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Sex in Advertising

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Advertising is virtually everywhere in everyday life. It communicates information about products or ideas through the mass media, which persuade or influence behaviour of viewer. Sexuality has been constantly being exploited in advertising, but somehow the exploitation depends on how people derive the meaning in an ad and decide whether it subverts or reinforces the culture. Crowley (1993) argues that women are often being exploited as sex object. She summarized the representation of women in advertising and the media that, For more than a decade, research has found that the portrayal of women in the media and in advertising is grossly insufficient and inappropriate… Where women are portrayed they are too often shown as unintelligent, or sexy, or as housewives responsible only for housework.

As one woman told Consumer Contact research in 1992 ‘you are either a bimbo or a drone – a sex object or a drudge’… Too often women are depicted as sex objects or victims of sensationalized and often violent sex crimes.

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Sexist stereotyping of women persists in journalism and advertising” (Crowley 1993).

Sex is used in advertising (some subtle, some blatant) because it is appealing to the viewer. According to Taflinger (1996), “sex is the second strongest psychological appeals, right behind self-preservation. Its strength is biological and instinctive, the genetic imperative of reproduction” (Taflinger, 1996). Thus, sex is used in advertising because it works effectively. Over the centuries, women have always been shown as a beautiful, seductive image in advertisement. In the Tony White Nissan Ad “Simply Irresistible”, and the old ad of Bornhoff Bread, women were portrayed as seductive objects.

In a negative view, these ads seemed to degrade and humiliate the women who appeared on the ads as well as the women who watched them. Feminists complained that, this sort of ad leads to a continuation of women being seen as objects, purely for sexual gratification of men (Lumby, 1997). And somehow it contributes towards a climate of fear, such as the increasing level of rape, sexual abuse and harassment occurring in the society. From the past decade, feminists have joined forces with conservative critics of the media and popular culture.

According to Lumby (1997), “feminists have campaigned against ‘sexist’ ads and denounced violent and sexual content in books, films, magazines, music video and video games. ” These feminists have called for government inquires into potentially corrupting effects of new media technologies and have lobbies for new forms of censorship for kinds of popular medium (Lumby, 1997, p. xii). An ad, photographed by Helmut Newton, that was used to advertise a watch for the Sydney Jeweller, was forced to withdraw the ad.

The Australian Advertising Standards Council was inundating with complaints and most complained that the ad was sexist and the scene degraded and humiliated women. But with an objective view, the ad depicted is more sexy than sexist. Lumby (1997) argued that the ad scene was like a common portrait of sexual intimacy played out in different ways in millions of Australian homes daily. “One partner expresses desire, while the other savours the attention before reciprocating” (Lumby, 1997, p. 1). The ad scene is non-violent and the both the models are consenting adults.

The ad scene seems to objectify the man than degrading the woman. “It is the most offensive advertisement I have ever been subjected to. It conveys that dangerously misleading message that women condone and enjoy being molested by men and that this behaviour is completely normal. It objectifies women, demeans women and advocates sexual harassment and abuse, which is absolutely unacceptable. I am disgusted by this advertisement and feel that printing it is yet another crime against women…” (Lumby, p. 3)

Cheryl Kernot, leader of the Australian Democrats, after received the above complain, denounced the ad as ‘derogatory and demeaning in the extreme’ and ‘blatantly insulting not just to women but also to men’ (Lumby,1997, p. 3). But Catharine Lumby would argue that women can enjoy sex as well. In the ad, the woman is not overwhelmed by the man’s attention. Indeed, she did not even look at the man, but she was still reading her book. There seems to have some level of sexual pleasure happening and it is not just for the anonymous male. And somehow, the woman is experiencing her own pleasure, the man is only part of the toy.

Lumby described that the woman is not being harassed or raped and she was indeed seemingly adding to the enjoyment of the moment by the use of her left hand. The ad seemed to objectify the man rather than degrading the woman. The woman in the watch ad, in other words, is enjoying a pleasurable sexual experience. And Lumby claimed that “the game of seduction is open to both sexes and all sexualities” (Lumby, 1997). Female’s body has become an item in the culture to sell products. According to Lumby, in a capitalist and patriarchal society, women’s use-value is reduced to their sexual usefulness to men.

And ironically, “to justify the oppression of women: that men are naturally sexually aggressive and violent and that, in order to afford women protection from male sexuality and aggression, their symptoms need to be policed, censored and punished. Women in such scenario are so powerless they are even unable to give consent to sex with a man” (Lumby, 1997, p. 50). The basic logic of the feminist concerns about advertising assumes that the majority of the female viewers is to a certain extent rather gullible to the form of mass advertising and need to somehow to be protected from it very much like impressionable and vulnerable young children.

Lumby (1997) stated that, the ‘mass’ in media refers to audience reach rather than inherent homogeneity, and the way people received and process any image or piece of information is bound up with the format and context in which receive (Lumby, 1997, p. xxiii). Yet, there is little place for feminist or some female viewers who are able to read against the text, or in other words, take on an oppositional meaning towards them. Also, more importantly, there is no room for women to be able to enjoy or gain their own pleasures from the images. Thus, feminist would argue that sex in advertising is subversive to the culture.

As society change, the concept of advertising changes as well. Men were used in ads to sell product rather than women. According to Lumby (1997), in Australia, one of the images that sexualize the male body was an ad for Sheridan sheets, showing a muscled and tanned male torso swaddled in a set of suggestively rumpled sheets. Other ads, such as Calvin Klein, that featured pretty, well-built adolescent boys (Lumby, 1997, p. 78). A Diet Coke ad featured female office workers who gather at 11. 30am to stare at a male construction working during his break drinking Diet Coke.

And today, toned and tanned nude male bodies are mandatory props in ads for a wide range of male products. These ads reverse the sexuality being used to sell product. The purpose of advertising is to convince people that the products are useful to them in one way or another. But feminist would argue why women and sex are related to sell products? Katz claimed that women and sex are targeted towards men in advertisement. He stated that, “if you were to put a commercial on TV of a man lounging on the couch with a remote control in his hand and popping open a Bud Light, not many men would find that appealing.

But place a sexy woman on the couch with him, drooling over his wet Bud Light bottle would get attention. The more sexy, the more skin shown, the more that image will stick in somebody’s mind” (Katz). Thus, advertisers are looking for the best way to attract viewer. Advertisers court on viewer’s desire to consume their product. Lumby (1997) claimed that, the use of male desire for female fresh to sell watches is hardly exceptional in a consumer society which packages, advertises and sells everything from childbirth classes to funerals. And it is actually the context of image that attracts the consumer.

Over the years, advertising had been attacked by critics who charge that it goes beyond selling products or ideas to exert a powerful influence on society. According to Bovee, advertising in many forms is pervasive and persuasive that has the ability to shape social trends and mold personal attitude. The influence is unwanted, intrusive, and often detrimental to society. Advertising promotes freedom of speech, supports media and provides information about social issues as well as goods and services. And furthermore, advertising is actually influenced by society as it acts as a mirror in reflecting certain societal changes (Bovee, p. 8). So it is actually the society that influences the content of the ad. Women are being portrayed as seductive, sexual object in advertising over the decade. Feminist complained such ads humiliate and degrade women but Catharine Lumby claimed that women can enjoy sex as well. Somehow, it depends on how people define the sexual attention use in advertising and decide whether it subverts or reinforce the culture and to what extend. As Lumby (1997) said, there is no single, ‘true’ reading of any image or representation. There are only points of view (Lumby, 1997, xxv).

Cite this Sex in Advertising

Sex in Advertising. (2016, Oct 02). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/sex-in-advertising/

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