By Celsey Delisle
Living in the corporate world that North American society has become, it is difficult to avoid advertisements fighting to make me think about their product all day. From commercials on television, to pages upon pages in my Cosmopolitan, to a leisurely walk down Bank Street, my eyes absorb numerous ads. Anything from burgers, to shirts, to strollers— if Company X gives me a message that I cannot deny, or shows me an image that I envy, I am likely to think that I need that product. I’ll see the happy baby, or the satisfied man eating a burger, and Company X will make me want to live that way. The messages that they feed society are along one track, and it takes a strong mind to see past the delivery to the actual product.
They tell me that “sex sells.” The more skin visible on the models while they are positioned in sexually explicit ways, the more successful the ad is. If Company X shows me an ugly man wearing a nice tie, I won’t want that tie. If I’m shown a fat person drinking premium coffee, I won’t want that coffee. I don’t want to be ugly or fat, so I must avoid the products that have been associated with those qualities.
As an example, I keep coming across this advertisement while watching television:
When I saw this ad, the only thing that told me that it was about shoes was the Aldo logo at the end. But I’m left confused as to what this commercial is selling me. I see the model with her plump lips, her target body shape, and her long legs. I’m shown all of this before I see her shoes – heels – as the distracting Popsicle crashes to the floor beside them. Nowhere in the ad am I offered a price or some kind of sale, or given any inspiring words. Company X is showing me the woman that I am supposed to want to be, but are they emphasizing the shoes enough for me to think that I need them to achieve that goal? The thought process is that if I want her body, I need her shoes. Shoes don’t make me think sex, but sex is what sells, so the model needs to do her darndest to be sexy, in order to make the sale. Bite the treat just right, pout those lips effectively, and you can sell shoes, baby!
Another clear-cut example of a sex-selling product is perfume ads. How can Company X translate the need for me to buy a scent through scentless media like television or print ads? By showing me the result that comes from buying the product. Most perfume ads assault me with images of heterosexuality; the woman becomes irresistible to this man once she’s wearing this scent. Both models are either dressed for the red carpet, or aren’t dressed at all. Company X wants me to think that all it takes is this perfume for me to get a tall, dark, and handsome (and always muscular!) man. I have no idea whether the perfume smells floral, fruity, or woody. The ad doesn’t reveal any information relevant to the product, except that it is sexual.
I’m also confused by underwear catalogues. Obviously all of the women are going to have the breasts to fill out the bras in an enviable way, and the rest of their bodies are perfectly curvy. But the way Company X presents the product to me on these models is completely sexually driven. In the Bra Section, the women wear bras and panties when the angle of the image includes her lower half. The opposite, however, is not necessary: in the Panty Section, the model is wearing the panties, but she doesn’t need to be wearing a bra. The angle of the image shows the woman’s backside, so I see as much cheek as the panties permit, and then the sexy curve of her back. For front shots, above the triangle of the panty I see her arms will simply be crossed over her chest to hide her nipples.
It’s not nudity if the female nipples are hidden.
Most advertisements feed off fantasy and jealousy. Company X presents its product alongside the lifestyle I want to have, while making it clear that the product for sale is what completes the scene. If I have the right panties then I will have the best boobs. If I have the right perfume then I will have gorgeous outfits. If I have the right shoes then I will have sexy legs and plump lips. All of these components will lead to me being the ideal woman, and I will have amazing sex, as long as I have the right products.