In the past, certain fashion brands have used marketing strategies surrounding sex, sexual liberation, and sex appeal as a tool to attract consumers and to tell a story about a product or a brand. In previous decades, the depiction of sex and sexual liberation in media and marketing has had fewer societal boundaries and perhaps allowed brands to be more intense in their depictions and portrayals - compared to now with stricter, conservative practices and solutions.
Many fashion brands within the industry have previously heavily relied on sexuality in advertisements and campaigns in a bid to really attract an audience and to gain recognition on a widespread level. The 70s, 80s, and 90s saw large-scale brands like Diesel, Calvin Klein, and Dolce & Gabbana demonstrate a huge focus on sex appeal and associations to sell products in advertising campaigns.
Let's take a deeper look into the big names in Fashion who really drove the saying, 'sex sells!'
Referring to Calvin Klein, the majority of advertisements were very heavily sexualised and provocative - therefore leading to criticism. The famous 1980 CK jeans campaign including Brooke Shields when she was just 15 years old sparked public outrage, specifically with the campaign line “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing” - subsequently leading to TV bans.
An iconic advert in the 90s featured Mark Wahlberg and Kate Moss nearly naked as they advertise Klein jeans and underwear - this raised criticisms referring to Moss looking ‘too skinny’, linking to the ‘heroin chic’ fiasco. This topless aesthetic, along with Wahlberg’s provocative shoots has created a history for CK - but perhaps in a criticised way especially in today’s society. The 1993 CK ‘Obsession’ for men cologne featured Moss completely naked in the campaign images - suggesting provocativeness and over-sexualising a woman for the sake of men. Something which if it were produced in today’s society, would be extremely frowned upon and disregarded.
As years progressed more and more campaigns featured this provocative, flashy image aesthetic - which CK wasn’t stopping with this depiction to advertise their products. The likes of Justin Bieber, Margot Robbie, and Kendall Jenner were all very-well known celebrities to feature in more recent campaigns - some of these being relatively innocent advertisements compared to the past. However, there were still some outcomes that caused outrage and controversy even in 2016 when times have changed and morales have progressed - an example of this is the Spring 2016 campaign with Kendall Jenner which featured her holding a grapefruit to replicate female body parts.
'Sex sells*... *Unfortunately we sell jeans' Diesel SS10 Campaign
Diesel’s Spring/Summer 2010 campaign 'Sex sells, unfortunately, we sell jeans' has been considered to some as humorous as the brand used the topic of sex to attract consumers through the advert in order to gain recognition for their SS10 collection. It features young, slim models in a relatively provocative manner in nothing but jeans and underwear, with the bold red campaign slogan plastered over (almost like a stamp). This demonstrates that Diesel was trying to make a statement with this - they knew how to catch their consumers' attention, as well as in their industry gaining widespread recognition for making such a bold statement. Their methodology behind this is clever as they knew sex has previously been a powerful (yet not all positive) marketing tool within the fashion and beauty industry, so they are utilising it in a ‘fun’ and honest manner in order to sell their jeans.
The use of an asterisk almost adds light-heartedness to the campaign by saying “Sex sells*…*Unfortunately we sell jeans” as it does present the brand and what it is promoting but in a bold, perhaps comical way. Regarding the other element in this campaign, the provocativeness of the poses and the lack of clothing however was undoubtedly deemed offensive and inappropriate to some viewers as it does depict a slight sexual nature. Diesel’s intentions were not focused on this as they wanted the campaign to be clever and reach the right audience.
Vulgar vs. Humour
It is clear to see that Calvin Klein has changed its advertisement styles to suit today’s society and to resist causing controversy, however, CK will always behold a provocative, revealing nature within most of its campaigns as it is selling underwear and it is within its brand identity. Its imagery now is slightly more innocent and it simply just shows the underwear. However, Calvin Klein will always be remembered for previous campaign uproars and criticisms.
Compared to this, Diesel’s campaign (even though it depicts sex appeal in a different manner) is still viewed as controversial in its portrayal but looking at it from the brand's perspective allows us to understand their intentions and the cleverness surrounding this marketing tool. It was a risky strategy, but one that was thought about and considered for their consumers.
Do you think sex sells?