November 10, 2008

Sex, The Cornerstone of Advertising

Posted by Judi Lynn Lake at 17:04
Let’s face it, sex sells. It always has and it always will.

Flashback to the ‘60s: Remember this famous slogan, "Take it off... take it all off…."

This steamy Noxema TV commercial, where a man shaved his face to strip tease music, was one of the most effective and provocative ad campaigns of the Sixties.

Why? The answer is simple. The ad cleverly played upon our most basic, primitive instinct towards... ‘s-e-x’.

Advertisers have long recognized that ‘sex sells’. Neil E. Harrison, a writer for “Canadian Business and Current Affairs", states, “Advertisers recognize that ''sex sells'' because it attracts attention. Attention-getting techniques have always been the cornerstone of advertising; even if it makes a consumer look in disgust, the point is that the consumer looked, and if the imagery is pushing the envelope or shocking or borderline offensive, it becomes more memorable."

[But what constitutes ‘borderline offensive’?]

‘Borderline offensive’ seems to be the main objective in advertising today. Although using shocking and explicit material to draw attention is nothing new, each added campaign continuously gets more and more risqué.

Many within the industry consider designer Calvin Klein as the pioneer of ‘explicit sexual marketing’. In 1980 Klein featured a then 15 year old Brooke Shields purring ‘Nothing comes between me and my Calvin’s.’ Although this campaign shocked many, it skyrocketed Klein to be the most talked about designer of all time.

In 1995, Klein, who has repeatedly used young children in his provocative campaigns, was the target of a US Justice Department Investigation. The panel asked him if he had thought some of his ads were ‘borderline child pornography’. Unaffected, Klein replied, “These campaign ads are not pornographic. The ads were intended to convey the idea ‘that glamour is an inner quality’ that can be found in regular people in an ordinary setting; it is not something that is exclusive to movie stars and models" (Calvin Klein; A Case Study n.p.).

[Yeah, but isn’t this the same man who blatantly said, “Jeans are about sex?"]

So how does this ‘sexual marketing’ affect our kids?

In many ways.

Exposing children to provocative material too soon is detrimental to them because most youngsters are unable to process the information in its proper context. American culture is permeated with sex and we are forgetting that ‘children need to be children’. We are repeatedly chanting that ‘the children are our future’, but my question is what kind of children and what kind of future?

I am a mother of a soon to be nine-year-old girl and I can attest to the fact that sex is everywhere for children her age. I am my child’s ‘watchdog’ but, unfortunately, many ‘latch-key’ children do not have that luxury.

A company that primarily targets young children, Abercrombie and Fitch, angered many with the sensual production of their 2002 “Holiday Quarterly". The front cover displayed a naked male and female on a bed, with numerous nude pictures on the first 117 pages. “Abercrombie & Fitch is selling porn, plain and simple," said Don Wildmon, chairman of American Family Association. "This is a company that markets itself to young people, and their message is one of promoting immoral personal and social behavior (AFA Action, n.p.).

'Breaking the mold’ in 2002, this holiday catalog more closely resembled a porn magazine than a kid's clothing catalog. A spokesperson for Abercrombie and Fitch was quoted by saying: “These photos depict young, healthy, presumably red-blooded young Americans posing, frolicking, and generally living what could be considered the ‘good life.’ They do this in Abercrombie clothes, sometimes; other times they do this out of Abercrombie Clothes. It’s the ‘out of that’s drawing the ire out of Uncle Sam"(Collins, n.p.).

Most currently, Abercrombie and Fitch were bashed for their line of thong underwear targeted for young girls’ ages 7-14. The underwear carry the sayings of “eye candy," “wink-wink," and “kiss me." The underwear is meant to be light hearted and cute….

[‘Light hearted’ and ‘cute’ thongs for my seven year old that has ‘kiss me’ on the behind? I don’t think so… not in this lifetime!]

A television documentary titled “Buying into Sexy: The Sexing up of ‘Tweens", shows the dangerous mutation of teens and preteens interests over the new trends in young fashion. No longer interested in Barbie dolls, the trend is now towards padded bras and thong underwear. “You get more attention," says Amanda, a 12 year old girl. “And strange guys come up to you and try and get you to go to nightclubs." “A lot of guys stare," adds Natasha.

[I guess it is ‘cool’ for a pre-teen to wear hip-hugger jeans so low that you see… well, you know…]

In ‘The Big Ideas of 2006’ issue of the magazine, "Adbusters", a mother’s letter began with “…little girls turned into sexy little women -- freakish, disturbing and sad. I am reminded again why I home-school, why I threw out the TV, why I’d rather stay at home and love my daughter then make a lot of money and watch her childhood and self-esteem drift away on a sea of advertising".

As I write this, I hear my Laura’s laughter coming from the television room but I am safe; her favorite TV show is “I Love Lucy" and all the episodes are on dvd.

Sex may be the cornerstone of advertising for adults, but it is damaging our kids in more ways than one. If we really are so concerned about our kids, ‘our future’, maybe we ought to begin to protect them.

Don’t be silent; let your voice be heard. If you see a commercial that is offensive, write to the network, your local TV station and the maker of the product. Visit this site to find addresses for local TV stations.

(c) 2008 Judi Lynn Lake All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Judi Lynn Lake has kept up with leading edge business trends throughout her varied and successful career. She had already had her "15 minutes of fame" over and over again before starting her family. Judi and her family now reside in South Carolina, but, having been born and raised on Long Island, NY, it is clearly evident that she will always be a "New Yorker." Today, she successfully runs her own advertising agency which handles everything from logos, branding and package design while she continues to work closely with self-published authors from design to promotion. For more information, visit

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Life As It Happens Copyright 2009 Judi Lynn Lake. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Image by Tadpole's Notez