A woman in a cropped tank top and hip-hugger jeans drizzles a shot of rum onto her stomach as a man licks the liquor from her belly button. She squeals with delight. No, it’s not a scene from an Ybor City Friday night, but from an ad in the glossy pages of the December issue of Cosmopolitan magazine.
Another alcohol ad in the same issue accompanies the first, as a man in ski wear sticks out his tongue to catch a snowflake. The snowflakes are pretty women falling from the sky.
Using sex to sell products isn’t a new idea, but some say ads push the envelope on what is acceptable for mainstream television and print. But they concede that the most popular tool in advertising isn’t going anywhere.
Dan Bagley, an advertising professor at USF, said sex in advertising has been around a while, but started to boom in the 1920s when ads stopped telling consumers a product would heal them and started telling them it would make them feel better. Now, he says advertising’s primary theme is to make the consumer feel accepted.
“Beer is sold in two ways,” he said. “Where you’re one of the guys and where you have the babes.”
Bagley said sex does have a place in advertising for products such as lingerie, suntan lotion and perfume. But products such as hardware and auto parts have no apparent connection with sex, Bagley said.
“It’s going from sexy to sexist,” he said. “Using sex to sell hardware and motor parts – there’s no logical connection.”Laura Shields, a senior majoring in advertising, said there’s a place for sex in advertising, but that it’s gone too far.
“Sex is part of life, but it shouldn’t be exploited,” she said. “Perfume ads are supposed to be sexy. There’s a point where you go beyond artsy and get graphic. Why does it always have to be sex?”
The fashion industry uses sex to sell its wares, but it has been accused of going overboard on several occasions.
Calvin Klein, purveyor of jeans, perfume and underwear, came under fire in the 1990s for using teens in their racy underwear ads. Critics called the ads borderline child pornography, and the campaign was pulled.
According to an article from Advertising Age, the industry’s publication, some companies have backed off from their usual racy fare since the Sept. 11 attacks.
In Abercrombie & Fitch’s spring 2001 A&F Quarterly, the catalog featured pages of naked men and women frolicking poolside and at the beach. In a 180-degree turn, the company cancelled its winter edition of the catalog saying now is not the right time to be sexually aggressive, the article stated.
Bagley, though, said the attacks won’t change advertising too much because sex is part of human existence.
“I think Sept. 11 is a blip on the screen in regards to sex in advertising,” Bagley said. “Sex will always be used in advertising. It’s a prime urge in human beings. Wherever there is a need to be met, products will be sold.”
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