ver the years there has been an increasingly large amount of advertisements and marketing campaigns that use sexually provocative themes and erotic stimuli in order to sell products and services to consumers around the world. Today's consumers are exposed to vast amounts of sex in advertising than ever before. The use of sex in advertising has its' benefits in order to produce profits for companies, but also has its' implications. Social, political, cultural and public policies dictate the ways in which we view the world and how we spend our leisure time. The effectiveness of sexual imagery not only draws in consumers, but manipulates them into thinking they need the product or service to obtain a certain lifestyle. Advertising and marketing strategists use nudity, romanticism, or sexual suggestiveness in order to draw attention from consumers. These strategists use sex, as it correlates to consumers' natural response, in which garners positive feelings with the product or service displayed. Sex and sexuality comes natural and luring consumers with sexually provocative images of women and men seems to attract the masses and proves them to be easily manipulated. In this paper, I will examine how advertising and marketing campaigns utilize sexual imagery in order to manipulate consumers into buying said product or service, and what brands are susceptible into using sex whether or not is in direct correspondence to the product itself.
Throughout history, advertising and marketing have used propaganda in order to sell to Western consumers. Advertisers have created and propagated methods in order to manipulate consumers' ambitions with material possessions. The strategies of advertising and marketing have inherently manipulated consumers without any knowledge of doing so. Williams (1965) argues that it is society is selling a primary ethic for consumers. The spectacular growth of advertising and marketing has become an organized and extended system on our cultural beliefs and worldview. Society has become too materialist and shallow and today's modern advertising reflects this. Advertisers and marketers take modern social communication in order to understand the consumer. This explains why sexual imagery or sex appeal sells so well. Blair, Stephenson, Hill & Green (2006) state, the use of sex in advertising has been ongoing for years and the reason for it, is because it works. Advertisements that are provocative in nature tend to be remembered more often than advertisements that are not. Sex is a stimulator and the concept of arousal is central to understanding the consumer decision-making process (Blair, et al, 2006). The notion of consumers making cognitive and rational decisions is a myth researchers disclose. Sexual imagery from a psychological standpoint is subconsciously within consumers, specifically male consumers. Men in particular are drawn to advertisements and marketing campaigns that exude female sexuality (Blair, et al, 2006). Women have often been the targets of sexual advertising to attract male consumers in order to make the product desirable. Blair, et al, (2006) argue that it is easy to get attention from male consumers “by using women's bodies and associating getting the women if he buys the product” (p.113). One company that is known for using this tactic to manipulate male consumers into buying their products is AXE. AXE is a brand of body spray for men; however, it is infamously known for its trivial and controversial ads. AXE delivers overt sexual advertising by putting both the male and female on display. Commercials and ads suggest that wearing AXE in return “gets you the girl”. The brand effectively sells due to its' generality. If a consumer was to come in contact with the body spray, they will be instantly wanted (Blair, et al, 2006). Consumers in this way are easily manipulated into buying the product that facilitates a man's quests for love. AXE advertising and marketing strategies appeal to a demographic of males who particularly go unnoticed by females.
Although women are used as sexual imagery to sell to male consumers, they to do not realize that such advertisements target female consumers as well. Most famously, Victoria's Secret uses sex appeal in order to sell their lingerie to female consumers. Female consumers are easily targeted due to the emphasis of body type ideals. Blair, et al, (2006) argues that if women buy Victoria's Secret products, they to could look like models and be desirable to men. At first glance, female consumers may think “Wow, she looks awesome; I should get that outfit so I can look that good too” (Blair, et al, 2006, p.113). This is not the case. Lingerie does not look the same on anyone due to the vast amounts of different body types, however, what Victoria's Secret accomplishes is the manipulation of gullible women. According to Williams (1965) advertising has become a system of magic. Companies like, AXE and Victoria's Secret sell a lifestyle to consumers through the essence of sex appeal. Regardless of gender, both male and female consumers want to achieve the lifestyle being marketed. Thus, gullible and manipulated consumers, as well as consumer society have normalized sex, as a genius-marketing tactic.
From a social marketing perspective, sexual imagery is beneficial for the simple reason in which attention is received. It draws in consumers while simultaneously releasing motivating desirable messages in a mediated environment (Blair, et al, 2006). Consumers become susceptible to brands that may not necessarily be liken to, but due to the overwhelming amount of sexual imagery consumers subconsciously react. “Advertising research reveals that sexual appeals are attention getting, arousing, affect inducing, and memorable” (Blair, et al, 2006, p. 111). This can be directly referenced to PETA's ad campaigns, which are explicitly provocative. As an animal rights based organization, PETA has engaged in advertising that has less to do with animal rights and more to do with sex. Their provocative ads push the envelope even further, as the organization has admitted to releasing them in order to garner attention and worldwide recognition. Social and political organizations such as PETA infiltrate sexual imagery in order to increase donation sales. “Using sex appeal in an ad [also helps consumers to] remember the ad better; in other words, sex appeal can enhance the audience's recall and recognition of an ad, the advertised brand and the main message points” (Liu, Cheng, and Li, 2009, p. 503). Therefore, PETA enhances their brand and message on the basis of erotic stimuli to continue to remain memorable.
Consumers have undoubtedly become manipulated and falsely led to believe that sexual imagery in advertisements or marketing campaigns have anything to do with the product that is being sold. The notion of exchange between customers and producers are largely based on manipulation alone. Williams (1965) argues that fundamental choice is between the man and woman as consumers, and the man and woman as the user. This system infiltrates sexual imagery as modern advertising and marketing due to the overwhelming importance of fundamental choice. Consumers become the victims, which are invariably manipulated by their decisions and behaviours due to the normalization of sexual imagery within advertisements and marketing campaigns. Liu, et al, (2009) found that the significance of sex appeal has changed consumers' attitudes towards consumption. The normalization of these ads has detected the buying intentions of consumers, which has questioned predicted buying intentions. Nonetheless, using sex appeal in advertisements and marketing campaigns sells the product regardless if the consumer is interested in the product itself.
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