When it comes to marketing, there is a lot of disagreement regarding many different aspects of advertising. At the most basic level, it is controversial whether or not advertisements should even exist. Some people argue that advertising ends up causing more harm than good to consumers by encouraging unnecessary spending, often times on harmful products, and causing mental/psychological harm, while others appreciate that advertising can provide economic and cultural benefits to our society.
A lot of political debate circulates around the necessary rules and regulations for advertising. Companies that benefit from advertising often dislike being restrained, and therefore want to keep government regulation to a minimum. On the other hand, the Federal Trade Commission (along with many other people) argue that within our free market economy, deceptive and fraudulent ads can improperly inform consumers and lead them to unknowingly partake in inappropriate purchase decisions–directly counteracting the goals of a free market economy.
Similarly, and especially recently, there is a lot of dispute regarding the ethics of using people’s data to target them for specific advertisements. While it is helpful to see advertisements for things relative to your political views or what you’ve already purchased, there are extreme consequences when someone gets ahold of so much data that they can have an effect on something major, like the presidential election.
Finally, there’s the question of sex. Is it okay that companies use sex to sell their products? Some people don’t see an issue– after all, it’s just a commercial. However, “women are now in more leadership positions in media, marketing and branding. They are bringing a new perspective.” With the rise of feminist and women’s empowerment movements, many have spoken up against the misogynistic tendencies of sexual advertisements. I argue that sex must be fully eliminated from advertisements due to the plentiful ways they cause harm to consumers.
To discuss this issue, it is important to first acknowledge what advertisements actually do–affect behavior. This can be a conscious effort, like when you see an ad for something that looks really cool and then decide to buy it. However, the effect of ads can also be unconscious. This happens when you have been exposed to advertisements that link a product to a positive feeling. Also known as affective conditioning, this process is dangerous as it allows ads to influence your decisions without your knowledge. Ultimately, advertisements have a lot more power to influence our thoughts and behavior than we usually think.
One example of sexual advertisements having a negative effect on consumers pertains to sexual aggression. A relationship between viewing sex image advertisements and reporting attitudes supportive of sexual aggression has been shown in multiple studies. This is clearly a danger today, as recently there has been an influx of sexual assault cases. Additionally in these studies, the people who saw sex image advertisements showed a lower acceptance of feminism. From this, we can conclude that ads with sex images can both normalize sexual aggression and prevent people from advocating for women’s rights. On the other hand, women’s sexual submission is also a trend in sex ads. By objectifying and exploiting women, these ads are promoting and glorifying this type of behavior among women. In turn, this can impact a man’s expectations of how a woman should act in a relationship for the worse.
If that wasn’t already enough reason to ban sex advertising, then the negative psychological effects, especially on women, should be. Sex ads present unrealistic lifestyles of beautiful women who can eat whatever they want (like burgers and beer) while still maintaining a perfect body. This also creates the illusion that all beautiful women are skinny, which, in combination with the consequence-free fallacy, can provoke eating disorders among women. Also problematic is the limited appearance of older women in these advertisements. Because sex ads tend to stick with younger, “more beautiful” women, they imply that youth is beauty and women should always strive to look young. Older women can therefore always feel self conscious that they are aging (even though everyone has to do it) and be more inclined to undergo procedures like plastic surgery in an effort to maintain a youthful appearance.
Clearly, there are many consequences to using sex as a tool in advertising. These ramifications cannot be ignored. We must ban sexual advertising in order to eliminate these harsh realities and move towards a progressive and equal society.