From supermodel’s chowing down on Carl’s Jr., to celebrities on billboards in nothing but their #MyCalvins, everyone knows just how often sex is used in advertising. This practice dates back to 1871 when a cigarette company plastered the image of a “naked maiden” on their package. It was extremely provocative for the time but dramatically increased sales. Other brands followed suit thereafter and incorporating sexual images into adverts became a common practice especially within the health, beauty, and fashion industry.
Throughout the late 20th century and into the early 21st century, sex was often the forefront of advertising. Companies did their best to constantly shock consumers, utilize attraction, and desire to lure in sales with both men and women on the cover of magazines and billboards half nude. However, over the past decades, sex in advertising has started to look different. For example Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch notoriously paraded male swimsuit models outside stores and posted on all the bags. Their advertisments also showcased beautiful slim individuals all half clothed. The owner was even quoted, “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends…Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.” If you look at these brands today, their models are fully clothed and of all different races and sizes. Values and interests are shifting and companies are responding to it. While sex is still selling, it looks different from what it looked like 20 years ago. The majority of consumers today respond to ads when it is empowering and confident not when they are degraded and overly sexualized. Using sex is adversting has shifted from swim suit models and guy with six packs. Even the beauty industry has shifted to focus more on health and wellness.
Brands are also learning to be deliberate when using sex in their marketing efforts. Sex is no longer just a tool to use haphazardly as this can backfire. For example fashion house Balenciaga came under fire for a recent campaign which featured children holding teddy bears that were wearing bondage harnesses. Other brands have been called out for using nude underage models or for forcing them into uncomfortable situations. Sometimes using sex can actually have an adverse effect. If the consumer perceives the model as being exploited, they are more likely to regard the advertisement in poor taste and less likely to purchase the product or brand. As with everything, tastes change over time, and brands must update their techniques to fit the interests and ideals of today.