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Does Sex Appeal have a Place in Marketing in 2022?

Before jumping the gun, we must all be on the same page about what sex appeal is. The dictionary definition of sex appeal is 'the ability of a human individual to exert a sexual excitement upon another or other individuals.'

I'll start this off with the most common situation: a woman's body being used as a way to promote the product advertised. The sex appeal of a woman's body has been used in many marketing techniques, often used to target cis men such as the Carls Jr. burger ad where 'She'll tell you size doesn't matter. She's lying' is plastered next to Paris Hilton holding a burger in a swimsuit. Using the woman's body as a way to advertise products has been scrutinised as women from this generation want to promote a women's sexuality through the women's gaze and not targeted straight men.

Another big user of sex appeal to sell products would be the infamous super bowl ads. A very famous advertisement using sex appeal as an advertisement technique would be the 1992 Pepsi ad where two boys are stunned as they watch supermodel Cindy Crawford get out of a car and seductively drink from a Pepsi can. In a blunt personal idea, I believe this advertisement was stating specifically to men that they should 'buy this Pepsi can because hot women buy Pepsi and you want to look at hot women'. As a woman, this shows that the main target for advertising a non-gender biased product like a fizzy drink was still advertised uniquely for men using the male gaze as a way to boost sales.

Another sales-boosting advertisement was that of Doritos in 1999 starring Ali Landry where two men in a laundromat compete for the attention of the woman by catching multiple Doritos in their mouth (again, the two men scenario is used to give a dominating approach compared to the singular woman) and the beautiful woman is seen in tight-fitting clothes. A particular advertisement that fully had my jaw down in an uncomfortable trance was the 2003 Miller Lite commercial where two women fight over the words "great taste" and "less filling" to describe the beer and end up fighting in a water fountain and cement in their undergarments (obviously as they were fighting they took each other outfits off because as we all know, what is a fight unless you're half-naked).

This specific advertisement left a sour taste in my mouth as it was so obvious that the main focus was the women's bodies and how that was used to attract the male gaze and buy the beer.

As I talk to people around me, a phrase often said is 'sex sells' which is true; the majority of the advertisements depicting the female body as an attraction and the main focus alongside the product was seen as successful and brands amassed large sales. However is this morally right? How come we have been so used to this method of sexualising ourselves to sell non-human objects? Although it is true that sex does sell and in fact, it does it pretty well, perhaps we do need to take a step back and think of exactly why that is.

Often the sex appeal revealed through the use of the male body is also not targeted at a female audience but at the male gaze, for example, a Victoria Secret advertisement is there to say 'buy this lingerie to please your significant other in the bedroom' whilst a Calvin Klein men boxer advertisement does not directly say 'buy these boxers to please your significant other in the bedroom' but instead 'if you buy these boxers as a man you will look like the model'.

This can also lead down the path of underwear and how women are now used to wearing lingerie in the bedroom whilst there is not as much emphasis on a man wearing a lingerie set to please their significant other. However, this sends us off another path. What I am trying to say is that sex appeal has been used as a way to sexualise women and further use the female body as a means to sell and basically: women's bodies = money.

In terms of a sex appeal icon, who else but Marilyn Monroe would suit this discussion. Marilyn Monroe used her sex appeal as a marketing technique to sell her personal brand. She was the sex symbol of her decade and through this, her music and stardom took off. However, in a recent Netflix documentary film: The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes, you can hear her say how she was not happy about being a sex icon, and how everyone that saw her would immediately see her as a sex object. Although her sex appeal sold it caused great unhappiness for Marilyn.

With all these points considered and the ever-growing MeToo movement, I believe that sex should not be used to sell. There are many marketing techniques that work just as well without objectifying any bodies and leaving sexuality as a beautiful individual phenomenon rather than exploiting marketing manufacturers. For example, the very effective Red Bull campaign where Red Bull placed empty cans around London in trash cans and public areas to give the allusion that the drink was extremely in demand. Red Bull uses Guerilla marketing, using humoristic and entertaining marketing techniques which do not include sex appeal. With these techniques, Red Bull is able to amass 7.9 Billion cans sold in 2020.

To conclude the debate, in my personal opinion bodies are not objects. The women and men in advertisements where their bodies are merely seen as a tool to sell are objectified and deemed only worthy through their looks. Not only is the individual within the advertisement sexualised, but through these marketing techniques and commercialised sex appeal it is deeming the viewer as brainless and only driven by their sexual desires, is this really how we should want to portray ourselves? I believe there are many marketing techniques where the body is not used as a means to sell but rather to empower the viewers. There are also many marketing techniques where sex appeal does not need to play a role and perhaps this is where we should continue from now on: looking at when and where to correctly use sex appeal as a way that empowers the individual within the advertisement whilst also empowering the viewer.


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