Sex in Advertising

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“Graphic design, like any form of communication, has ethical implications”. Using the work from a range of designers, discuss ways in which designers have negotiated this issue.

This essay will discuss the ethical implications of graphic design using a range of designers work. The ethical implications discussed will be concerning sex in advertising and whether or not designers have negotiated with the ethical issues that arise from the graphic design of advertisements. The term ‘ethical’ is defined by MacLeod (1987) as a conduct that is considered morally correct whilst ‘implications’ are outlined as a consequence of an action. Therefore the ethical implications in this essay refer to actions that may have morally conflicting consequences. Based on the notion that designers do consider ethical implications in sex in advertising (Rotzwell and Christians, as cited in Drumwright and Murphy, 2004, p.8) this essay will examine designers to see if and how they are negotiating these issues. The essay has been organized in the following way. The first point to be considered is whether sex does sell to consumers. Secondly the theories of designers and ethics will be reviewed. Following this, three companies: Victoria’s Secret, Calvin Klein and Abercrombie and Fitch will be investigated to see how their designers negotiate ethical issues within an industry.

Sex in advertising is most commonly used in image-based products such as alcohol, cigars, fragrance, cosmetics and fashion (Korn, 2006, p.2). Korn also maintains that the main target audiences for sex in advertising are twelve to seventeen year olds because of their increasing disposable incomes and their curiosity towards sex. This target audience raises concerns of whether it is ethical to be associating sex with a product that young people will see and potentially buy. A common idea is that sex in advertising does catch the viewer’s attention but often brand recognition is sacrificed (Blair, Stephenson, Hill, and Green, 2006, p.109). Severn, Belch and Belch (1990, p. 14-22) carried out a study, which found sex in advertising detracted the viewer’s processing of the message and ability to remember the brand. However, Taflinger (2006) disagrees with this study. He believes sex does sell as our fundamental instincts take over when we are presented with sex in advertising. From this one can assume, according to Taflinger, there are no ethical implications with designers using sex in advertising, as it is a natural aspect of life and therefore expected rather than shocking. In contrast to Taflinger’s claims Cebrzynski (2000) points out that “The flaw in the sex sells theory is that sex does not sell. Sexiness sells.” (p.14). With regard to the Victoria’s Secret advertisement (see fig. 1) it is clear that the idea of being sexy can sell. The model, although naked, is tastefully covered. The designer of this advert has considered the ethical implications of the consumers. This advertisement has sex appeal but with the coverage of the model the brand name can still be recognised and rememberable. The viewer is not bombarded with explicit sexual material therefore the designer has successfully negotiated the ethics of sex in advertising in accordance of what consumers feel is ethical.

Consumer response is vital when it comes to ethical implications however one must also look into the designer’s mind whilst they are creating advertisements of a sexual nature. Bird and Waters (1989, p. 75) conducted an experiment to determine whether or not designers \re considering the ethical implications of their work. They came up with a classification, moral muteness, which summarised the designers who did not present moral concern in their work. Moral muteness meant that ethics were rarely discussed in the design process. The fact that there is a classification tells us there are a high number of designers who are not thinking about the ethical implications of their work. Branding expert...
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