Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sex sells... milk?

Whoever coined the term “sex sells” must have secretly been makers themselves of some overtly licentious commercial revolving around or based solely on sexual appeals. Over the past few decades, advertising with the use of explicitly sexual content in advertising has become more common than advertising without. As one of the most powerful tools of persuasion in marketing, sex is an effective way of drawing interest to a particular product. Sexually explicit images and auditory content are commonly used methods by which sellers attract immediate interest of consumers. Yet the reason why “sex sells” is because it manages to successfully hold that interest and allows sellers to present their products in a way that correlates with the consumer’s interests.
One way of describing the powerful role that sex plays in advertising today is - in Tizzy Asher’s words - “heterosexual consumption” (Asher 22). The first glance that the consumer takes at an ad, as well as the lasting effect that the ad has on the consumer, are both contributing factors to the barbaric nature that Asher associates with consumerism. She connects the sex-hungry minds that many, if not most, public consumers have to the use of insuations towards sex in commonplace media content.
Undoubtedly, the use of erotic content in advertising is an extremely effective technique. Yet, one thing to consider when looking at sexuality in the media is the wide realm of taboos and contention that are associated with sex in society today. Sex becomes a bit problematic when used in everyday commericals and other commonplace advertising exposed to the public. It’s sort of a “sellers beware, use at your own risk” type of deal. Yet it is precisely this “code red” attitude that makes outlandishly sexual images and ideas even more intriguing to both the public consumer and the seller.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are yet still, subtle uses of sexuality that are even incorporated into the media. Sex isn’t just limited to visual media; ‘sexy’ lingo and deep-toned commentary are radiated all over the radio and are often coupled with sex visuals to enhance appeal of the ad to the consumer.
An interesting theme in advertising that I’d like to touch on is the use of male bodies. Historically reflecting the realm of Greek architecture, public displays of men have embodied the ideal "athletic young man" for centuries. Dating back to 400 B.C., the public eye has been “obsessed” with a strong, masculine male figure (Bagorio). And it is just these ‘ideal’ male figures that marketers use in much of the advertising that exists today. Toned, hard bodies of both men and women attract consumers’ eyes in all cultures. Though we hate to admit the ‘ripped’ guy in the Calvin Klein commercial looks good, hardly one woman is able to flip past his large, naked ad in the center of a magazine or even close an eye when our sexual connoisseur male-friend pops up on the television.
And this type of sexy photography is just one of the many forms of media that is embedded in all forms of the media. According to Anastasia Higginbotham, the media perpetuates sex to the eye of the consumer in just the right way. That is, articles surrounding sex-insinuating ads and words flashed on the t.v. screen next to nude figures are just as guilty as the sexually explicit images themselves; they oftn encourage the reader to fit an ideal “sexy” persona or conform to the “hot” character of the naked lady on the next page. Either way, it all comes down to the reader and how well he or she can become “absorbed in the rules of the game” (Higginbotham 93) – the rules of advertising.
When it comes to advertising, sexually suggestive images sell just about everything. Yet although It makes sense to use sex in ads for lingerie, men's cologne and even liquor, it hardly seems relevant to use sex in the millions of other products out there that are somehow being advertised with naked bodies and sexual inuendos. I mean, an advertisement for a vacuum, video game or hamburger joint is hardly comparable to a commercial with the ‘Very Sexy’ Angels over at Victoria’s Secret. Simply because The Angels have successfully and rightfully found a comfortable place in the hearts of sex-driven consumers, doesn’t make it right for the naked girl in the milk commericial to flash her fake breasts under a waterfall of dairy. Call me crazy, but that is not even slightly appropriate in my mind.
You still must look carefully to avoid missing the point of an ad like this. Don’t believe me? Take a quick look at the ad with the school girl in who is knealing down. Did you catch the part about the sneakers? Hmm… well it sure fooled me.
All in all, I’ll admit - automobile companies tend to use sex implying slogans in car commercials often. And the use of sexual images in ads for a men’s magazine may skate past by as tasteful. Yet just because sex is a common style of marketing today doesn’t make up for the fact that multimillion dollar companies attempt to induce consumers to want to go out and buy something totally unrelated to sex. My issue is with sexual ads for things like coffee and toilet paper that contain images of two nude people about to have sex. My skepticism has become widely enlarged upon putting together this collage. Perhaps sex does something for those looking to purchase household appliances, but just like a naked lady drowning in milk doesn’t leave me convinced, the implication that a girl is giving a guy oral pleasure just doesn’t do it for me.

Works Cited

Asher, Tizzy. Girls, Sexuality, and Popular Culture. The Feminist Journal. 22-26.

Bagorio, Elaine (2007). Uncovering the Naked Truth. http://orpheus.ucsd.edu/va11/bagorio/bagorio.html

Gifford, Amy (2007). 15 Ads that Prove Sex Sells… Best? Aha Cafe LLC. http://inventorspot.com/articles/ads_prove_sex_sells_5576?page=0%2C0

Gallup & Robinson, Inc. (2007). http://www.gallup-robinson.com/essay2.html

Higginbotham, Anastasia. Teen Mags: How to get a guy, Drop 20 Pounds, and Lose your Self Esteem, 93-96.


Joe V said...

Your post does a terrific job at discussing the concept of sex as a platform for selling products, especially products that invariably have nothing to do with sexuality. You outline the cultural idea that "sex sells" and while its true, you do a great job at questioning why it does, or if it is at all appropriate.
The sexual advertisements you talk about, whether latent or graphically explicit, almost takes nothing into account other than the idea that sexuality is the primary key to marketing, and that sexuality will lead to consumerism.
What I thought msot insightful was that you explored sexuality in the media based not just on visual cues, but also sexuality in advertising, implied by aural messages or text. If there is one fault in your post, it is that I wish you had explored this even more.

Jessie said...

Nice Job Natalie! I would have liked to see less of a "values" call in the post because it tends to undermine your ability to analyze (remember that the analysis and the 'morality debates' tend to reflect very different approaches to writing about a topic such as this one).

See the rubric on SOCS (there should be a link when you check your grades for the course) for grade and assessment specifics :o)