Feminism has been on the rise for quite a while now, and it’s about time we start pushing back against the patriarchy that has become so ingrained in our society; this starts with noticing and criticizing the discriminatory practices around us. Among many others, advertising is a field in which we see a lot of misogyny. Women are consistently over sexualized in ads in an attempt to sell a product. Both men and women can be targeted through this discriminatory strategy, and the saddest part is, sometimes these ads can actually be effective.
Sexual content in ads has been proven as an effective mode of persuasion. In a matter of years, sales of products like Duke & Sons cigarettes and Woodbury’s Facial Soap skyrocketed after they began to use sexually charged images in their ads. These success stories explain why companies continue to use sex in advertising, even when promoting mainstream products that aren’t traditionally associated with sex. Since the extent of sexual advertising has become more prevalent and explicit over the years, it is important to recognize its manifestations.
According to Tom Reichert, the most commonly identified forms of sexual content in ads are nudity, physical attractiveness, suggestive behavior and interaction, setting, context and camera effects. When it comes to food, it seems like advertisers have tried to execute all of these with women: we’ve seen a woman pouring beer all over her chest, appearing sexually pleased by the mere taste of a burger, not wearing any clothes, be without the actual product itself, and sexual innuendos galore. Why is it okay for women to be portrayed in such a sexual manner when promoting food? (Hint: it isn’t.)
The persistence of this practice has led to a lot of research on what really happens when a consumer sees an advertisement. This process usually includes awareness, attention, liking, comprehension, receptivity, and persuasion. The presence of sexual content, therefore, can either distract or entice a viewer when processing an ad’s message. Studies have shown that sexual content in advertising tends to attract a viewer, but can sometimes be sidetracking–instead of calling attention to the product. The outcome usually depends on a combination of variables that differ by consumer, such as: product relevance, respondent sex, and respondent personality. Further investigation is still necessary for elaboration on the effects of sexual appeals in advertising.