Sex Appeals in Advertisements
I can still vividly recall a particular moment five years ago, while we were driving back to my uncle’s house from the LAX airport. Having set foot in United States for the first time, I couldn’t stop myself from gazing at a large Heineken billboard which featured a sexy blonde girl with only a thin red scarf draped over her body. She held the beer in her hand, with her buttocks slightly raised in a seductive pose – it seemed as if she was flirting with everyone who was coming towards her.
This experience caused feelings of shock and excitement to pulse through me, since I was thirteen at that time and I had just come from a very conservative culture in China which would prohibit such ads. I personally cannot give an exact figure as to how many such advertisements I have already seen. Nowadays, it seems that we are simply saturated by ads with sexually-suggestive themes. Although different individuals may have varying opinions on the subject, it may be best to begin analyzing this issue by examining a few key concepts behind this phenomenon.
Advertising Concepts Advertising can actually play a big role in motivating people to buy products. Although the end product like a commercial may lead us into thinking that the process is quite simple, many factors are actually scrutinized to ensure the success of an advertisement. Kotler and Armstrong in the book “Principles of Marketing” discuss a few of the important considerations in the development of an effective message.
This message should usually be aligned to the general positioning strategy (i. . the desired perception from the public or customers) of a product or company. The process would then begin with initially recognizing the benefits for customers, and using these as advertising appeals. A message may then be formulated in the form of visuals, symbols, phrases or a combination of these elements (540-548). Advertising appeals are generally assessed based on their meaningfulness, believability and distinctiveness.
The meaningfulness of appeals consumers would be defined by the perceived benefits which make the products more interesting to consumers. Believability is based on the perception of consumers that the product or service being advertised would be able to deliver the benefits and guarantees that were presented. There are times however, when meaningful and believable benefits that are most prominent with the product or service, may not actually be the best ones to highlight.
Distinctiveness would pertain to how a brand may be differentiated from products of the same type (Kotler and Armstrong 548). When the concept of the advertisement is finalized, the media with which it will be transmitted will then be chosen. Kotler and Armstrong attribute the use of a particular media type with regards to an advertiser’s emphasis on reach, frequency and impact. Newspapers are preferred for its believability and coverage of local markets. Magazines are chosen because of their credibility and prestige.
Radio ads have low costs and local coverage. Direct mail offers a sense of personalization, while outdoor ads are flexible in terms of their location. The Internet has interactive features. Television commercials cover a wide market in a visual manner (548-552). After considering all these factors in the production of advertisements, their effects on the purchasing habits of consumers can then be viewed. This will help in understanding why ads are made in a certain way. Self-image Enhancement
Kotler mentions the presence of ‘extra values’ or extra benefits as perceived by the consumer apart from the actual use of the product. This leads consumers to purchase products which they may relate to a certain lifestyle or a particular self-image (467). This idea is further supported in the book “Advertising and the Mind of the Consumer” which discussed the role of user image in advertising: In advertising for Levi’s, Revlon, Coca-Cola, Calvin Klein, Dior or Gap, the focus is often on people who use the brand.
What changes is not so much our perception, or image, of the product as our perception of the user-stereotype — the kind of person who typically uses the brand, or the situation in which the brand is typically used (Sutherland and Sylvester 8). Does this concept really work? I decided to conduct several interviews among University of California-Berkeley students to verify this fact. In conducting this survey, I had specifically chosen UC Berkeley college male students, who are very likely to be drawn to those advertisements that contain sexual appeal, aside from being in a particular age group that’s being targeted by the media.
One of my respondents was Jacob, a Physics major freshman at UC Berkeley, who thought that the sexual appeal in the Pepsi commercial had no effect on him except that it made him laugh: “…I saw a Pepsi internet commercial, with a hot girl wearing a bikini on the beach and holding it (the Pepsi soda) while flirting with another guy; a guy then bought a bottle of Pepsi too and they ended up kissing each other. I was laughing at the time at how can a soft drink make a couple just like that? Thought the ad was hilarious.
But Jacob was quick to add: “But the next day when I went to McDonald’s, I actually chose Pepsi over Coca Cola; I guess it’s because that ad was stuck in my mind and drinking Pepsi reminds me of the image of that hot girl, I’m not sure. ” Jacob might not be aware of it, but he may have unwittingly succumbed to the desire of attaining a self-image similar to the guy who got kissed by the desirable woman in the commercial. Sex Appeals in Advertising The most common form of sexual appeals in commercials is usually the use of sexually attractive females in order to attract people’s attention.
Aside from skin exposure, Reichert and Ramirez, also mentioned how roughly 2 out of every 5 undergraduate respondents pointed at the behavior of models as being sexy. The students were tasked to recall advertisements which they perceived as “sexy”, and to state the characteristics which they attribute the ad’s sexiness to. Many responses focused on a model’s manner of walking and talking which communicated or evoked sexual interest in a viewer (267-273). Most of the these advertisements do not really provide adequate information about the product itself, but serve solely as attention getters in order to stand out among competitors.
They just want to make consumers remember their brand name to increase the likelihood of their product being picked when a consumer is faced with a large variety of choices. David is a Molecular Cellular Biology sophomore who spends about three hours on average watching television daily, aside from spending another four hours on the Internet. He encounters numerous advertisements everyday, but ignores most of them; however, the ones that contain sexual appeals would catch his interest: “I can’t remember any particular example now, since they (advertisements that contain sexual appeals) are almost everywhere.
It’s not like I’m against it or anything, I still watch those; at least they are not boring, they sure attracted my attention. But I don’t think I’ve ever bought anything just by watching a commercial that has a sexy lady in there, because most of them don’t have anything to do with the products, it’s just like a mini show for me. ” Many other students have the same opinion as David. They view the substantial amount of advertisements present in their daily lives as distractions. Those ads with sexual appeals however, are viewed as “enjoyable” and as a topic for conversation among friends.
Although some of them might not purchase the products, the advertisement often ends up successful in the aspect of making the product known to the public or target audience. Peter, a second year Molecular Cellular Biology student at UC Berkeley, had a similar experience as Jacob: “I’ve always used Pantene as my shampoo brand, but I saw a L’Oreal commercial once on TV, with a really hot lady using it and her hair had great results; so the next time when I went to the supermarket I actually wanted to try one, and since then I ended up using L’Oreal instead of Pantene. ”
When I asked Peter if he would still buy the shampoo without seeing the commercial, he answered: “Maybe I wouldn’t pay attention to their product at all if it wasn’t that commercial; you know, it’s that hot girl that attracted me and I ended up trying the product, but it’s their good quality that made me continue using their shampoo. ” Although the sexually attractive scene in the commercial made the product name noticeable to people, it is still clear that other factors such as quality and price were the reasons why consumers would make a purchase and be loyal to the brand.
When it comes to the opinion of adults on sexual appeals, most of them are against the idea of having this kind of body exposure. Adults tend to have a more conservative viewpoint about what models should be showing publicly. They also hold concerns on the social health of the community and the effect of mass media on their children. Timothy, a forty year old UC Berkeley employee and Christian, said: “I think it’s wrong for those girls to expose their bodies in front of the public, just trying to sell a product that had nothing to do with them.
They disrespected themselves and also the public they’re facing. This is why I always supervise my kids when they watch the TV, because I don’t want them to get the false idea that women’s bodies are born to show it to public and to use it to make profits. I want my kids to learn how to respect themselves. ” LaTour and Henthorne were able to obtain a similar observation in their study. They found that among adult respondents, a moderately sexual image of a heterosexual couple compared to a highly sexual image of a couple drew favorable responses (25-32).
In this case, parents may encounter some trouble with their young children, who in being exposed to television and the Internet may also inadvertently stumble upon such commercials. These in turn could be quite misleading or easily misinterpreted since children have not acquired a clear sense of judgment of what is right or wrong in some cases. When it comes to defining sexual advertising, a few differences are also present between males and females. In a study with undergraduate respondents, females had a tendency of focusing on the interaction between models as being sexual in nature as compared to males.
On the other hand, males were keener on seeing the physical attributes of models than females. Although males generally shared more insights on physical characteristics, this also proved to be an important factor for women. Both genders also emphasized the importance of movements and nonverbal behavior of models in ads as determinants of its sexual nature (Reichert and Ramirez 267-273). As I had gleaned from my research and personal interviews, the opinions surrounding the issue of sex appeals in advertising truly vary from one individual to another.
Demographics such as age, religious beliefs and gender, are just some of the many possible factors which affect an individual’s viewpoint. Some people have expressed their strong disapproval of this practice or “strategy” which is being utilized by advertising agencies; others have expressed indifference or even amusement over it. There are those who think of these types of advertisements as ineffective, while other individuals have witnessed just how powerful the influence of these ads can be on their purchasing habits.
No matter what opinion one holds regarding this issue, it seems an inevitable fact that everyone will encounter advertisements that contains sexual appeals at one point or another in their lives. This undeniable fact should give everyone enough reason to increase their awareness on this topic, so that we could learn to support or demand other forms of advertising. Such an initial step will hopefully result to our ultimate development into smarter consumers.