Sex in advertising

From Academic Kids

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Images of pretty women often appear in ads even when they have no connection to the product being sold. Here a provocatively clad woman lends "sex appeal" to a 1921 ad for tire valve caps.

Sex in advertising is the use of sexual interest as a tool of persuasion to draw interest to a particular product, for purpose of sale, generally using attractive models. Nudity in advertising often falls in this category.

Sexuality is considered one of the most powerful tools of marketing and particularly advertising. Post-advertising sales response studies have shown it can be very effective for attracting immediate interest, holding that interest, and, in the context of that interest, introducing a product that somehow correlates with that interest.

Further evidence comes from Gallup & Robinson, an advertising and marketing research firm, who reports that in more than 50 years of testing advertising effectiveness, it has found the use of the erotic to be a significantly above-average technique in communicating with the marketplace, "although one of the more dangerous for the advertiser. Weighted down with taboos and volatile attitudes, sex is a Code Red advertising technique . . . handle with care . . . seller beware; all of which makes it even more intriguing."

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Example of use of a figure in a provocative pose in advertising. Magazine ad for Obsession perfume, by Calvin Klein.

The use of sex in advertising can be highly overt or extremely subtle: from relatively explicit displays of sexual acts, down to the use of basic cosmetics to enhance attractive features. The more subtle end of this spectrum has penetrated all types of media including news casts, documentaries, and even fast-food advertisements. The use is not limited to visual media either: one of the criteria in selecting DJs and announcers is the "sexiness" of their voice.

Use of sexual imagery in advertising has been criticised on different grounds. Conservatives, especially religious ones, often consider it obscene. Many feminists feel it objectifies women (as women are more often portrayed in a sexual manner than men). Some claim it reinforces sexism.

Increasingly, this argument has been complicated by growing awareness of androgynous and homoerotic themes used in marketing. Calvin Klein has been at the forefront of this movement, having himself declared, "Jeans are about sex. The abundance of bare flesh is the last gasp of advertisers trying to give redundant products a new identity." In recent years ads for jeans, perfumes, and many other products have featured provocative images that were designed to elicit sexual responses from as large a cross section of the population as possible, to shock by their ambivalence, and often to appeal to repressed sexual desires, which are thought to carry a stronger emotional load.

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YSL ad for "Paris", a women's perfume
Successful male figure (sleeve reflected in mirror) flanked by two semi-nude figures. Published ca. 2001 in the Economist (London), a publication with a 91% male readership having an average yearly income of US$154,000.

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