The earliest known use of sex in advertising is by the Pearl Tobacco brand in 1871, which featured a naked maiden on the package cover. Other early forms of sex appeal in advertising include woodcuts and illustrations of attractive women (often unclothed from the waist up) adorning posters, signs, and ads for saloons, tonics, and tobacco. The Italian clothing company Benetton gained worldwide attention in the late 20th century for its saucy advertising, inspired by its art director Oliviero Toscani. He started with multicultural themes, tied together under the campaign “United Colors of Benetton” then became increasingly provocative with interracial groupings, and unusual sexual images, such as a nun kissing a priest. Gallup & Robinson, an advertising and marketing research firm, has reported that in more than 50 years of testing advertising effectiveness, it has found the use of the erotic to be a significantly above-average technique in communicating with the marketplace, “…although one of the more dangerous for the advertiser. Weighted down with taboos and volatile attitudes, sex is a Code Red advertising technique … handle with care … seller beware; all of which makes it even more intriguing.” This research has led to the popular idea that “sex sells”. Marketing strategies centered on or around sex have always been successful. Abercrombie & Fitch used sex to market their brand in a variety of ways, including store greeters dressed only in underwear, models working in store and topless models on the bags. Employees were hired based on physical attractiveness. This strategy was aimed at teenagers and young adults, who are the most impressionable consumer group, and who have vast amounts of disposable money. During the late 1990s, the company produced a magazine/catalogue (magalog), featuring semi-nude or nude models. The magalog was a success, with A&F issuing over 1.5 million copies. Despite being somewhat paradoxical, the use of sexual branding raised their revenue from $85 million in 1993 to $1.35 billion in 2002. Sexuality in advertising is extremely effective at attracting the consumer’s attention and once it has their attention, to remember the message.This solves the greatest problem in advertising of getting the potential buyer to look at and remember the advertisement, after all all the brands ever want is to be remembered.
Story by Gabriella Foreman.