“Advertising conventions encourage the consumer to equate the quality of advertising with the quality of the product itself,” (Kirkham and Weller 268). Advertisers use many different ploys and techniques to sell their products. In particular, using sex is one of the most widespread methods. The cliché “sex sells” implies the use of individuals, items or language to inspire sexual connotations. However, advertisements do not have to merely insinuate sexual thoughts or desires to utilize the “sex sells” propaganda, but instead they can use techniques to show that their products will make consumers more attractive or healthy, making them feel more sexy. For example, the advertisements for prestigious clothing designers, make up, hair products and diet foods line the pages of magazines such as Cosmopolitan. These advertisements may not even use something that could be interpreted as sexy, but the products that they are showcasing all can be used to make someone feel or look sexier. Therefore, not only does “sex sell” in advertisement strategies but “how-to-be-sexier sells” in products exhibited.
In my collage, I focused on many different products whose advertisements did not exhibit a blatant use of sex, but instead provided underlying messages of self-improvement or how-to-become-sexier. The advertisements were all geared toward a female audience, although many of them could be seen as items to be used in order to appear sexier to men. According to Wolf, many of these advertisements were based on the beauty myth that is prevalent in our society. The beauty myth is something that defines what is to be considered beautiful based on men (Wolf 122). The beauty myth can be seen through recent phenomenon.
“During the past five years, consumer spending doubled, pornography became the main media category, ahead of legitimate films and records combined, and thirty three thousand American women told researchers that they would rather lose ten to fifteen pounds than achieve any other goal. More women have more money and power and scope and legal recognition than they ever had before; but in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may actually be worse off than our unliberated grandmothers. Recent research consistently shows that inside the majority of the West’s controlled, attractive, successful working women, there is a secret “underlife” poisoning our freedom; infused with notions of beauty, it is a dark vein or self-hatred, physical obsessions, terror of aging, and dread of lost control.” (Wolf 120)
Advertisements used in this project provided messages that are congruent with the beauty-obsessed notions presented by the beauty myth. For example, advertisements for products such as Lean Cuisine were found throughout women’s magazines, like Cosmopolitan. Even though these ads did not directly invoke the “sex sells” strategy showing scantily clothed females or depictions equivalent in sexual nature, the product itself implies a way to make one more sexy. The idea of losing weight, as stated by the beauty myth, is a common goal that many women possess to increase their sexiness. Advertisements for makeup also need not exemplify “sex sells” blatantly. According to Kirkham and Weller, “the woman reader can equate the beauty, sexuality, or pleasure she will achieve with the aesthetics and attributes of the product; with the sexuality of the (beautifully photographed) full, red lipstick and the softness of the baby-pink blusher” (271). Therefore, Maybelline eye shadow and Max lip gloss also rely on the beauty myth and rely on the insecurity of the consumers to want to become sexier.
Because of the beauty myth that is running rampant throughout society, advertisements need to use sexual undertones to lead females to desire their products. . Two advertisements that did not explicitly spell out their relationships to the “sex sells” advertising strategy, yet still implied relations to sexiness are the “now available in stiletto” cigarette ad and the “lose excess weight with chocolate” ad. The cigarette ad takes a product that is not usually advertised specifically to women and turns it into somewhat of a sexy symbol. Stilettos carry a sexy connotation with them, so associating a new type of cigarette with a stiletto is a way to make the cigarette seem more appealing. The phone advertisement also uses language to make a sexy association. It uses language to play on the notion of losing weight and being thin to influence one’s decisions on buying a phone. Based on the beauty myth, Verizon is trying to market the phone through incorporating ideas of sexiness.
The “sex sells” marketing strategy is widespread in this country, but the use of less obvious sexual innuendos and products that make someone feel sexy is much more pervasive in society. Advertisements can inspire someone to think of sexy implications even if nothing in the ad represents sex. Certain products, no matter how they are showcased carry with them the how-to-become-sexier idea. These products play off of the beauty myth, defined by Wolf, in which society has already determined what is beautiful and sexy. The cliché of “sex sells” in this country needs to be broadened in incorporate the more subtle sexual undertones or ideas of self improvement in order to make one sexier in order to fully grasp the use of sexuality in advertising.
Kirkham, Pat and Weller, Alex. “Cosmetics: A Clinique Case Study.” Gender, Race and
Class in Media: A Text-Reader. 2nd Ed. Gail Dines, Jean M. Humez. Thousand
Wolf, Naomi. “The Beauty Myth.” Female Beauty. 120-125.