The word “advertise” comes from the Latin word “adverto” which means to “to turn one’s attention to something” (Espejo, 2010). In an effort to turn consumers’ attention to their products, advertisers have used men’s and women’s bodies in part or whole to market and advertise everything from car tires to brassieres. The major effect of such advertisements is to give women and men some unrealistic notions of what is sexually appealing and how they ought to look like (Gill, 2008). According to Espejo (2010) an effective advertisement is one that strikes a chord between the desires and the needs of the target consumer. When advertisers use sexuality in advertisements, they aim to create desire and need that buying a certain consumer product can correct any defect whether it is real or imagined (Courtney & Whipple, 1983). The sexuality that has been injected into adverts lately is blatantly shameless and aggressive.
As such, sexuality has turned in sexism whereby some appearances in men and women are presented in negative, stereotypic or discriminatory ways (Courtney & Whipple, 1983). Sexuality in advertisements should avoid sexism by being moderate so as to maintain the original meaning and importance of advertising which is to inform, to convince and to remind consumers about a certain product.
Sexuality in advertising is inevitable when advertising products that are either sexual in nature or that are closely intertwined with sexuality. Products such as cosmetics and clothes are largely about looks and since sexuality is very much part of how people look, it is impossible not to incorporate sexual images in the advertising of these products (Kosut, 2012). In order to convince people that a certain cream will make them look younger, smoother and shinier, the use of some sexually appealing images is inevitable. Kosut (2012) notes that the sexual images put across aim to stimulate desire for resemblance among the consumers. Unless, the images are grossly exaggerated and revealing, the usage of sexuality advertising for the said products usually elicits minimal opposition and it is very effective in advertising those products.
Sexuality in advertisement serves to attract the attention of consumers to products that are generally unappealing and that cannot be significantly given authentic appeal. The human mind is very sensitive to sexual images and hence their usage in advertising of unappealing products (Frenkel, Orkin & Wolf, 1980). In order to gain an opportunity to inform consumers about the capability of a certain product to meet some specific needs, advertisers must gain the attention of the potential consumer. Sexual images and sounds come in handy. This gimmick works exemplary well for products that are in their nature dull, unappealing and adhere to certain standards. These are basically products that cannot be significantly differentiated and beautified. Examples include tires, matchboxes, utensils, TVs, radios and other electronics among other items. Sexual advertising comes in handy in order to market these and other related products.
Mild sexuality advertising brings about creativity, wit and fun which attract clients in a non-offensive manner. When mild sexuality is applied in an advert it spices up the advertisement and perfectly achieves the three purposes of advertising; informing, convincing and reminding consumers about a given product (Stemple & Tyler, 1974; Kosut, 2012). When an advert shows a sexy woman and using her brains better than her beauty, then the advert becomes less sexist and comes across as witty and creative (Zimmerman & Dahlberg, 2008). Several beer and car manufacturing companies have come up with such advertisements and appealed to millions of customers besides having their adverts win many awards.
Extreme usage of sexual graphics or sounds in advertisements is wrong as it could violate the morals of certain societies and end up achieving the reverse of its original intention (Zimmerman & Dahlberg, 2008). In this case, many advertisements have exaggerated sexuality and put across annoying sexist opinions. The 2010, advert on Doritos sent a message that the only way a woman can gain attention from a man watching football is to cover her body with nacho-cheese flavored chips! The 2012 Teleflora advert which featured supermodel Adriana Lima, indicated that all any clueless man out there needed to do in order to have sex with a woman was to send her flowers! Worse still it didn’t matter if the woman liked the flowers or not! Blatantly, the advert indicates that sex is like a commodity whereby if a man spends on flowers he is entitled to sex! Lima instructs viewers “Valentine’s Day is not that difficult, give and you shall receive!” These among thousands of other advertisements have portrayed women as nothing more than sex objects.
Sexually explicit adverts reinforce sexist notions about ideal manhood and womanhood. When products are advertised using sexually explicit imagery, the target audience may completely lack the informative and persuasive aspects of the advert (Scott, 2009). Jacobson (1995) notes that the sexual imagery used could end up encouraging people to think about sex as a commodity. The adverts also reinforce stereotypes about some women and men shapes, heights and complexions as sex objects (Wilson, Gutiérrez, & Chao, 2003). These adverts can therefore significantly contribute towards violence against the objectified persons.
The use of sexism in advertising is at times grossly misleading and inaccurate (Zimmerman & Dahlberg, 2008). Since the invention of the TV and print media, cigarette manufacturers have placed adverts that show beautiful and sexy women smoking. Marlboro and Embassy are leading examples of companies that have inaccurately depicted smoking as sexy, or as enhancing sexual appeal. Realistically, continued smoking makes one look less sexy and as such the adverts come across as grossly misleading. After sustained campaigns and enforcement of government regulations, many such misleading advertisements have ceased. However, companies still sneak in some related adverts in an effort to gain market shares in an ever competitive business world.
Sexism in advertising has persisted in spite of sexism being fought severely since the 1960s. The 1950s featured many sexist advertisements such as the one on Kenwood Chef which ran an advert about some kitchen equipment which had the following slogan, “The chef does everything but cook, that’s what wives are for!” (Zimmerman & Dahlberg, 2008). This among many other adverts drastically reduced during the 1960s and 70s when women rights gained root. However, stiff competition in several products about cleaning, homecare, food, pets and other home-related products have extensively used women. This brings about the notion that the place of the woman is at home, in the kitchen or some other related place. These advertisements, therefore, pass across very sexism opinions.
The increased sexism in advertisements can cause many people dissatisfaction and propaganda. According to Wilson, Gutiérrez and Chao, (2003) sexism in advertisements becomes a manipulation of social values and attitudes by trying to create false desires and needs so as to regenerate desire for consumption of an ever increasing diversity and volume of goods. The increment in sexism advertisement is a reflection of the general society that has objectified people. Besides the negative associations, sexism in advertisements shows an ideal society. The advertisements appreciate the beauty of women in a given society or the muscularity and handsomeness of the men in that society (Gill, 2008). Since all people want to look good, the idealization of some types of women and men draws some positive efforts among the audiences of that advert who also exercise, practice healthier lifestyles in an effort to look like some lady or man from a certain advert.
Since time in memorial, advertisers have used sexual images in advertisements. Whereas sexual images are inevitable in the advertisement of products such as cosmetics and clothes, the explicit and blatant usage of sexually explicit images violates morals and portrays women and men as sexual objects. On a positive note, sexual connotations in advertisements, helps to market products that do not have authentic appeal such as tires and electronics. In addition, some level of sexuality in advertisements comes across as witty and generally acceptable. However, it is the extreme and misleading advertisements such as the ones on cigarettes that are deemed to be wrong and sexist. The adverts that also portray women as exclusive users of cleaning, cooking or homecare products are also deemed to be sexist because they pass notions that some chores and responsibilities are for a certain gender. In all, it is wrong for advertisers to use sexually explicit images or sounds because the adverts have an effect in shaping the opinions of people about chores, sex, and the place of genders in the society.
Courtney, A. E., & Whipple, T. W. (1983). Sex stereotyping in advertising. Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books.
Espejo, R. (2010). Advertising. Detroit: Greenhaven Press.
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Gill, R. (2008). Empowerment/Sexism: Figuring Female Sexual Agency In Contemporary Advertising. Feminism & Psychology, 18(1), 35-60.
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Kosut, M. (2012). Encyclopedia of gender in media. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE Publications.
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Wilson, C. C., Gutiérrez, F., & Chao, L. M. (2003). Racism, sexism, and the media: the rise of class communication in multicultural America (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.
Zimmerman, A. & Dahlberg, J. (2008). The Sexual Objectification of Women in Advertising: A Contemporary Cultural Perspective. Journal of Advertising Research, 48(1), 71-79. Retrieved from Business Source Complete database. 22 March 2013. http://womeninads.weebly.com/history.html