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.