Sex in advertising

'Sex sells.' Or so the adage goes. But is it true? Do advertisements that allude sex, really increase sales? Is 'sex in advertising' just another beauty myth, that has negatively affected the way men and women see each other and treat each other. This lesson explores a rather timeless phenomenon. 

  1. Get into 6 'expert' groups. Study the deconstructed advertisement below. Assign each group 1 of the 6 problems with 'sex in advertising' as described below the image. Then study Texts 1-10 below. As a group, discuss where / if you see evidence of the problem that you have been assigned. 

  2. Problem Example
    Objectification: Advertisements that treat women like objects deny them respect and dignity. When it becomes normal to depict women as objects, it is easier to commit acts of violence against them, another danger of sex in advertising.
    The men in this ad treat the woman as an object, like a ball in a game, that they play with as they please. 
    Commodification of sex: Once a person is objectified, then they can be bought, sold or consumed like a commodity. There is rarely a logical connection between depicting sexual activity and buying a product. But ads that depict both goods and sex, suggest that both are for sale.  The Broomsticks ad depicts a near naked woman in an effort to sell men’s slacks. 
    Eroticism of violence: Some advertisements depict violence against women as something that arouses men and women. Violence and sex are aspects of shock advertising (shockvertising), where readers are intrigued by conflict.  The Broomsticks ad is dangerous because it suggests that women take sexual pleasure in being bullied or beaten.
    Infantilism of sex: Many advertisements depict women behaving like children and appearing sexually aroused. It is not unusual to see a woman licking an ice-lolly or wearing a kiddy-sized shirt. Unfortunately, some young or even under-aged fashion models, who are not conscious of what they are doing, are sometimes depicted in a sexual way.  The Broomsticks ad depicts a woman in her underwear participating in a so-called 'game'.  
    Trivialisation of sex: How serious is 'sex'? Is it a private moment shared by those who deeply love each other? Or is it a casual moment that comes and goes? Many advertisements suggest the latter. This  trivialisation of sex can have cultural consequences, as people take intimacy less seriously.

    "Ring around the Rosie. Or Carol. Or Eleanor. Etc." implies that the name of the girl does not matter. It is just a game.  

    Unrealistic depiction of 'beauty' : Women appear abnormally skinny, young or beautiful in many ads. This depiction is achieved through the use of airbrushing software. Unfortunately, many girls and women do not realise this, and think that they are not perfect if they cannot look like the models in the advertisements. This can lead to low self-esteem, depression, bulimia, anorexia or other eating disorders.

    The model in this broomsticks advertisement is unrealistically skinny. 





  3. As a group, report back to the class, explaining where you found problematic depictions of women, sex and violence in these advertisements. 

  4. Now form new groups (jigsaw activity) in which a member of each previous, expert group is present in each new group. Assign each new group a different product or company to research: Axe, Dolce & Gabanna, American Apparel, Diesel, Suit Supply or Carl's Jr. Do an online search for more advertisements by your company that have been scrutinised or banned. Find out how your company has dealt with criticism and scrutiny. Prepare a slide show of ads by your company and present your findings to the class. 

  5. As a class, discuss how the advertisements that you have explored, relate to and deepen your understanding of one or more of the 7 concepts from this course: identity, culture, communication, representation, perspective, transformation or creativity.

You may take a collection of advertisements from the same company and same campaign and use them as a non-literary body of work (BOW) for your individual oral. Select one advertisement from your BOW and pair it with a poem, song lyrics or a passage from a literary work to explore a global issue that is related to sex and false depictions of beauty.

Last modified: Wednesday, 20 March 2024, 9:45 AM