Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Do I Really Want to See it?

It’s no secret that sex sells. In fact, this hasn’t been a secret for many years. Sex has been a strategy for advertisers since the beginning. The textbook I have left over from when I took Media Criticism a few semesters ago called Ads, Fads and Consumer Culture: Advertising’s Impact on American Character and Society by Arthur Asa Berger, devotes an entire chapter to sex in advertising.

Below is an excerpt from the text explaining briefly why sex is used so frequently in advertising:

“John Berger’s Ways of Seeing explores human sexuality as one of the most potent tools of advertising. Berger points out that advertising makes greater and greater use of sexuality to sell products and services. As he explains:
‘…this sexuality is never free in itself, it is a symbol for something presumed to be larger than it: the good life in which you can buy whatever you want. To be able to buy is the same thing as being sexually desirable. (1972:114)’”

And who wouldn’t want to be sexually desirable?

Sex has been embraced by our society whether we like it or not. Often times I catch myself after seeing a commercial on TV or watching a movie saying “Wow there wasn’t a sexual innuendo…when there could have been. Why?” If I am not alone in this, I have to ask this question: If we notice when sex isn’t there, do we notice when sex is there?

Ads, Fads and Consumer Culture can elaborate a little bit on this:

“The mixture of sex and sociological and cultural matters means that there is often a great deal more to sexually exciting and erotically stimulating advertising than we might imagine” (p. 86).

From just about every perfume ad to even milk ads, sexual nods, hints and references are everywhere and attached to every product. I’ve never really had a problem with it; it’s never seemed too outrageous and I hope and expect that parents out there are watching and talking to their kids about the birds and the bees anyway.

But a recent Calvin Klein ad has got me re-thinking this outlook. I’ve only seen it online and I honestly wonder if this will ever make TV. Either way, it’s making waves for how provocative it is… which is exactly what the advertisers wanted.

When I saw this ad my jaw dropped—for obvious reasons. I can’t say I hate it. In fact, I was incredibly entertained by it. But this is definitely a commercial for older audiences and I’ve only seen the “edited” version. I keep thinking: how far is too far? When do should we say “Whoa, that’s enough?”

We can’t forget that there are other underwear ads that push the envelope too. Victoria’s Secret could be considered Calvin Klein’s counterpart for underwear. So the idea of a commercial being drenched in sex like this isn’t new. Not to mention, Calvin Klien has made a name for themselves because of their sexually explicit ads.

Still, I can’t help but be shocked. Maybe it was the language…maybe it was the fact that I haven’t seen men presented like this much… who knows? But this commercial definitely sticks with me.

What do you think? Has Calvin Klein gone too far? Or do you think that they have every right to push the envelope like this in order to get noticed in such an advisement-cluttered world?


  1. Berger... I remember Berger. Good blog, your examples of sex selling were very on point. Might I also suggest the new old spice commercial. Not only is it blatantly offensive but it is sex selling with humor.

  2. Wow good use of the textbooks, kudos on that. As for the ad I'd be interested in seeing the un-rated just to see it. But it is definitely a little shocking and I hope if it makes it to tv its only late at night I'd hate for some little kid to watch this ad accidentally. Sex does sell and this ad does create some interest but it could be pushing the envelope a little too far.

  3. Kyle- I loved the old spice commercial. I wonder if humor helps cover up the awkwardness of over-sexing a commercial?

    Chelsea- I'm not going to lie, I would like to see the unedited commercial too! I would also be curious to see if they had "deleted scenes" that they couldn't include.

  4. Agreed all around - awesome use of Media Criticism connections. LOVED the Old Spice commercial...for the humor, not the sex appeal. :)