Sexualised marketing has long been used to attract consumers and to promote awareness of products. The alcohol, entertainment and beauty sectors are the most common industries to have sexualised advertisements, often subtly integrated into their campaigns. It is primarily used to sell impulse purchases but is less effective in selling informational products.
Sex was first used in order to sell products in 1871 by Pearl tobacco, according to World Heritage Encyclopaedia. This was a provocative move at the time and sales of the product immediately rose. Ever since this, sex has been used in advertising but does it still have a place in today’s world?
Abercrombie and Fitch
Abercrombie and Fitch are an American clothing company which have often historically included sexual advertising in their campaigns. This tactic has become controversial due to the recent concerns of how this type of advertising has affected teenagers and young adults. The adverts perpetuated that you have greater sex appeal by wearing Abercrombie and Fitch clothing, potentially creating unattainable beauty standards.
Sex has worked for Abercrombie & Fitch for a long time but more recently they have needed to move to a different strategy, one with more longevity, giving them access to a larger target market. This approach reflects the change in consumer opinion as people move away from sexualised marketing as it can be seen as offensive and out of place.
They are now highlighting body positivity, using a diverse range of models. They have reduced the previous bold branding on their clothing, whilst diminishing the importance of physical attractiveness during the old archaic recruitment process.
Calvin Klein has a long history of sexualised ads featuring men and women in sexually compromised positions and they have been criticised in recent times for their images, saying that they objectify women. In the 1980s, Brooke Shields made headlines for the tagline from the advertisement “You wanna know what gets between me and my Calvins? Nothing.”. This advert was banned on some major U.S Television networks and caused negative publicity. It was deemed inappropriate and too sexual, as the model was only 15 at the time.
Another example is, in 1992, Calvin Klein released a campaign, where Kate Moss appeared topless whilst showing her Calvin Klein clothes. This shock factor of the campaign repositioned the brand into extremely popular once again. The huge underwear sales this generated actually saved the company from financial trouble.
Although underwear is one of the main products that Calvin Klein sells, the question is, are they taking it too far with their advertisements?
Social media influencers
Lots of suggestive content is posted on social media sites through famous influencers. Many influencers and marketing campaigns have sexual undertones in their images. Some social media influencers post pictures of themselves in revealing poses to get more engagement, therefore increasing sales on their sponsored posts and brand partnerships. This exacerbates body image issues in all genders, partly due to the easily accessible nature and lax age restrictions of social media platforms. Despite strict policies from a variety of social media platforms, including Instagram, some argue that not enough has been done to solve this issue. Sex appeal is often used as a powerful social media marketing tool, but the negative consequences prove that this kind of marketing likely has no place in modern society.
Modern perceptions of sex appeal in advertisements
In the 21st century, there is a greater awareness around sexualised marketing campaigns, with the public being more able to see through the over-sexualised and ‘instagrammable’ marketing. Data suggests that reactions towards sex appeal in adverts is typically negative. Watchers do not remember the specific product or brand, therefore rendering the advertisement ineffective. This could suggest that over-sexualised branding Is less desirable in today’s market than previously.
With the 2020’s comes an audience who are potentially more educated, who look through the images to see the harm that they can create. Sex in advertising can often perpetuate inappropriate or false gender stereotypes which no longer have a place in world whose emphasis is on freedom of gender stereotypes and greater acceptance for all. These stereotypes may have had their place in previous years, but times have moved on. Advertisements have a responsibility to reflect this change and need to pay great attention to their target audience if they need to continue to evolve in line with the changing attitudes of the world today.
Companies are starting to change how they market products and engage with customers. Some brands are restructuring and rebranding themselves, in order to be more representative of all body types and move away from relying on sex appeal to sell their products. There is a movement away from sexual objectification, toward messaging that aims to empower people. This shows a shift in perspective and attitudes towards sex appeal in marketing.
Does sexualised advertising still have a role in modern society? Abercrombie and Fitch and Calvin Klein have historically used sexual imagery in their advertisements but have successfully managed to rebrand themselves. This shows that companies are developing over time, aiming to increase the inclusivity and diversity of their brand.
Perceptions of sexual advertisements have also changed, with people becoming more aware of archaic techniques used in traditional marketing campaigns. Social media influencers still attract thousands of people to their corporate sponsors. However, the negative consequences of this marketing on body image and beauty standards have potentially led some customers to walk away from purchases.
Sex could be argued to still sell in 2022, but recent attitudes have shifted archaic and outdated sexualised marketing methods.