Sex Appeal in Marketing

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One of the biggest challenges in marketing communication of any product is differentiating it from the competitors’ product. Developing an innovative advertising strategy which could break out of the advertising clutter and capture the attention of potential consumers is the key of effective marketing communication (Schiffman et al, 2007). Organizations, particularly Western ones, have been using sex-appeal in advertisement as a creative method to build up such effective strategy. However, there is another side to this practice. There are many controversies and negative impression around the use of “sex appeal”. Taking two perspectives of marketers and consumers, this essay will suggest some solutions to neutralise the conflicts between the two parties and ensure the long term benefit of the brand.

To understand the issue of “sex appeal” in advertisement, this essay will begin by explaining what “sex appeal” is. By definition, sex appeal is the physical characteristic and charms that affect people in a sexual way. In marketing context, sex in advertising is the applying of erotic image and movement in the content of the advertisement. The degree of this appeal depends on the level of nudity and sexual suggestiveness in an ad. Sex appeal can appear in the form of visual, audio, or verbal information in the advertisement (Liu, Li & Cheng, 2006). According to Lambiase and Reichert (2003), there are 5 types of sexual information that marketers take turn to use in advertising. These includes nudity, sexual behaviour, physical attractiveness, sexual referent and sexual embed. Nudity is the display of different body parts. It is often used in the ad which is related to bikini, muscular arm, lingerie products. Sexual behaviour refers to sexually suggestive action that is described in the ad, which aims to draw out sexual sensation from the viewers. Physical attractiveness involves the feature of appearance, which can be facial complexity or body beauty. Expressing physical attractiveness is the purpose of using popular and beautiful models in advertisements. Sexual referents refer to image and words that can be the stimulus to trigger sexual thoughts of the viewers. And finally, sexual embed is the forms sexual image that viewers unconsciously perceive (Lambiase & Reichert, 2003).

Sex appeal has been increasingly used over the years to create brand awareness, particularly in European countries and in the US (Liu, Li & Cheng, 2006). The number of sex-involved advertisements has been tripled since 1980 (Clow & Baack, 2007). Some organisations, for example Calvin Klein, use sex as the main theme in every of their advertisements. In the more extreme case, there are many brands that use sex as the stimulus to create attention, despite of the irrelevance between sex and their products (Clow & Baack, 2007). The increasing in “sex sells” in advertisement nowadays could be submitted to a number of factors. Firstly, the innovation in technology and media industry has driven the need to develop advertisement and increased the number of Ad. “The average consumer will be exposed to approximately 1,500 advertisements a day” (O’Guinn, 2003). This increase in media clutter requires brands to use different, non-mainstream approach in advertising (Liu, Li & Cheng, 2006). Sex appeal is one of such approaches. It has been used more and more when proving its effectiveness. Secondly, the exposure of public to the sex-related content has been increased over the years through entertainment industry like movies and music; through the use of Internet, search engine and social network. Those constant exposures to sex-image have reduced the degree of criticism that the public initially have on sex-related content in advertisement. Just like Henthorne and LaTour, (1994) state: "As the ethical considerations of society change over time, what is considered appropriate and acceptable in advertising must also change". It could be also said that the constant...
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