Sex in Advertising: Dolce & Gabbana Style

In an attempt to reach disinterested consumers, advertisers are pushing the bar with sex in advertising.  People are having hissy fits over images of stylized gang rape, homoeroticism, and just plain sex in general in the marketing campaigns of mainstream products.  While people may be upset, the campaigns seem to be effective.  People are fascinated by sex. In fact, I can virtually guarantee that this post will experience higher reader hits because I used the word “sex” in the title.

If I have a client who is attractive I struggle with whether or not I should market that client’s physical attributes.  I have been a fervent believer that marketing attractiveness (style over substance) is a disservice.  But then I view Dolce & Gabbana’s current campaign that depicts various forms of fantasy rape. Does this really sell clothing? Yes, yes it does.

Human being become mindless idiots when they’re around images of sexual activity.  I’m not talking pornography, but rather stylized fantasy.  Something depicted that the average consumers will never be able to obtain but desire so badly that the only viable option is to “buy” into the marketing and purchase the brand that reminds them of their carnal desires. The message in this advertisement is that clothing makes us feel sexy and that others will recognize our sexiness.  What is genius about this advertisement is that men will think it is designed for them while women may recognize it as merely a female centered fantasy.  Nevertheless, “Family Values” groups have admonished D&G for this campaign as promoting violence against women.  The more they complain, the better the sales.

Homoeroticism is probably the fastest growing tool in mainstream advertising.  I believe its successful use is two fold.  First, same-sex relationships are becoming more mainstream and direct advertising makes sense. Secondly, the idea of homoeroticism is still controversial which will result in more interest in the campaign.  When challenged, advertisers can state they were not trying to be controversial, but rather were catering to a growing and substantial portion of their consumer base.  The fact is that sex, in all its forms, sells product.  It compels people to buy the advertised product in a futile attempt at living out an unattainable fantasy.  Most of us can get sex if we really want it, but most of us can not get the fantasy.  It is the fantasy that we desire.

Is selling sexual fantasies effective for marketing all products?  No, absolutely not.  Fantasy in advertising works with clothing, perfume and cars.  These are all things that are intended to make us feel more desirable.  Sex in advertising also works for alcohol and certain soft drinks, basically anything that is swallowed, but not chewed.  Everyone knows that with a little alcohol you feel sexier, think you look sexier, and suddenly realize that everyone in the room is sexier than they were an hour ago.  Can I effectively create a sexual fantasy campaign using a model to sell fine art paintings?  No, I don’t think so. People have visceral responses to art, but not sexual feelings.  Fine art does not tap into a person’s desire to be desirable.  Art is also subjective as each person may have a different reaction to the same work.  The key is to tap into the emotion that the product elicits and sell the emotion, not the product.

Is sex in advertising a paradox?  Actually, I think sex itself is a paradox.  Sex brings people closer but can also destroy relationships.  Sex is a fact of life but probably the most lied about subject.  As a society we’re still saddled with puritanical ideologies where sex is considered shameful.  It’s like masturbation, pretty much everyone does it but no one talks about it because of the shame.  Why is there shame?

I do know one thing, when the shame of sex goes away so will sex in advertising.  But luckily for advertisers, sexual shame is alive and well.  We continue to be intrigued by it. We will continue to pass judgement on others for having lives that we secretly desire. Basically, as long as we remain uptight about sexual activity, Dolce & Gabbana will be able to successfully tap into our oppression and convince us of the irony that clothes lead to sex.


That’s Not Art!!! Anyone Can Do That!!!

I hear this statement all the time.  Usually it is made by people who have narrow definitions of art.  I say this because at the beginning of most art appreciation courses people have specific views of what qualifies as art.  By the end of the course their perspectives have broadened allowing them a greater appreciation for artistic endeavors.

There are many reasons to state that virtually anything is art.  You are reading this blog entry on a computer.  A computer that has an intentional design, color, display, a feel to each keystroke.  Someone had to create all of that into one harmonious design.  Is this art? I will assert that just because it is not hung on your wall or displayed on a pedestal does not mean it is not art.  I have witnessed emotional responses to art.  Responses that many believe are requisites of significant art.   I have also witnessed very emotional responses from people opening perfectly packaged Mac products.  Certainly Apple products must serve utilitarian purposes, but something about them is art.

I watch people try to stretch their minds to understand why something is considered a masterpiece.  They stare intently yet ultimately relent by saying, “I don’t get it.  I could have done this.”  My internal voice always says, “Maybe, but you didn’t.”  One of the artists that receives this type of response is Mark Rothko.

Rothko exhibited new works that many critics considered a revelation.  Others thought it was lazy with the complete disregard for technique.  The paintings lacked rigid structure and were very organic in nature.  They became about the interplay of paint on the canvas at a time when paintings we deliberate and even harsh.  It was about an experience for the person appreciating the art, not about exact renderings.  So much was about looking at a painting and trying to understand what the artist meant.  Rothko was creating an experience for the onlooker.  For seven years, Rothko painted in oil only on large canvases with vertical formats. Very large-scale designs were used in order to overwhelm the viewer, or, in Rothko’s words, to make the viewer feel “enveloped within” the painting.  He explains, “I realize that historically the function of painting large pictures is painting something very grandiose and pompous.  The reason I paint them, however, is precisely because I want to be very intimate and human. To paint a small picture is to place yourself outside your experience, to look upon an experience as a stereopticon view or with a reducing glass.  However, you paint the larger picture, you are in it.  It is something you command!”

As Rothko achieved success, he became increasingly protective of his works, turning down several potentially important sales and exhibition opportunities.  He even went so far as to recommend that a viewer position themselves as little as 18 inches away from the canvas so that the viewer might experience a sense of intimacy, as well as awe, a transcendence of the individual, and a sense of the unknown.

Personally I find Rothko’s work relaxing, much like staring at the ocean.  He did not treat the canvas allowing the paint to react and saturate the texture.  He had little regard for respecting the prevailing technique of the time.  Could you have done this?  Probably. Would you ever have thought to do this had Rothko not come before you?  Probably not. Sometimes art is important because it is recognized as the first of its kind.  When something new is introduced it creates a ripple effect in the art world for generations.  One of the best examples to illustrate this fact comes from the movie, “The Devil Wears Prada.”  Meryl Streep’s character asks Anne Hathaway’s character about her blue sweater.  While Hathaway believed the blue was a random choice, Streep is able to explain the genesis and evolution of the color forever ending the notion of its randomness.  Do you think that soft silvery green you painted your bedroom just happened on its own or did years ago an artist think to blend colors to create a color never before seen resulting in a ripple effect on the color chart?

Simply put, art is appreciated when one knows more about it.  To truly understand art in museums one needs to be familiar with the artists’ biographies and what was happening in history at the time.  Most new art movements are created in rebellion of the expectations of the time.  For example, Baroque was a period of painting that was frequently dark in color, rarely represented anything with a happy theme, rendered in exacting detail with some of its best examples depicting biblical stories.  This style was highly encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church.  Following Baroque was the Rococo period known for its more whimsical style of artwork that utilized softer color palettes, playful motifs with subject matter that was rarely considered important.  Most critics labeled it as superficial and in poor taste.  While Baroque was dead serious, Rococo seemed to drip of sweet cake frosting and fairy glitter.  Rococo style was not technically tight, but by no means was it abstract.  Abstraction would not be conceived for well over another 100 years. Nevertheless, this new style opened the door for generations to come.  It should also be noted that similarities exist in all the arts (painting, music, fashion, furniture, etc.).  Art, in all forms, expresses some aspect of culture at the time it was created. 
When you look at art and casually think, “I could have done that,” all you have to remember is that you didn’t.  What you are really saying is that you could copy a piece of art that someone else created.  One important element of museum quality art is the fact that is was an original idea.  Simply put, you did not have an original idea.  People used to compliment my skill at designing my living room.  What they didn’t know was I simply duplicated a showroom picture of a living room that I admired.  It’s not my creativity they admired, but rather my ability to copy someone else’s idea.  Something anyone could have done.
So I guess the definition of art needs to be redefined.  It’s not just about technicality. Anyone who did well in art school can render a technically brilliant painting, I would hope. It’s about going beyond the technical and expressing something in a way that has not been done before.  It’s about appreciation.  It’s about originality.  Almost everything is art in one form or another.  Affirmatively stating, “That’s not art.  Anyone can do that,” causes others to analyze the object about which the statement was made immediately thrusting it into the category of art.  Andy Warhol proved this theory a generation ago.  Trying to delineate what is and what is not art seems a waste of time.

Love Everyone, Trust No One, and Don’t Be Stupid!

People arrive in Los Angeles with wide eyes and the belief that they will be the next big thing at whatever it is that they do.  Some will achieve their wildest dreams.  Others will reach moderate success.  Still others will remain in town but with altered paths.  But most will eventually leave Los Angeles with the ghosts of dead dreams and return home.

There are many components to surviving in Los Angeles.  The first being that one should know who he or she is upon arrival.  What I mean by this is that you should know your moral core and what you want to project as a person, because it will be challenged many times.  I’ve seen and heard performers state, “I’ll be anyone you want for this opportunity. You can mold me into anything that you need.” People in decision making positions want you to already know who you are.  Sure, you may be able to play other personas if you’re an actor or sing other genres if you’re a vocalist, but still know who you are and what you want to present to the world.  The statement that you will allow yourself to be molded in any way that someone else sees fit indicates that you are aimless with the inability to make effective decisions.  People in casting want you to enter the room as the embodiment of the character.  They don’t have time to mold you.  Having no real sense of who you are while immersed in a fiercely competitive and surreal environment will eventually take its toll.

Next, you need to do a little research on Los Angeles and your chosen career industry before arriving.  I cannot tell you how many young performers arrive in this city thinking that they will be discovered almost immediately because their talent is undeniable.  Talent is a fraction of what will allow you to work in this city.  This city is comprised of extremely talented actors who primarily recite daily chef specials.  Thousands upon thousands arrive believing in their talent.  Half of those actually have marketable talent.  I am assuming that you are one of the talented ones and not one who simply dreams of being a “star.”  The competition will be far more intense than your wildest imagination.  Do not be surprised when you enter a room and see a hundred people who all look like you all going for the same role.  Just feel lucky that you knew about the audition in the first place since most won’t.

You may be special.  You may be the most talented performer to walk the streets of Hollywood.  Producers and casting directors hear these claims all day long and have for generations. Over inflated statements like these now fall on deaf ears because no one ever is quite as good as they claim.  In other words, when you arrive in Los Angeles you will be little more than a cliché.  You need to be smart enough to change that perception and laying on your sofa “secreting” that distinction will not work.  Though I have to admit that “visualizing” and “believing” serve a powerful purpose in some atmospheres.

If you’re attractive you will meet self-proclaimed movie producers at every night club in town who will promise you auditions and speaking roles.  Mostly what they’re trying to do is keep your attention while filling you with drinks.  Many young actors and actresses go this route because it is easier and does not require a whole lot of talent.   It will benefit you to know that 70% of what is said in Los Angeles is bullshit.   You will end up getting out of the entertainment industry exactly what you put into it.

You need a plan.  Understand how your chosen industry works.  You are not important enough to break any of the rules so know how to play the game.  Do not make naive statements like, “Oh, I refuse to play the game,”  because it only serves to make you sound like an idiot to those who know more than you.  It is a game.  Learn the rules, know the players, and learn how to make the rules work to your benefit.  In time, you’ll know when it is safe to make a calculated risk and break the rules.

In a nutshell, have a modicum of self-confidence when you arrive, understand the industry in which you’re pursuing a career, possess talent, and have tireless perseverance.  Those who have all other elements but the latter will give up too soon.  Some of the most successful actors out there had rise and fall in their careers, but it took 10+ years before they considered themselves successful.  Perseverance is the key element.  If career goals are not being made then change the route taken to achieve them and keep the goals intact.

People forfeit their dreams because it is easier than persevering.  Los Angeles can be a tough town because it’s difficult to know where one stands.  In New York there is a tendency for blunt honesty. An actor generally understands a New York casting agent’s view of his or her talent.  In Los Angeles you will be greeted and dismissed with a smile and thanked for your time.  After you shut the door behind you there will be a verbal exchange of praise or crucifixion with the others in the room.  It’s tougher to build that thick skin and it will tear away at you resulting in you questioning your chosen path.  Know who you are, have talent that is continually sharpened, understand the industry and have a plan.

I was given advice many years ago to love everyone but trust no one.  What I take from that is the perception of adoring all by not burning bridges and not speaking an unkind word while understanding that everyone has their own self interests that will take priority over your own.  I have not always succeeded in adhering to this advice, but years later I have realized it comes down to something much more simple.  The best words of advice I can offer are, “Don’t be stupid.”

The End Game is Always Sex

It occurred to me that marketing principles apply to nearly everything, especially dating. We initially market ourselves to potential partners by presenting a campaign that is mostly true, but sharing the warnings in fine print comes only after an initial time investment.  The rule of marketing is that the “mostly true” has to be presented in repetition before a consumer will accept the warnings and side effects.  So, while the goal of any campaign is consummation, research has shown that shelf life is shortened when consumption occurs too soon.

From a male perspective I can say that there are times that many of us have found a product compelling, tried it out once, and while it might have been good, we ultimately saw no real long term value.  Men are consumers. I’m not asserting that on the path to least resistance we may not try the product again, but nothing is particularly special on that path and we’ll likely move on to more challenging territory.

Over the years I have discovered that I am mostly attracted to a product that I have time to research.  My visceral reaction is typically to get it as soon as possible but then after using it once or twice I let it just sit there and it goes to waste.  I have felt bad about my foolish consumption patterns.  Sometimes a product is advertised to me, but not readily available for my consumption. I love this anticipation.  It usually captures my attention with its too-good-to-be-true packaging, but a greater appreciation develops when I have time to learn more about it.  Sure, the limitations and kinks are discovered but generally at this point I am so enamored that I find charm in the idiosyncrasies and my desire for consummation is strengthened.

I have no visions of grandeur.  Under no circumstances do I believe that I am the perfect consumer.  I also know that I am not the perfect product, but my initial marketing campaign is to make me appear that I am.   The very fact that I admit my imperfection can actually serve to strengthen the perception of my value.  It’s all marketing whether we like it or not.

There is a general perception that this marketing principle does not apply to same-sex couples.  Many gay men claim that good sex (losing our product marketing metaphor altogether) is how they know if they should try to build a relationship. Many lesbians find themselves building their futures together within the first month. This is ridiculous.  Although the lesbian thing seems to work out more often than not.  Nevertheless, sex is never the foundation of anything quality outside of the bedroom.

There’s an effective marketing rule that states if one gives it to them for free at the beginning it will ensure repeat business. But give them what?  What you give initially is what they will want. Consumers nearly always want sex, it is a given.  This is a product that is not in any type of shortage.  Sex is the end game.  If you escort the consumer directly to the express checkout, bypassing all the other aisles, the campaign is over.  Sex doesn’t need to be marketed unless that is all you’re offering.  Market something that helps ensure ongoing consumer loyalty.

Marketing is a deliberate process.  Rush the process and the campaign is compromised. Sometimes we want immediate gratification, but that immediate high is frequently followed with buyer’s remorse and regret.  If one’s goal is a long-term happy consumer, spend more time on the initial, comprehensive marketing campaign.

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Is Ethnic Targeted Marketing Necessary?

Is marketing ethnicity for a non-ethnic product necessary?  If I am casting a men’s cologne commercial and use a white man and an asian woman will white guys think it only attracts asian women?  Will asian or black men think the fragrance will not work on their bodies?

Consider a typical, general market minivan ad: a caucasian soccer mom dropping kids off at the game. Now replace the white faces with black ones and insert an R&B soundtrack. Instead of a soccer game, the van pulls into a huge family reunion with fried chicken as far
as the eye can see.  Now you have a targeted “African-American” minivan campaign.  This made me uncomfortable just typing it, but this was a real campaign.   Is this how we target advertising by harnessing ethnic specific stereotypes. For the record, a good friend of mine who is black and a minivan driver refuses to eat fried chicken in public because of the stereotype.  She is offended by the targeted minivan commercial.   I, on the other hand, consider fried chicken one of my favorite foods and eat it everywhere I can.  I think the minivan ad was created in a board room with dubious research and while I’m not offended, I am somewhat embarrassed.  Advertising people, in my opinion you’re screwing up.

The problem with these targeted approaches is that it assumes that our life styles and cultures are so diverse that consumers are incapable of any kind of empathy for those of a different ethnicity; that people cannot move beyond the dramatized scenarios to envision scenarios more suited to their own lives.  Does Madison Avenue perpetuate differences that may not be as vast as we’re taught to believe?  They’re telling us that If you want to reach Black consumers, you’d better make sure your ads are definitively “Black;” likewise for Hispanics and Asians.  I am hoping that this is antiquated thinking because Madison Avenue is still comprised of good old boys who are slated for extinction or at least attrition.  Am I wrong?

Actors enter audition rooms for the role of a doctor.  They are stopped by the casting director and told, “I’m sorry but this role is not intended for an Asian actor.”  What?!  The role is of a doctor.  Unless the character background has been defined as having all of his or her ancestors arrive on the Mayflower, does ethnicity really matter?  For the record, I am reasonably sure that Asian doctors exist.  Actually, I’m willing to bet that most ethnicities with the exception of “white” are increasing in the medical field.

So is the real issue racism or ignorance.  I do not consider racists to be ignorant.  When someone is ignorant new facts will help them to form new decisions and ideologies.  When someone is a racist they will disregard new facts in order to hold on to their existing ideologies of superiority or hatred.  I guess play around with that one and determine which category you fit into.  I do not consider myself a racist, though I’m sure I hold stereotypes as being true that in fact are largely not true.  I also have no doubt that I will receive several disapproving emails because as a white man I dared to put “Black” and “Fried Chicken” in the same sentence.  I’ll take it for what it’s worth.

So when we advertise and market a product is it necessary to target by ethnicity.  I think a better way of advertising is by socio-economics which appeals to life style.  Does anyone believe that President and Mrs. Obama are going to favorably respond to the “Black” targeted minivan ad?  According to Madison Avenue as a Black couple with children they should respond favorably.  While personal experiences vary, the Obamas fit into a demographic of an educated and successful couple with children.  The same demographic that runs across ethnicities and knows no boundaries.

We need to start thinking about the harm we may be causing if we continue to assume vast differences between ethnicities.  There certainly are differences between and commonalities within cultures, but not usually enough to require entirely unique marketing campaigns.  Yes, the Chevrolet Nova was not successful in Spanish speaking markets because “No va” in Spanish means “no go.” Someone in marketing research should have thought that through a little more.

So now imagine this.  What if that same minivan commercial reveals a black man, his white wife, and their asian son jumping out to go play t-ball.  Would this send Americans into a
tailspin resulting in national confusion as to whether this is a white minivan, a black minivan, or an asian minivan?  Does advertising cater to the lowest common denominator? People may comment on the uniqueness of the family, but in time this family will become commonplace and not particularly remarkable at all.

When it comes to the mighty dollar we are all created equally.  A dollar is a dollar.  Those who think otherwise are a dying breed.  Ethnically targeted advertising utilizes out dated stereotypes to drive a message of incompatibility between ethnicities within a common North American culture.  When we close our eyes we are still not all the same.  But when we open them we are not as different as we are made to believe.

Do Enough People Know About Your Independent Film?

NOTE:  This article assumes that your independent film is completely financed. Films still seeking finance have different marketing campaigns until the film is fully funded.

The market is saturated with talented filmmakers producing brilliant independent films. The market is also inundated with questionably talented filmmakers making bad films. We’ve all seen films where afterwards we look at each other and ask, “How did that ever get made?”  The films that typically rise to the top and get the greatest exposure are not necessarily the best films, but rather the films that have the best marketing campaigns.

Most filmmakers with tight budgets do not allocate money for marketing under the long-shot impression that a studio will buy the script or buy the film outright.  This is the equivalent of not getting a job and instead buying lottery tickets and expect to use the winnings to support your family and pay the bills.  While it’s not completely impossible, it’s a gamble no one should take.  Nearly all filmmakers believe they are gifted and that the film they’re currently producing will command industry respect and change their lives. Therefore, I hate to be the bearer of difficult news, but as far as the industry is concerned, you are a nickel a dozen.  In order to set your film apart from the rest you have to aggressively market smarter than your competition.

The first step is to know who your viewers are going to be.  Not who you want them to be or who you think they might be, but definitive research that tells you their age group, sex, what they read,  what they buy, what music they like and where they live.  This is your target audience.  This is who gets your primary attention. These are the people who will spread the word while your film is being made.

The next step is to develop a compelling log line to accompany both your online and offline marketing campaign.  You know who your target audience is so everything is designed for those people.  Your facebook page, your website, and your blog should all exist during the filming stage.  You have those things, right?   Everything is designed specifically for your target audience, right?  The goal of internet marketing is to get it to go viral.  You want as many people talking about it as possible. Your target audience will bring about interest from others outside of the demographic so do not worry about anyone else. Someone on your marketing team should be dedicated to your website and social media, including the commenting on other blogs of your target audience.  Give them an insider’s view.  Make them part of the filming experience.

As the film goes into post production your offline marketing campaign should begin. This includes targeted print media, posters, and the premiere.  Posters are required at virtually all film festivals so accept this expense immediately.  Remember, the online campaign should have already generated buzz.  Buzz will generate interest from studios and sponsors as well as movie ticket buyers.  This buzz amplifies once the offline marketing campaign develops.  You should be monitoring online activity daily to see what people are saying.

Film promotion can be fun and it does not have to be expensive.  What I just described can be done very cost effectively.  Film premiere logistics can be creative and negotiated in all kinds of ways.  Never assume that something is out of your reach.  If this is your dream then go for it.

The bottom line is that the genesis of any quality film is a good script supported with a talented cast and crew.  But a film will be dormant if no one knows about it.   Filmmaking is a business, pure and simple. The business element that helps ensure the success of the film is marketing.  Quality does not ensure a rise to the top, awareness does.

For more information please visit JEFF STECK MANAGEMENT at   Go to “Categories” and then click on “Independent Film”