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Sex Appeal Within Marketing

What is sex appeal ?

Sex Appeal is frequently used within marketing as a way of appealing to the audience’s fantasies and sexual desires, it is often used in the aim of quickly attracting attention towards the advertisement to persuade people in buying a product. Whilst we know sex appeal works well for attaining attention, it can also be very demoralizing at times.

As typically assumed by its name, sex appeal is when images and language are used that are sexually suggestive, commonly used to advertise for products that have very little to do with this theme, however they focus on attractiveness and sex of the models to grab attention.

Shirtless models of the 2000’s

Abercrombie and Fitch were one of the most known companies for previously using sex appeal, with young male employees standing outside the stores shirtless in an attempt to draw people into the store, whilst the bags featured a naked torso. The once normalised idea now seems absurd, with the retailer announcing in 2015 it’s aim to change its sexual image in attempt to bring back consumers.

However, throughout this many staff members came out to speak about the daily sexual advances from customers they had to deal with. One girl explaining she was required to wear cheeky low-rise shorts or mini skirts and added that she once found herself being followed by a group of guys who made comments about her nice a**. This really highlights how the use of sex appeal can negatively affect an individual due to the unwanted attention they gain.

The fragrance Industry

Within marketing one of the top places, we see sex appeal being used is within fragrance adverts, with shirtless men and half naked women attracting the opposite gender as they walk by. Playing up to the fact that those who use their scent, will attract whoever they desire.

The 2007 campaign by Terry Richardson for the; Tom Ford for men, saw their advertisement being banned from Italy, as well as many controversial comments being made. The adverts featured the bottles strategically placed between a women’s thighs as well as between her breasts, the company describing the images as a sharper, more graphic approach clearly communicating the bold provocative mood of the fragrance. However not many agreed, with the photographs leaving people wondering how far is too far.

Marketing today

In 2022, we can see a big difference after emerging from the pandemic, with a sense of more upbeat marketing, allowing people to express themselves with the adverts feeling more realistic to the everyday person. Within the past few years, we’ve started to see a shift towards normalisation. Drifting away from the stereotypical sex appeal and desired body type, no longer feeding into the consumer’s desire.

In 2020 the brands Boohoo and ASOS, began portraying the everyday female bodies by showing stretch marks, cellulite and scars rather than airbrushing. This received many praises for the use of more realistic models and untouched photographs, however, we do know that Consumers exposed to marketing campaigns that provoke negative self-esteem transfer these emotions to the product, particularly in fashion marketing. We also saw beauty brands vowing to stop skin retouching, some of these include Dove, Olay and Fenty, with the companies aiming to use people who actually look like you, a refreshing break from the flawless, smooth and tweaked models we were previously seeing.

Despite the gradual decline in stereo-typical perfection it is still very prevalent that sex sells. On social media especially, many social media influencers use sexual undertones within their sponsored content. In an attempt to gain more engagement and increase sales.

Even with Facebook and Instagram policies requiring a no adult content within adverts on their platforms, digital marketing is one of the top places we see sex appeal within marketing today. We often find creators ensure their posts are made to look natural and aesthetic by the use of posing and location, with their photographs being justified as art and expression.


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