Sexual innuendo in advertising is found very easily around us, to the point of becoming tiresome. It is still very effective, though, in many cases; you may head to a certain burger chain, disregarding others around it, because of a sexy ad you saw the other night, or you might find yourself reading some gun safe Reviews after viewing a gun safety ad using sex toys that left an impression.
The most blatant sexual or sexist contents are found in vintage advertisements, frequently featuring elegantly dressed women and men, either saying or doing things that may be construed as openly sexual but also as quite ordinary. The most frequently utilized images, either phallic or yonic, including bottled drinks, belts, guns, sausages, breadsticks, fruits and lips are all found in today’s advertising as well; but they could afford to be handled with much less subtlety back in the old days. Perhaps they were more shocking back then, but probably much funnier and fresher too.
The more modern attempts are different in that they can be more blatant in their use of the human body (which the vintage ads showed mostly through paintings); they can use scantily dressed men or women posturing or looking in a much more sexual way, either suggestively or openly. Whereas the vintage models could wear revealing clothes only in a formal way, i.e. in evening dress or in a sportive way, i.e. in beachwear, today’s models can be totally naked, provided the genitals are somewhat covered; and designer brands that can put out risqué photographs without appearing “cheap” make sure they are just barely covered. The advertisement for Tom Ford’s perfume, for example, did just that, with a perfume bottle as the only cover for a naked figure.
Images have the disadvantage of ceasing to become provocative; too much exposure to such images doesn’t help the campaign. After all, when it comes to the sexual images of the human body they can’t even hope to compete with pornography, and whatever artistic value they have is nothing if it doesn’t bring in sales. Ads are not there to have fun getting across innuendos, nor there to win awards; they are not there to create urges- except the urges to buy their things. The reason they are so blatantly sexy, sexual or sexist in the first place is to grab your attention, but most importantly of all, to make you spend your money. Too bad the world is saturated with advertising that they must concentrate on getting attention for its own sake. Too many ads provoke, without particularly creating a strong desire to buy.
In the case of expensive products with a select customer base, however, they realize that only a small percentage of the world is ever going to become their customer; to create an unforgettable impression in everyone who sees their ads is crucial because their customers will make purchases for the assurance that there will be admiration and envy in everybody else.
But if a product is not limited to the rich or privileged, the young and glamorous, or the adolescent and reckless, it could be a bad idea to cling too much onto the ‘sex sells’ idea or to try and shock the eye. People have seen most things that could be done within the boundary of respectability, and in the end the quality of the product will decide the sales rate.