top of page

Sex Appeal: Why It Sells?

This article takes a look at the sex appeal that is still very prominent in todays society, providing examples of it being used in advertisements and the relevant issues it has.

Content Warning: This articles includes content some people may find distressing.

advertisments on buildings

What is sex appeal?

One of the advertising strategies utilized by marketing professionals to convince individuals to purchase a product, support a cause, or pay for a service is the Sex Appeal. This approach entices audiences by catering to their sexual desires. By targeting our basic animalistic behaviour namely the desire for sexual reproduction. Advertisers have found that through a cleverly designed message containing sex appeal, they can attract and hold on consumers’ attention, then making it more likely for them to select that product for purchase over another, as it quickly captures attention, particularly from men.

Examples of sex appeal in advertisement

American apparel is constantly presenting sex-infused ads. For example, the billboard that showed a woman in nothing but dressed in leggings while bending over. As well as the 2000 underwear campaign ad advertising a woman wearing the clothing line's underwear, and nothing else. But, American Apparel has been struggling for years and is trying to turn around its operations. This could be due to the anger that these adverts brought. Showing that sex appeals used in adverts stick to the brand and its name.

Nissan, a car company made headlines in early 2011 when commercials showed a side-by-side comparison of a Nissan Juke and a model in a bikini. The model was shown performing comparison tests against the car, all while in her swimsuit. Some viewers weren't amused, saying the ad "cuts a fine line between sexy and sexist.

Social media has become a hub for suggestive content posted by famous influencers, with sexual undertones often present in their images and marketing campaigns. To increase engagement and sales on sponsored posts and brand partnerships, some influencers post revealing pictures of themselves, worsening body image issues across all genders due to the easily accessible nature and lax age restrictions of social media platforms. Despite policies from various platforms, critics argue that these efforts are insufficient to address the problem. The use of sex appeal as a marketing tool on social media has negative consequences, indicating that it is inappropriate for modern society. A study conducted in 2014 linked social media users with mental health issues including symptoms of depression, changes in self-esteem, and found many were addicted to social media.

Calvin Klein of Calvin Klein Jeans has been at the forefront of this movement to use sex in advertising, having claimed, "Jeans are about sex." Calvin Klein's first controversial jeans advertisement showed a 15-year-old Brooke Shields, in Calvin Klein jeans, saying, "Do you want to know what gets between me and my Calvins? Nothing." Calvin Klein has also received media attention for its controversial advertisements in the mid-1990s. Several of Calvin Klein's advertisements featured images of teenage models, some "who were reportedly as young as 15" in overly sexual and provocative poses.

Although Klein insisted that these advertisements were not pornographic, some considered the campaign as a form of "soft porn".

Issues with this strategy

The idea that joyful intimacy or a positive sense of self add sexual energy - can be just the creative spark that ignites customer interest in shopping again. All women are empowered when they feel beautiful and confident in their body, regardless of their size shape or weight. That self-confidence can make them feel sexy and appealing however, there's a fine line between women empowerment and the objection of women so the question arises if companies need to rethink their marketing strategies?

Issues such as the objectification of women increase. Many advertisements use women's bodies as objects to sell products. This reinforces the idea that women are only valuable for their physical appearance. Another issue being false empowerment. This is because many companies to sell products to use feminist language but I'm not actually empowering women an example of this would be an advert featuring a naked model with the slogan “girl power” however this does not actually empower women but rather exploits them for profit. Additionally, the sex appeal reinforces traditional gender stereotypes. As women being passive sexual objects and men as active and powerful. the sex appeal lacks inclusivity as it sets a narrow definition of the beauty standards in the advertisements and excludes those that do not fit the mould which can be very damaging to the self-esteem and body image of young girls and women.


bottom of page