black is Associate Professor and Joint Head of Discipline in Obstetrics, Gynaecology and Neonatology at the University of Sydney. She is a fellow of the Royal Australian and New Zealand Colleges of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and has a PhD from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Her clinical and research interests are in the field of sexual and reproductive health.

Marguerite Kelly, University of Western Sydney

Marguerite Kelly (BPsych.Sc, Hons) is a Project Officer at the Office of Widening Participation, University of Western Sydney. She was a Research Officer with the Contraceptive Understandings and Experiences Project team at the School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of New South Wales. She has worked on a range of qualitative and quantitative social, psychological and sexual health projects. Her research interests include the social construction and policing of gender, sexual practice and relationships.

Kumiyo Inoue, University of New South Wales

Kumiyo Inoue is an adjunct Senior Researcher in the School of Health Sciences at the University of Tasmania and a PhD candidate in the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales. She gained her first PhD in women's health issues from the Sydney Nursing School at the University of Sydney. Her research interests include sexual health, linguistic and crosscultural understandings and education.

Alison Rutherford, University of New South Wales

Alison Rutherford (BMA, MA, MPH, FAFPHM, FAChSHM) is a Senior Lecturer at the University of New South Wales and a clinician at South Western Sydney and Illawarra Local Health Districts and Family Planning, New South Wales. She is a dual-trained sexual health and public health physician with a particular interest in gender as a determinant of health.

Mary Stewart,

Mary Stewart (MBBS, MPH, DFSRH) works as a clinician, researcher and medical educator in the fields of reproduction and sexual health.

Juliet Richters, University of New South Wales

Juliet Richters (BA, MPH, PhD) has worked for over 30 years in sexual health research and education. Her work includes national and local surveys of sexual behaviour and attitudes, in-depth interview studies and theoretical work on the sociology of sexual practice. Topics include family planning, condom use, circumcision, sexual practices and prevention of sexually transmittable infections. Groups studied include gay men, backpackers, young people, prisoners and lesbian and bisexual women. She leads the Second Australian Study of Health and Relationships, and a large qualitative study of women's experiences and understandings of contraception in relation to their sexual lives.


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How to Cite

van Leeuwen, T., Bateson, D. J., Le Hunte, B., Barratt, A., Black, K. I., Kelly, M., Inoue, K., Rutherford, A., Stewart, M., & Richters, J. (2018). Contraceptive advertising – A critical multimodal analysis. Journal of Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice, 13(1-3), 321-342.