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Sex in Advertising
Brett Denita Baskin
World lit 122 - A
December 2, 1996
The use of sex in advertising has become a major selling method in the
society we live in today. It began sixty years ago when a beautiful young woman
introduced the first windproof lighter and a new wave of advertising emerged -
The Pinup Girl. She advertised everything from lighters to laundry soap. She
even recruited for the U.S. armed forces (Parade Magazine; pg 6). Sexuality in
advertising is now a major area of ethical concern, though surprisingly little
is known about its effects or the norms for it's use (Baltimore Sun; pg. 1G).
Advertisers use of sex appeals has grown and become widely present throughout
the U.S. and really most of the world, but it has never really been clear the
line between offensive and effective advertising. Over the last couple of years,
commercial content, like programming, has gone through a significant maturing
process. Sex has become a driving force. NBC's vice president for advertising
standards, Rick Gitter, acknowledged that the 1990's reality can't be denied
(Baltimore Sun; pg. 1G).
Ann Klein's company's ads are some of the most striking ads that are
carried in the main stream media. They have received only a few negative
letters, but they've drawn a huge amount of attention (Baltimore Sun; pg. 2G).
"We wanted the women to say, 'Hey,' and we have gotten a fantastic response,"
there's a fine line between doing something new, different and interesting, and
angering your customer with offensive commercials that spoil their commercial
intent. An Ann Klein spot that showed a man kissing a woman and beginning to
unbutton her shirt, was not allowed to air by wary network censors, recalled
company vice president Nancy Lueck (Baltimore Sun; pg 2G). Calvin Klein, an
American clothing manufacturer that courts the glamorous young, drew great
disgrace and shame earlier this year for some particutlarly gamine youth who
lolled about wearing their underpants in a recent campaign, which the network
censors also withdrew (The Economist pg. 53). "Sexiness, as a component of the
good life, is a staple for advertisers ; Coca Cola decorated its drug store
posters at the turn of the century with beautiful young women whom male drinkers
might hope to date and female drinkers might emulate (The Economist pg. 54)."
One has only to pick up any issue of a fashion magazine and page after page is
filled with advertisements attempting to correlate sex and beauty with the
purchase of their products.
The current flood of sex in advertising is often promoted in terms of
fulfilling erotic fantasies and appetites (D'Emilio and Freeman, 1989).
Consumers want to see more, however the use of such appeals is constantly
contested in terms of ethics and morality, much as sexual norms and morals in
general have been contested throughout both American and world history (The
Journal of Advertising, pg 73). Commercials have become a risque as standards
loosen. Networks, in an effort to compete with cable television, have relaxed
thier censorship standards. Advertising standards have always been defined by
the public's tolerance and the shifting moods of courts and government agencies.
Even though there are concerns about sex and advertising on the air, on
billboards, and in print, it is more accepted now than ever before. However,
ads dealing with the environment or nutrition are coming under much stricter
contraints. The public has become less sensitive to sexy ads, but increasingly
irate about claims involving food and Mother Earth. "While we will tolerate an
expansion in areas that may offend our prurient interest, we are not prepared to
do that with products that effect our quality of life" said Stuart Lee Friedel,
an attorney with the New York based law firm of Davis & Gilbert, who specializes
in advertising (Baltimore Sun, pg 2G).
Advertisers are helping to fuel an unhealthy obsession. "Women's
dissatisfaction with their bodies is considerably more prevalent now than a
generation ago. "Ours is now a society that is increasingly preoccupied with
appearance and weight," says Judith Robin,Ph.D., former chairman of the
psychology department at Yale University, currently president of the University
of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and a recognized authority on body image.
Magazine covers, TV shows, music videos and movies tend to feature very thin
women over those with more realistically filled-out figures. Advertisers want
people to feel dissatisfied with our current appearances, so they will be more
inclined to purchase their products that offer improvements. " The media now
exposes us to this single 'right look', and the beauty industry promises that
anyone can attain it," writes Dr.Robin, who is also the
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Advertising, Marketing, Communication design, Product design, Sex in advertising, Television advertisement, Criticism of advertising, Advertising to children
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