We are constantly bombarded with provocative and sometimes borderline inappropriate advertising. It seems that Brands use sexual visuals for just any product or service thinking it will increase their sales. But does it really?
Using erotic imagery, or sounds or suggestions is not a novel strategy in the advertising world. In fact it’s been around for decades if not a century. In 1885, a manufacturer of soap (W.Duke and Sons) was one of the first ones to apply this strategy by including trading cards with erotic images of women in the soap’s packaging. (Paul Suggett, about.com)
The most famous brands known for their cheeky, sexual ads are Abercrombie & Fitch, Tom Ford, American Apparel. Speaking of the latter, this month one of its ads was banned in the UK for being too sexual. This is not the first time that the Advertising Standards Agency has prohibited an American Apparel ad, the company has had several problems in the past two and half years or displaying sexual images that were considered demeaning to women (Mashable, 2014). The reason for banning the ad (shown below) was that the real focus was not on the brand’s skirt but rather on the model’s buttocks.
A big concern in the sexualisation of advertising is that many of the people present in the ads are usually minors aged between 7 and 18 years old. Two things can “justify” this: the fact that children are growing up faster than before and dressing more provocatively and older than their age. They are a thriving market for fashion brands because this age group is easily influenced and follows the latest trends.
According to the Guardian (2013), “Girls ages eight to 12 alone generated $6.24 billion in apparel sales last year and spent $407.8 million in the intimates category, according to the NPD Group Consultancy. Apparel spending among 13 to 18 year old girls last year totalled $25 billion, while intimates generated another $1.2 billion”. The Guardian (2013) also explains that the reason why children are growing up faster is because of technology.
It’s true that children now use technology at a very early stage in their lives, we are even seeing more and more babies with their parents’ smartphone in their hands swiping with their fingers to play a game. Most households today have one if not more computers with access to the Internet, increasing the risk of ad exposure to children with ads of a more erotic nature.
Some people argue that because so many brands use sexual imageries, consumers are not shocked and sometimes do not even acknowledge the ads anymore due to habits.
So does sex actually sell?
If companies are still using this strategy after decades then you can assume that they are seeing results. The pornography industry is a billion dollar market which could explain why sexual messages are increasingly present in advertising strategies.
As Suggett explains, at the end of the day we are humans and as human beings, we respond to our primal urges, sex/ reproduction being one of them. This one of the reasons why people are drawn to sexually implicit or explicit ads.
Also it is known in advertising that triggering emotions and mood states in consumers enhances memory. Therefore agencies use stimuli to attract consumers and ensure that they remember the brand.