“Sex sells” Well according to the marketing departments and manufacturers this certainly is the case
Images of sex or content that implies it are almost everywhere to be seen. Almost every adult magazine, TV program, film seems to have sexual content of some kind.
However sexual imagery hasn’t always been widely seen or accepted among society in terms of selling a product or service.
Many years ago a perceived stereotype view would be that people wouldn’t dare discuss such a topic. The lady would lie their reading a book whist the husband worked away making a child. Children wouldn’t even know of the word except to express their gender.
Yet over the past 50 years we have seen we have seen the ladies skirt get slowly shorter, the openness of our fathers affection for Kylie Minoque at the dinner table and the appearance of men dressing to impress and maintain a clean cut sexy Image.
This greater acceptance toward sex can also be seen through television and films during the past few decades.
In the 40’s 50’s 60’s we can see in such films as Gone With the Wind and Westside Story they feature romance yet without the sex scenes or ladies wearing amazingly short customs that are not fit for the purpose of the scene. These films are now considered classics and that’s without the sexual imagery of today’s films. Today’s films however feature sexual imagery at its fullest in the bid to make the film a big hit. Such films as basic instinct play on the use of sexual imagery totally. This unsurprisingly was a great hit. Also the box office film Titanic features Kate Winslet naked whilst her play screen lover paints her. It is questionable to whether this scene is actually necessary but it was used, successfully, to try and attract more people to watch the movie.
And with not only the film market becoming highly competitive, marketers feel they need to use sexual imagery to get their product across and gain good sales.
As we have described in the introduction the use of sexual imagery to sell products is very frequent. However to understand why it is used so often, we must first look at the actual communication process itself.
All marketers and advertisers have to assess how they are going to put across their message and to which media. Each form of media the marketers use can provide a advantage and disadvantage in terms of their target audience. For example noise in the commutation process may affect the actual way in which the message is put across and to whom. The intended receiver maybe on the phone or in a conversion with another person whilst the marketer’s message is being shown on television. However a press advertisement may have similar problem as advertisements may go unnoticed due to the competitiveness of editorials. So the choice of media is important
Before we carry on further lets take a look at the communication process with regards to a diagram:
Communication Process (Jobber 99)
As we can see from the diagram we have a series of step in which the communication process occurs. Firstly we can see the box “source” this is like described above the choice of media in which the marketer will use. Secondly is one of the most important parts of the process is the “encoded message” section. This section is very important because if the message is encoded incorrectly then it may cause more damage than good for the marketer. Lets take for example Levi jeans. Depending on the style or number of the jean, mostly these jeans are seen as stylish, fun, youthful, and with excellent music to go with the advertisement. However if Levi were to encode a message that was not inline with this it could cause it to be rejected by the receiver.
So it is wise for company to encode a good solid message that will go along with what is expected. Although a change from the norm is sometimes needed.
The most important part of the communication process is the “decoding” of the message. How the receiver decode the message is very important to their views and feedback. However it is important for the marketer to realize that each person will decode it differently. Lets take for example the lynx adverts of the late 90’s. This has men attracting the opposite sex very successfully whilst they are wearing this product. This advert to men may appeal. Yet to some men and mainly women they may see it as just a cheap brand of perfume that certainly wouldn’t attract.
The same would go for a company who makes unrealistic claims. Lets take for example “The most successful ever hair replacement treatment” maybe accepted by a few receivers but not by others.
This is the same for all adverts television program, movies and in fact many situations in life. So it is not only considered when using sex in adverts. However as sexual imagery is an issue that attracts more attention than other styles of ads the company must consider more what it is showing to its receivers e.g. older generations are not to fond of use of sex to sell. If they are targeting older people then it is not wise, as it will possibly get negative feedback.
Now that we have discussed how consumers are communicated too, we will now look at why sex sells and examine examples of how marketers have successfully used sexual imagery within the market place.
Firstly lets consider why sexual imagery actually sells products. Lets start with a quote from Dave Saunders(Sex in Advertising)
“Sex is a get way to get attention. It rarely fails as an attention getter. It’s a sure bet and a great way of getting through the clutter of advertisements. It plays on the most coercive emotions of all”
Clearly from this statement we can see that the marketers feel that in today’s ever-competitive environment of advertising. With this statement in hand it appears that advertisers have a very good tool in which to sell their products. Certainly we have seen a higher profile of more seductive advertising over the past few years. Although researchers say not so much in terms of quantity but more in its directness.
The use sexual imagery by advertisers is a great way of getting not only attention but also into its receiver’s minds. Lets take for example the average man in the street, most will either have girl friends, wife’s or be single young men looking for female attention. We can see there are two key sections here that advertisers can exploit.
Most men can satisfy their sexual needs with their girlfriends or wife’s, however sexual imagery tries to satisfy their erotic fantasies. The imagery is likely to show wonderful looking women in amazing places doing amazing things something that most couples could only dream of. These images allow the receiver to connect that product with the images of fantasy they have just seen. With these images in mind the product advertised will at worse be remembered but at best hopefully purchased or desired. And now with changes in culture over the past 3 decades advertisements are also doing this to women. Take for example the coca cola advert this has a hunky young man that the women come to see at 11.30am everyday as he works.
(Diet Coke Hunk)
This clearly plays on the young ladies fantasy of finely toned, smooth, good looking men, when is it common that they will go home to an average looking slightly over weight husband or boyfriend.
Although it is nice for us all to see these sexual images as a fantasy that the marketer is creating to sell its product it can actually cause problems according to Rachael Patai.
” All this sexual imagery in advertising and television can cause insecurity in both men and women and could also cause dissatisfaction with their current partner”
Although this doesn’t affect the marketer it does bring up ethical and cultural issues. The marketers have to consider what they are aiming to achieve when they use sexual imagery. Are they using sexual images to promote the style of the product or are they claiming this product will either make you like this or you will have this happen.
The use of slim beautiful women to sell low fat foods to people can be harmful. Women may feel the advertisement will make them look like this when in fact it may not. It is making people follow false dreams or hurting themselves.
The question of using sexual imagery where children can see it is also a concern. Does the image of such perfect people make a younger person assume that everyone should look like this does it give them less respect for the opposite sex all these issues are a concern for the culture in which they live.
Going back to how sex sells we can see good examples in the food industry. Here we see some very intelligent connections made between food and sex. The best example of this would be ice cream and Hagen das. Throughout the 90’s they turned ice cream into a sexy luxury. When they were established in the late 80’s they chose make a ice cream that was different from the cheap and cheerful image it had back then. The company chose what they thought was a luxury name in Hagen das, which translated doesn’t mean anything. Then went about changing the image of ice cream into an adult’s product as well as a child’s. Through the series of adverts you can see below we can see that Hagen das used sexual imagery in which to build up a sexual chemistry with the product.
However is it ethical to have what was previously thought to be a child’s food seen as a having a sexy foreplay role for adults?
. A good way to sum up the use of sex to sell food or any product would be a quote by David A.Aaker(Building strong brands)
“Human are biologically programmed to have a strong emotional response to visual appearance of sex, but the same is not true for food or washing powder”
One final example of how sexual imagery sells, would be to take a look at one of the industries that uses sexual imagery the most. The alcohol industry.
Now many firms in this market have used sexual imagery to improve sales, however we will look at Boddingtons who used this method very successfully during the 90’s.
When whitbread brought Boddingtons brewery it was just a local brand of bitter in the Granada region. However they had plans for expansion and therefore had to come up with a way of expanding the brand among over 100 brands of competing competition. As well as the two main competing brands of Tetley and John Smith.
So to get noticed whilst keeping its roots they went out and created a series of slick and smooth advertisements with some sexual imagery to get the attention.
The “cream of Manchester” advertisements were created and ran for over four years. These adverts involved a sexy women getting ready to go out by rubbing the cream of the Boddingtons head on to her neck as a sexy perfume with the comment by her man of
“.By ‘eck… You smell gorgeous tonight petal!” (Seen above)
However it was to be an advert that launched Mel Sykes career that was the success of Boddingtons. This featured everything the brand was (Smooth creamy hence ice cream) as well as humor and the classic good-looking woman and even an athletic man (John Lewis)
(Boddingtons Ad 1995, Mel Sykes)
This advert was an instant success and brought national recognition to its product as well being voted the fifth most liked advert of all time. (Channel 4 Poll) Boddingtons also received several creative and advertising awards. However like all good things they must come to an end. In the late 90’s Graham Heffer a cartoon cow replaced the advertisements.
However to prove sex sells, Boddingtons after running the cow campaign for 3 years to limited success have returned to the sexual imagery of their previous advertisements. The advertisement “It’s a bit gorgeous” unsurprisingly features an amazingly sexy lady forcing her boyfriend to use his pump so to speak during foreplay as she asks for him to play roll a bar man pouring Boddingtons. Clearly this is a case where sex does sell
(Boddingtons Ad Feb2002)
Throughout the essay we have seen several examples of how sex is used to sell products. However we must know that sex can’t sell everything. If the product is poor or the sexual imagery is used to bad taste then nothing can be sold whatever the style of advert. Sexual imagery is a very good attention grabber, which is very important in marketing. However from then on it is up to the product or service itself to gain continued sales.
With sex being increasingly or more strongly used in the market place there is danger that sex will lose it appeal as consumers become more accustomed with it. Therefore sex imagery has to be limited or unique otherwise it will suffer the same fate of other advertising and go unnoticed.
Ethics also come into consideration for advertising as like discussed it can cause several cultural problems. The use of amazing looking people can make its receiver feel unhappy with there own body. These adverts set a trend to what persons may aspire to and therefore people go on diets that are just not healthy or cannot be achieved.
It can also question mark relationships as described by Patai as people assume that they can do better than their current partners as they chase the fantasy they may never achieve.
Overall sex does sell it is able to grab the attention of it receiver and allows its sender to put its massage across. It clearly can make high sales as we have seen in the Boddingtons example Sex also is extremely successful in films take for example “Wildthings” a poor film in its right but it sold well as it featured Denise Richards in several sexy poses.
However sex does have its disadvantages as described above in terms of over exposure and ethics.
But this is something the marketers must consider. However an advert can be successful without sexual imagery take for example the tango adverts which didn’t feature sex.
However at the end of the day whether it is right or wrong sex does truly sell.