Sex in Advertising Research Paper

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Sex in Advertising

When you look around your scenery in this day-and-age, it seems like we live in a world not of dirt, trees, rivers and lakes, but, rather, a world of billboards and advertisements. No matter where you are, lifestyles are being promoted by companies of all types and sizes. Advertising has become the vehicle by which such companies expand their profit share, one of their main goals as a business. Over the last two centuries, methods by which to achieve this have been tried-and-tested, and some have withstood the test of time. The most successful, perhaps, is the use of sexuality to sell products, even when those products have nothing to do with sex.

Advertising has a long history that has taken many forms. The birth of the slogan, around the end of the nineteenth century, marks an important turning point in the evolution of marketing. Advertisements centered on a catchy phrase or slogan became popular in the 1890's, and were a large departure from an earlier technique of using long and verbose text to describe the product and the reason the consumer should spend his or her (mostly her) money on it. To be sure, slogans often did not give a reason why the product was needed, but, instead, served as an easily memorably and quickly delivered phrase.

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Research Paper on Sex in Advertising Assignment

Around the same time, emphasis on brand names was expanding in advertising in the United States. An important advent to marketing, familiar brands played a considerable role in giving products a meaning and identity, as if the product had its own personality. Presently, advertising is most often the main vehicle for promoting brands. At the onset of the twentieth century, unregulated advertising increased and fewer companies began to enjoy larger amounts of their respective markets. As is well-understood, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Therefore, a small movement, behind the power of letters to the editors of magazines and newspapers, challenged the truth behind many promises made in advertisement, and called for regulation of the industry. A quarter of a century later, the American Association of Advertising Agencies printed its first advertising code of ethics, which deemed unethical the following:

(1, O'Barr)

- false or misleading statements or exaggerations, visual or verbal

- testimonials which did not reflect the real choice of a competent witness

- price claims which were misleading

- comparisons which unfairly disparaged a competitive product or service

- unsupported claims, or claims that distorted the true meaning of statements made by professional or scientific authorities

- statements, suggestions or pictures offensive to public decency

(Making Sense of Media, p 309).

Many people today, however, do view many sexual ads as "offensive to public decency." Whether this is due to extravagant promotion of casual and promiscuous sex or the objectification of both the male and female body depends on the person. But if one thing is for sure, it is that "sex sells," and sexual suggestions in advertising, and the media in general, are ubiquitous. Research on the subject, nonetheless, is scant, and typically its financiers are marketers and media giants themselves, who are mostly concerned with consumer behavior. This research has helped to develop a new, synthesized field of science and marketing.

Neuromarketing, a fledgling new discipline, has serious implications for the imagery we see in advertising. In this new field, the advertising industry could make a science out of marketing. Neuromarketing began when, in 2003, Clinton Kilts of Atlanta's Emory University posed the question: How does activity in brain cells mirror things we very much like, as opposed to things we absolutely hate or do not interest us?

As they were shown a number of consumer goods, volunteers for this study were taken through an MRI scan. When Kilts went back and analyzed the reactions of the test subjects, he noticed that each time one of them -- regardless of sex -- saw a product they really liked, blood rushed to a small location at the front of the brain called the medial prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain involved in our self-identification and the formation of our personality. This part of the frontal lobes is involved in how we relate to ourselves and who we are.

Kilts conluded that, if you are attracted by a product, it is likely due to the fact that you identify with it. And, if sex sells, this must imply that a person identifies with the sex featured in an advertisement. Not only, then, is the consumer attracted by the product, but also by the act of sex itself, and the way in which sex is presented very well might have an affect on a person's attitudes and behavior towards sex.

Since the 1960's, advertisers and marketers have studied consumer responses to sexually oriented marketing in an effort to improve their results. The sixties was an important time for advertising, as new attitudes about sex gave rise to a new wave of sexuality in advertising, new markets and a new consumer. (2, Frank)

Most advertisements go further than simply including sexual content, oftentimes featuring sexual behaviors and other sorts of sexual attitudes and information. There are different types of sexual advertisements, with some including blatant nudity, erotic rendezvous, sexual suggestions like subtle innuendos and plays on words. In fact, many people even view fully-clothed attractive people in advertising as subtly sexual. Attitudes about sex, through advertising, are portrayed either by individuals or interpersonal interaction. The latter has the ability to affect gender-relations. And, while women make-up most of the sexuality-based market spaces, males have been featured more-and-more often. (3, Reichert)

The American media are considered to be the most sexually suggestive in the western hemisphere, usually advocating casual and non-committal sex. In Burger King Advertisements for the BK Super Seven Incher, which features an individual and not an interpersonal interaction, there exist a number of overlapping and overt sexual references. For example, lots of gooey mayonnaise on the sandwich, reminiscent of male ejaculate, as well as a woman, looking like a blow up doll, ready to "take" the sandwich. The text on the advertisement reads: (4, Alternet)

Fill your desire for something long, juicy and flame-grilled with the NEW BK SUPER SEVEN INCHER. Yearn for more after you taste the mind-blowing burger that comes with a single beef patty, topped with American cheese, crispy onions and the A1 Thick & Hearty Steak Sauce.

Sex in advertising was not always so overt. Nor did it always promote the sexual ethos given birth to in the sixties, such as "free love" and other forms of promiscuity. Often, before the popular movement of the sixties, the attitude in advertisements encouraged partnering with an individual for life, such as in marriage. In the early part of the twentieth century, signs of the Puritan Ethic and Victorian morals served as a check-and-balance on the sexual saturation of media imagery. World War II functioned as a major turning point, whereby pinups displayed women in smaller and tighter wardrobes. The different sorts of sexual styles in advertising serve an array of purposes, from playful to implied or explicit, and romantic and sexy. One can distinguish between a romantic advertisement and a sexy one. The former typically might be open to interpretation: Is the couple exclusive? Perhaps they are married. The latter features overt, casually sexual overtones. (5, Gallup and Robinson)

A recent study discovered that the typical American child spends more than 38 hours per week viewing media, whether it is in the form of television, videos, music, computers or video games. Young people watch television about 17 hours a week, and, by high school graduation, will have taken in 15,000 hours of television. That compares to 12,000 hours in the classroom. Further, adolescents rank the media second behind school sex education programs as one of the main ways in which they receive information about sex. (6, American Pediatrics)

Almost 23% of the sexual portrayals that were shown in the 2000 season involve characters from the ages of 18-24, and 9% (almost one in ten) involve characters under the age of 18.

The bulk of the sexual action and language occurs between unmarried characters. One study found that unmarried heterosexual characters engage in sexual intercourse four to eight times as much as married characters.

In one study of soap operas, there was only one representation of a married couple engaging in sex for every 24 portrayals of unmarried characters performing sexual acts.

Simply put, sex in advertising is sex appeal, and is one of the most enticing tools in marketing and advertising. It is used to attract a person to a particular product so as to sell that product, and typically has no relation to the product being advertised. According to some analysts, sex in advertising is partially responsible for a spike in consumer interests and sales, and so therefore the rise of consumerism. These days, the use of sexual imagery is commonplace.

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How to Cite "Sex in Advertising" Research Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Sex in Advertising.  (2010, March 27).  Retrieved January 19, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Sex in Advertising."  27 March 2010.  Web.  19 January 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Sex in Advertising."  March 27, 2010.  Accessed January 19, 2021.