Wednesday, October 24, 2007

How-to-be-Sexier Sells

“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

Oaks, California: Sage, 2003. 268-273.

Wolf, Naomi. “The Beauty Myth.” Female Beauty. 120-125.


Devin Casper said...

The writer makes some very good arguments in this article. Everyone has heard the phrase "sex sells," but in recent years, the term has taken on a new meaning. It used to mean that advertisers would use people, language, and images to insinuate sexual meanings in an advertisement. A new type of this marketing tactic is not just to show sexy people, but to make the consumer feel like they could eventually be sexy with the help of the product. People who feel like a product will make them more healthy and attractive are more likely to buy the product advertised to them. The items the author is talking about might not even be seen as sexy items, but they can be used to make someone feel sexier. She makes the point that not only does sex sell, but "how-to-be-sexier" sells just as much. She mentions Naomi Wolf's article, "The Beauty Myth," and calls the beauty myth a recent phenomenon. Many of the advertisements using the "how-to-be-sexier" sells method are a result of the beauty myth and women's obsession with looking attractive. Products, she says, play on a consumers insecure tendencies. I think the author makes many good points, and has good arguments. She backs up her points with an article that we have read in class. Her blog is extremely valid and relevant to today's consumer culture.

Jessie said...

Rachel- Nice job with the collage and the written portion of the assignment. Also, interesting feedback from Devin Casper (do you know this person in "real life"?).

One main issue for you to be on the lookout to address (as you write the last blog post and before your final project is initiated) are the use of ...quotes!!!!

All of your quotes are relevant and certainly used in a manner that's compatable with the content of the collage and the assignment.

However, the first quote needs to be integrated into a sentence (Kirkham and Weller) so that it's not just its own little island (i.e. As Kirkham and Weller argue, "Advertisers...") in your paragraph (especially the intro paragraph).

Instead of paraphrasing the first reference you make to Wolf's piece, try citing her work directly, and noting the next use of her work (because the quote is an entire paragraph of its own), use only the most relevant part. Find the shortest bit of poignant information for the reader to understand your point fuller, clearer, and have an "ah ha" moment because you've linked your assertion with a great piece of evidence :o).

See the rubric on SOCS (there should be a link when you check your grades for the course) for grade and assessment specifics :o)