Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sexy Las Vegas ads too much for locals

Imagine your kids seeing billboards like this every morning on their way to school. Images like the one on the left for Studio 54 were the genesis for one viewer, and UNLV professor, to write about them in the latest issue of Journal of Promotion Management.

Erika Engstrom, a professor in UNLV's Greenspun College, describes in her article a few of the sexually provocative billboards promoting Las Vegas clubs and casinos. Some of those ads for the Hard Rock Casino feature barely clad models and unmistakable double endendre. For example, one billboard features a pair of panties lowered around a woman's calves. The headline reads: "Get ready to buck all night."

Another Hard Rock casino billboard features two women in a tight embrace and the headline: "Looser than your girlfriend. Play slots at Hardrock Casino." Engstrom describes how in 2004 several complaints from the community prompted the Nevada Gaming Commission to fine Hard Rock over $100,000 for the sexually provocative ads.

"What happens here, stays here," but for the million or so citizens not on mission to create memories or directly involved in the gaming and entertainment industries, blatant sex in advertising--especially when it's on a billboard for many to see--can cross the line. Certainly this is true in most American cities, but Las Vegas is a place where tourism (33 million people visit Vegas each year) and good taste can collide. Check out Erika's article in JPM.

Erika Engstrom (2007), "Selling with Sex in Sin City: The Case of the Hard Rock Hotel Casino," Journal of Promotion Management, 13 (1/2), 169-188.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Victoria's Secret Fashion Show: Sugar, Spice, and.... Seal

A crooning Seal was the highlight of tonight's six annual Victoria's Secret fashion show aired on CBS. The program's finale featured Seal on the catwalk serenading the VS supermodels with his single "Amazing" as they showed off this season's "lingerie."

Who would've traded places with Seal several years ago when he was showcased on an episode of VH1's "Where are they now?" Today, he's back on track as Klum's beau and a featured guest on this year's fashion show. Posh and the Spice Girls also were on hand to do a number from their reunion tour.

The addition of well-known performers is a welcome boost from last year's emphasis on the models' personal lives. As the ratings come in, we'll have a better idea how this year's show stacked up. The annual fashion show has been steadily losing viewers.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Farrah Fawcett = Sexy ad diva

Many young people are surprised that sex in advertising has been around the block once or twice. Reflecting the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s, advertising followed suit with commercials on network television that would make today’s audiences blush. Thanks to YouTube, some of advertising’s hidden gems are once again available for viewing.

Surfing YouTube, I was surprised to discover that Farrah Fawcett was a sex-in-advertising icon in the 1970s. Famous from her role in the 1977 hit television series “Charlie’s Angels,” Fawcett's debut role was not as an angel. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, she appeared in several commercials which are now vintage sex in advertising.

Examples of such spots include Noxema, Ultra Brite, and Mercury—all available for YouTube viewing. Two ads for Noxema are excellent examples of sexual double entendre and innuendo. In one spot, Fawcett sings the jingle, “Great balls of com… fort.” Another features Joe Nameth playfully lamenting, “I’m going to get creamed,” as Fawcett lathers his face with Noxema shaving cream. "You've got a great pair of hands."

Spots for Lincoln-Mercury and Ultra Brita utilize Fawcett’s physical attractiveness. Mercury takes it a step further, however, in its subtle comparison between Fawcett and a cougar.

Thanks to YouTube and other video sites, ads featuring Fawcett and other sex symbols can be viewed and remembered by all.

--Posted by Michelle Weidner

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Does he come with the gown?

Women perusing the Impression catalog may ask themselves that very question. One of our recent grads discovered the images as she explored the designer brand’s website. The male model is unclothed in several shots. The images caught her attention because you rarely see male nudity in ads for wedding gowns. And in fashion ads with nudity, the roles are always reversed. Unless women are offended, the approach offers Impression a unique edge from a branding perspective. They tout that their designs are sexy and romantic. What a perfect way to reinforce that point than with a bit of beefcake.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bait and Switch?

"Bait and switch" is the manipulative ad tactic of luring customers with unstocked merchadised so they can be up-sold more expensive options. In a recent post, Chris Boulton, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, likened Porn Nation's promotional tactics to the good ol' "bait & switch" routine.

Porn Nation is an organization marketing campus speaking tours about pornography. One event is billed "The Great Porn Debate" featuring former porn star Ron Jeremy. Boulton accuses Evangelicals of enticing students to these events with alluring posters. Check out Boulton's post to judge for yourself.

Bringing sexy back

Sensual backs and bellies in ads may surprise some students and youths in the Athens area. Posted in the bathrooms of local restaurants and bars, these ads aren’t selling products, but are generating awareness for pro-social causes.

Safe Campuses Now, an Athens-based, non-profit organization that advocates crime awareness, prevention, and education for high school and college students, is utilizing the fact that sex in advertising doesn’t have to be limited to brands and products. To generate awareness about rape and sexual abuse, the organization’s most recent poster shows a portion of a young woman’s bare back with a tattoo visible just above the top of her jeans. The copy reads: “Just because you think she looks like she wants it doesn’t mean she wants it from you.” It goes on to make the point that you must listen to her and behave accordingly if she says “No.”

Another version of the same message exists, this time with a women’s exposed stomach and hip. It’s my guess that these ads really hit home with viewers. The sexy images draw in the target audience and delivers an important message.

Along with rape and sexual abuse, Safe Campuses Now deals with issues such as DUI prevention, alcohol and drug abuse, pedestrian safety, exercise safety, and tailgate safety. The campaigns are developed by volunteers, with the help of partner firm Snowden Tatarski, an Athens-based ad agency.

The PSA by Safe Campuses Now exemplifies how sex in advertising can be used to effectively reach audiences with important social messages.

--posted by Michelle Weidner

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Diddy vs. Mariah: Battle for the sexiest fragrance spot

With celebrity fascination at an all-time high, it is no wonder that celebs capitalize on their fame in the form of fashion, cosmetics and perfume licensing deals. Celebrity fragrances, in particular, are on the rise with more than 30 scents launched last year, according to Marketing’s Jemima Bokaie.

This fall, sex was used to position two new celebrity fragrances: Sean “Diddy” Combs’ “Unforgivable Woman” and “M” by Mariah Carey. Although commercials for both feature a great deal of nudity, one has sparked debate.

Diddy’s three-minute “movie-let” was rejected by U.S. standards boards. The spot shows Combs and a supermodel at a New York hotel engaging in various sexual behavior. Combs is clothed, however, while the model proceeds to bare (almost) all. Combs defended his work by saying that although “some people may be uncomfortable with the sensuality and sexual content… it is important for them to make that decision personally,” and not have it made for them by executives. The commercial did air in the U.K. in its original form.

Mariah Carey’s commercial has thus far avoided controversy. The spot shows a nude Mariah immersed in the water as she sings and touches herself. She is the only person in the 30-second spot, and she appears to be promoting a sense of beauty and sensuality. Although there are some scandalously bare shots of the diva’s breasts, no one has reacted publicly to the degree of Diddy’s commercial.

Why has one approach created a stir while the other has remained under the radar? Diddy’s use of sex and nudity positions women and his fragrance with an edgy, somewhat dangerous feel that borders on obsession and objectification. On the other hand, Mariah’s use of nudity, although still risqué, positions her fragrance as a source of beauty. Commenting on the two promotion strategies, Mariah says that her approach “is about being unforgettable, not unforgivable. It’s not about a ménage trios or a one night stand, it’s for the woman who wants the man to fall in love with her immediately, stay in love, and treat her like royalty.”

Combs’ spot does appear to involve a one-time tryst, or at least one man’s infatuation with a women’s body.

--Posted by Michelle Weidner

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

How much sex in network television commercials?

A recent analysis revealed that 17% of prime-time commercials airing on the five major U.S. networks contained some form of sexual information (images/words). However, sex was the primary theme only in a little over 9% of the spots. The analysis consisted of one week (M-F) during the prime-time time slot (8-11 PM, EST) in May 2007.

Over 2,400 commercials were coded for the presence and nature of sexual content. Network promos, which often contain a higher proportion of sexual information, were not included in the sample.

Of the five major networks, the CW network, with a healthy lineup of teen-oriented programming, contained the highest proportion of sex-primary commercials. For example, 15% of commercials on CW contained sexual themes compared to 12% on NBC, 11% on ABC, 10% on Fox, and 7% on CBS. Coders employed standard measures of sexual content used in previous analyses.

Overall, the findings provide an accurate snapshot of the prevalence and nature of sexual content in network TV advertising.

Armani beefcake too much for male UGA student

At least one student at the University of Georgia was offended by a risqué Armani underwear insert appearing in the campus newspaper, The Red & Black. The insert, which shows an Adonis—tanned, chiseled and trim—in a pair of bikini briefs, prompted a male student to write a letter to the editor.

“Not only did this ad embarrass me,” he said, “but it made me…very self-conscious of my own appearance in my underwear.” Obviously, the student was aware of the social comparison effects that many people experience when viewing images of scantily clad models, the vast majority of which are women. He even commented that his experience was probably similar females who are exposed to “skinny, big-breasted models in their lingerie ads.”

Is this beefcake ad truly surprising? The ad uses common techniques such as nudity and physical attractiveness to grab the audience’s attention. This type of sex in advertising has been used for decades, and proven very successful for several marketers. In addition, this approach is not exclusive to female models, either. Calvin Klein, for example, made a big impact in the 1980s with underwear-clad male models. 2(x)ist has done the same.

So, what about this Armani ad prompted a letter to the editor? Are men becoming more sensitive to imagery in ads now that they are becoming the objects of the “gaze,” or do sexy ads cross the line when entering educational settings? Only time and research will tell; but until then, as this gentleman says, “University men….do not be ashamed, wear your skivvies with pride, regardless of how your lower belly hangs over your elastic waistband.”

--Posted by Michelle Weidner

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sexy Tom Ford fragrance ads

There is a lot of buzz surrounding the sexually provocative ads heralding Tom Ford's fragrance for men. More provocative is the website flash presentation of the fragrance bottle strategically placed around a women's breasts and groin (there's as much buzz about the model's shaved pubic region).

The approach is not surprising given Ford's history with designer brands. He was creative director for Gucci and YSL. During his very successful tenure at both brands, he reinvigorated them with cutting-edge sexually featuring nudity and pornographic themes that include female same-sex images (lesbian chic).

Given the sexually-laden promotions he's chosen to run in the past, Ford's current campaign does accurately represnt the brand's essence: If the fragrance carries his name, it's about sex.

A study several years ago found that about half of all fragrances were positioned with sex. True, fragrance can play a role in the attraction formula, but fragrance is unique in that it really has little meaning aside from the images it is associated with. In this case, Tom Ford is fairly certain that money will be made with his current campaign. He would know.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Nudity used to promote MS awareness

Skin can be used to sell more than branded goods as this Multiple Sclerosis public service announcement from Australia demonstrates. It features a nude female with “used by” printed on various parts of her body. Similar approaches have been used to promote skin cancer prevention and breast cancer research among other causes.

Nudity gets the ad noticed and the connection helps to get the message across. Research published several years ago in Journal of Advertising shows that sexually oriented social marketing appeals can be more persuasive than the standard informational approach used in many PSAs. At the very least, credible tie-ins with sex offer social marketers another tool to get their messages noticed.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Sexy seniors

A new study shows that seniors are more sexually active, both mentally and physically, than previously thought. That might explain the approach for this Cenegenics ad that ran this summer in USA Today and various in-flight magazines.

The ad touts Cenegenics, a multifaceted weight-loss program, with before-and-after pics of Dr. Jeffry Life, a 67-year-old physician. Readers are naturally drawn to the good doctor’s physique, but the incongruence between mug and body maintain attention as viewers deal with the visual distortion. Nothing against older men, but when was the chiseled chest of a silver-haired senior last used to sell anything? Anticipating this response, the ad explicitly states: “This photo is not digitally enhanced.”

As recent vacation photos indicate, Putin may be a Cenegenics client as well.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

"Viva Viagara" spot

Viagra's lastest spot, "Viva Viagra," appeared on last night's broadcast of NBC Nightly News. The commercial features a six-man band in a barn singing about the benefits of the erectile dysfunction drug. The approach is a departure from the controversial pills-as-devil-horns campaign, but, as Tim Nudd suggests, the new spot doesn't quite ring true.
Advertising anything directly related to sex is generally tougher than using it to sell fashion, fragrance, and alcohol. Just ask the condom marketers. Audiences hold the ads to a much higher level as do standards boards.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A new spin on "position-seeking" ads

Reports are that Durex out of Australia is running ads "in search of" condom testers. Interested parties are encouraged to register on Durex's website for the young man's ultimate "bragging rights" job: "Hmm... sounds like you had a great internship but guess what I did last summer?"

A look at the website reveals that the opportunity probably has more to do with a viral (of the internet variety) campaign than serving as a participant in a Masters and Johnson study. On the sign up page, you submit not only your name and email address but that of two friends. And instead of spending your summer at the Durex laboratory, it's more likely that the condom marketer sends you condoms and you provide feedback via an internet survey, if and when, that is, you use them. The image of the woman in the accompanying ad certainly gives one the false impression that she and others like her will be involved in the testing.

Cheeky advertising crossing the line?

Naked rear ends are showing up with increasing regularity in Times Square and Manahattan. Toto, a toilet marketer, is introducing its heated toilet seat/bidet hybrid, the "Washlet," to US audiences with a campaign featuring images of happy faces superimposed on butt cheeks. Quite popular globally, Americans have been slow to embrace "water cleansing."

A recent Adfreak post noted that a clergyman complained about the visual outdoor assault near his church and sunday school. The ads are attention getting but they are relevant to the product's function. You can see a demonstration of the new seat on the Washlet's website.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Sexy viral videos: Axe and Silverjet

Viral videos, posting one’s commercial on YouTube or other sties, is a way to garner extra exposure for one’s company and sexually themed messages past network standards boards. Two such instances surfaced recently. Axe posted clips of women auditioning for its spots: “Bow chicka wha wha.” Axe is garnering extra exposure with the enticing videos, which in most instances would be left on the cutting room floor.

Second, and we’re not sure of the video’s authenticity, a viral video making the rounds promotes Silverjet’s “women’s only” bathrooms with a same-sex nod to the mile-high-club. It’s doubtful the spot would make on it US television but it can still be seen online.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

"Stiptease" meets Bojangles'

Get a load of this commercial. Adfreak features an Austrialian spot showcasing a pole-dancing mom who curbs her cravings for a poultry restaurant (Nandos) with chewing gum. The Nandos patch was interferring with profits so she turned to a form of "nicoderm" for chicken pangs. Quite the approach for a family restaurant. I can't image this commercial running in the States. It clearly demonstrates the use of sexual themes in advertising solely for attention-getting purposes.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Entering NYC's "Hawaiian Tropic Zone"

Although the outside is understated—there is no heralding signage, one shouldn’t be fooled. What lies within this Seventh Avenue restaurant is a male tropical paradise—the Hawaiian Tropic Zone.

I’m in town to moderate a panel on sex and decency in advertising hosted by the International Advertising Association. My hosts thought HTZ was the perfect place for dinner to set the tone for the following day’s discussion. And it was close to my hotel.

HTZ bills itself as "The Hottest Place on Earth." As one woman in our party observed, "it’s more like an upscale Hooters." Instead of tight tank tops and orange hot pants, however, the HTZ’s high-heeled wait staff wear bikini tops and sarongs, but not for long. Periodically the women walk along a catwalk above the bar as patrons clap and holler for the "hottest" contestant. Each table contains a small holder for ballots and pencils so patrons can vote for their favorite waitress.

Similar to Hooters, men are seen talking with each other, stealing a quick glance at the women as they walk by, or catching a highlight on Sports Center. Unlike Hooters, men can stare at a huge bank of monitors behind the bar as it showcases sun-drenched models. Judging from the number of customers, the place must be doing well. In a town of a thousand restaurants I suppose there is room for upscale food, drink and tropic-themed titillation.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Gambling and sex

What is it about online gambling sites that advertise with sex? For one, “sex” consists of images of scantily-clad nubile women like the one in the accompanying MySportsBook.com button, and the target audience consists of men. So these ads might simply be a case of attracting eyeballs.

However, the ads might be appealing not just to men in general, but especially so for those who seek the emotional high of gambling. The thrill and excitement experienced during gambling is a similar to the response evoked by sexual stimuli. In other words, the momentary charge caused by the images in these ads may energize a likely gambler just enough to interrupt whatever he was doing (e.g., reading sports news) to click on the ad. Otherwise the ad utilizes the old “bait-and-switch” because women don’t populate many of these betting sites.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Lohan lends sex appeal to Jill Stuart ads

Lindsay Lohan, recently admitted to rehab for the second time, will be featured in fall 2007 ads for designer Jill Stuart. Sexually, the images of Lohan are rather middle-of-the-road considering they are designer ads, but Lohan’s recent trysts and bad-girl behavior add a “rich, party-girl” flavor to the campaign.

For example, Lohan was mentioned in today’s USA Today cover story about the trials and tribulation of young celebrities. The article also identifies Britney Spears and Paris Hilton—among others—as young celebs unable to avoid headlines for breaking both taboos and rules such as sex tape incidents, DUIs and drug abuse. Obviously, the baggage associated with spokesmodels can contribute to how brands are perceived. Given the sensual look of past Jill Stuart ads, those featuring Lohan should fit right in.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

PSAs raise awareness of sex tourism

You may have seen an ad from this campaign. I first came across these PSAs on a sports site such as ESPN. Estimates are that 2 million children are “enslaved” in the sex trade. The PSAs, in my opinion, do an excellent job raising awareness of a very serious problem. The ads (and website) attempt to communicate that “sex tourism”—traveling to a country with the singular purpose of having sex with minors—is a crime that can result in a 30 year sentence for US citizens. Other than running the ads on sports sites, World Vision is running outdoor ads in countries where this is a problem such as Cambodia, Thailand, and Costa Rica.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Dolce & Gabbana’s sexual fantasy ad crosses the line

A recent magazine ad by Dolce & Gabbana is being pulled by the design house after protests that the ad depicts a rape scene. As evident in the image, a man is holding a woman down as four other men wait their turn. The creators of the ad, Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce, claim to be surprised by the protests, and said that their intention was to portray a sexual fantasy: “recall an erotic dream, a sexual game.” Women in Spain, Italy and United States, including Italian Senators—and the president of NOW—say that artistic intent aside, the ad is demeaning and promotes violence against women.

Perhaps this ad is part of a similarly edgy campaign by Dolce & Gabbana that features same-sex themes. Designers are often at the forefront of pushing the envelope to demonstrate that their brands are fashionable and “hot.” As the recent issue of Vanity Fair (or Vogue for that matter) demonstrates, fashion and beauty advertisers must adopt some strategy to stand out among the page-after-endless-page of competition. And sex certainly cuts through the clutter. Last, Dolce & Gabbana’s ad demonstrates that many sexually controversial ads are not produced by large advertising agencies but by freelancers and photographers as these ads are often created “in house.” For example, most of Calvin Klein’s work, especially his controversial ads in the 1980s and 90s was created by Bruce Weber and Sam Shahid, among others.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Red Zone spicing it up on campus

As the temperature rises so does interest in a recent ad in the Red & Black, University of Georgia’s campus newspaper. In the half-page ad, viewers are told to “Keep it clean”—a mocking reference to “Keep your mind out of the gutter.” The image is obviously designed to be sexual and, for young men, a link to Red Zone’s sexual campaigns of the past few years. Red Zone, a P&G brand, swiftly aped Axe’s positioning as a female attractant. Similar to Red Zone’s “When she sweats its sexy” spot, however, the current ad offers no benefit (does anyone really believe that Axe, Red Zone, and Tag are sexual attractants?). The approach is clearly aimed at attracting the attention of college males. One can only hope that these students are not as easily influenced (or susceptible) to such low-brow and empty appeals as this ad suggests.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Svedka's sexual approach yet to be tamed

Svedka may be forced through internal pressure to alter its successful sexual branding strategy. A recent Advertising Age article reported that Constellation Brands, a “pillar” of DISCUS (Distilled Spirits Council of the United States), is buying Svedka and may put pressure on the brand to clean up its notoriously sexual approach.

At the liquor store one evening I noticed a Svedka point-of-purchase leaflet featuring two topless Scandinavian models (Svedka is Finnish). That was in 2002 when Grand Central Marketing handled the account. Since then, Svedka has zoomed from nowhere to fifth in the imported vodka category. To me it’s clear that Svedka’s success can be attributed to its consistent use of sexual themes and images in its marketing efforts. Aside from topless models, Svedka ads have included breast “shots,” allusions to “adult entertainment,” male nudity, and a provocative fem-bot.

Small advertisers and unknown entrants are notorious for using sex and other tactics to get noticed. Ad Age reported that Svedka’s 2006 marketing budget is only $700,000—a pittance compared to industry stalwarts. Revelstoke whiskey took a similar tact several years ago when it sought to gain a foothold in the US. With only $1 million for a national launch, the agency developed three provocative ads (one featuring a stripper) and placed them in Maxim.

Svedka’s efforts grab attention, but it is also branding itself with a sexual identity. Grey Goose is a lot of things, but it’s not hardcore “sexy.” With little doubt alcohol consumption is often associated with sex, romantic encounters, and the see-and-be seen club scene. Coupled with the fact that Svedka is targeting young adults, mostly likely males, the strategy makes a lot of sense. This might explain why Svedka sales were up 60% last year. Blogger Paul Isakson also observes that Svedka’s value pricing and sampling efforts have contributed to Svedka’s success.

But Svedka’s approach may be its undoing. DISCUS standards explicitly state that “advertising and marketing materials should not contain or depict: graphic or gratuitous nudity; overt sexual activity; promiscuity; or sexually lewd or indecent images or language.” Svedka has been rebuked at least three times by the DISCUS board but adherence to the rules is voluntary. We’ll have to wait to see if Svedka’s approach becomes more mainstream now that it has more marketing muscle and moves from “climber” to “established” status.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tough choice for fantasy sports fans

For many men, especially the ones most likely to see the accompanying banner ad, the choice may have been a tough one. The ad appeared—in various forms—on a premier fantasy sports site (rotoworld.com) during the 2006 baseball season. Although I didn’t click-through, I suspect the link was to a market research firm looking to trade (an “opportunity” for) laptops for personal information and demographic details from online sports fanatics.

The ad was certain to get noticed considering its use of the enticing female image and rhetorical question. But doesn’t the ad come close to being a “bait-and-switch” offer in that there is a very subtle, unspoken promise that the viewer will see more of what’s in the ad with a simple click? At any rate, the sexual image in the ad may have provided just enough incentive for men to investigate further. Also, perhaps the checked-flag patterned bikini top was meant to appeal to NASCAR fans.