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Does Sex Appeal Have a Place Within the 2022 Marketing World?

Exploring the topic of sexuality

Disclaimer: This article discusses topics relating to sexuality and mental illness which could be distressing to some readers.

"A person's identity in relation to the gender or genders to which they are typically attracted; sexual orientation" is the definition of sexuality.

The 'sex appeal' in marketing

The marketing world has long since used sex in order to sell products and create an image appeal for targetted consumer groups; ‘sex sells because it immediately grabs attention’ says University of Georgia’s Tom Reichert. Sex is important in sales as it simply attracts attention alongside marketing creative and effective campaigns.

Women overwhelmingly occupy the pages of sex-selling advertisements; they are most used to selling products pitching sex. In ads samples from 2003, 92% of beauty ads featured female mode, and just under half of the ads did not contain models.

‘It takes more explicitness to grab our attention within present-day society, in the early 1900s, ‘exposed arms and ankles of female models’ would generate the same level of arousal as partially nude models today. Reichert states this upward trend in erotic ads is a reflection of society.

Using sex as an advertising tool

Brands such as Victoria’s Secret have created ads that may not even communicate details with regard to the product but simply aim to gain ‘viewers’ attention. A study from the University of Georgia looked at sexual ads that have appeared in magazines over the last 30 years and found that the numbers are still increasing. University of Georgia’s Tom Reichert stated that ‘people are hardwired to notice sexually relevant information, so ads with sexual content get noticed’ - even the most expensive companies and big fashion houses rely on sex in order to sell their products. “Sexual information does grab the attention”, says Tom Reichert, head of the UGA Department of Advertising and Public Relations and one of the study researchers.

Abercrombie & Fitch catalogs have caused such a public outcry the company resulted in pulling them from the shelves of stores. The A&F brand is a prime example of a company that has been selling sex for years, alongside American Apparel, the two companies in recent years, have been struggling to differentiate their brands as the market has become so saturated and they have not been able to always sell their brand products.

American Apparel has been pushing boundaries since the late 1990s, with the sex-infused ads they are constantly pushing the boundaries. Since late 1995 the brand has been running racy campaigns, which mostly feature females wearing the clothing line’s underwear and nothing else.

Sexual marketing & Its effect on society's mental health

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, many may have thought that sex would start being used less in modern-day advertisements. However, that assumption would be false - and nowhere else is sexual content more prevalent than on social media.

Instagram, Pinterest, and Tiktok are the main social platforms on which suggestive content would be posted. Many marketing companies that would use celebrity and social media influencers tend to always have sexual undertones in their social content images. A large proportion of influencers post images of themselves in revealing poses to spike the levels of media attention and to get increased engagement on their sponsored content. These posts are not pornographic technically, but they do use suggestive content to get more engagement and increase sales.

The constant exposure to this type of content can be very harmful to young female minds, who tend to be the demographic mostly using social media channels such as Instagram, Tiktok, Pinterest, etc. Non-stop constantly seeing these posts can make individuals reflect negatively on themselves and their body and appearance, they can have self-doubt and feel unworthy. To say these 'posts' are just trying to sell a product the ripple effect it has is much bigger than expected. Alongside this effect of being harmful to the mind, some social content creates an unrealistic expectation that if you purchase this product you'll be to achieve this image and level of beauty, which is extremely wrong in numerous ways as it isn't necessarily true that will happen. It adds to the huge pile of unrealistic beauty standards present in today's society.

Some brands such as Facebook, have strict advertising policies in place with zero tolerance for sexual content - which makes you question why is Instagram still so allowing the level of sexual content that is being posted across the social platform when it is owned by Facebook?

Google Ads also has a strict adult content policy that disallows the use of sexuality is promoted advertisements. However, while users can report any content they find too sexually explicit, these social sites typically let merely suggestive content slide.

Problematic for gender identities

Within today's large collection of marketing campaigns for perfume products, the levels of sexuality present within them have become more and more increased to a point where it is almost more corrupt than engaging.

By displaying images of women in submissive or increasing sensual positions, what exactly are these products selling? When viewing the majority of woman's perfume ads, the woman is sexually appealing and intoxicatingly beautiful, which is often made up with a look of submission or ultra sensuality twisting her features into an expression of lust or desire. Whenever a woman is pictured with a man in these perfume ads, they are always captured in a position of submission; she is either dominated by a man or calling out for male attention. Generally, a woman is never pictured as empowered by her own means and without desire for his assurance of her status as a "sex symbol". While many of these campaigns are successful, the campaign and marketing approach completely destroys a woman's ability to view herself as independent and pressures female society to become adversely sexualised.

Discrimination towards sexual identity & gender stereotyping

It could be argued that many big-name brands unknowingly are discriminating against individuals from the LGBTQIA+ community by running these ads; because not many include individuals representing those communities, there is a clear stereotype of the sexy woman and male figure placed within the majority of campaign advertisements.

Some brands are changing their ways and recently Mochino has released a new Spring-Summer collection, wherein their social content includes a greater mix of queer individuals within the visuals for their promotional campaign, which is a great change to see - however, some may feel brands are taking advantage of LGBTQIA+ individuals to create a hype and media attention just for notice amongst the market alongside their financial gain.


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