Sex Sells - Intro
Simply put, sex in advertising is the use of sexually provocative and erotic content in the form of imagery, sounds, suggestions, and subliminal messages to generate interest in a specific product, service, or brand (1).
Commonly today, advertisements containing overtly sexual material, or subtle sexual innuendos, objectify beautiful women (and increasingly, handsome men) to lure viewers, readers, and listeners to support the brand that is being advertised.
As human beings, we are programmed to respond to particular primal urges. Food is one. Sex is certainly another. Therefore, we are wired to respond to sexual imagery. That’s why advertisers have been using it for more than 100 years. It has a kind of shock value that both repulses and intrigues consumers, usually simultaneously (2). And they respond to it.
It goes without saying that the industry abuses sex in advertisement. What used to be “subtle,” like this Absolute print ad (pay close attention to those ice cubes…)
is now pretty hard to miss, and I think you’d agree. Check out this Singapore Burger King ad that was printed back in 2009.
And that was four years ago. Advertisers today are taking sexual content to new highs, and while public outrage does occasionally ensue, (like it did when this Sheetz billboard ad was debuted)
people still respond positively enough for companies to become repeat offenders when using this tactic (2). That’s because in 1885, W. Dukes and Sons, a popular facial soap manufacturer of the time, had such great success with featuring “erotic” images of popular female celebrities on the soap’s packaging (1).
The tie between soap and sex is slim at best, but it worked for them, and now it works for every brand who can successfully pull it off. Advertisers of alcohol, fashion, perfume/cologne, and cars create particularly strong links from their products and services to sex, but flipping through the latest issue of Cosmopolitan, driving down the highway, or channel surfing on a Sunday afternoon, one is sure to witness sex in all kinds of advertisements.
It is undeniable that sex in advertising has become a phenomenon in our world today. Consumers love it. They expect it. But it also has its negative effects on society. Because advertisements feature women with flawless skin, stick-thin bodies, curves in the “right places,” and perfect hair, society has created a new definition of beauty. This
has not only helped the sales of businesses, but has also hurt the self images of women worldwide. Suicide rates in young women are skyrocketing these days, and this is one of the contributing factors (3). The pressure to be perfect is too much for some of them to handle. Dove has created the “Campaign for Real Beauty” in response,
but ads like these aren’t enough to save everyone. Sex sells, but it can also hurt those who are exposed to the advertisements.
Sex in advertisement is not by any means going away, or becoming any less subtle. Follow me as I examine sexuality in advertisement - both the overt sexual content and the sexual subtleties - in both print and commercial forms.
Sex sells. Let’s figure out why.