Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Advanced degrees for attractive people

"Our grad program is replete with good-looking students."

That is the message in recent educational ads published in Newsweek. Sure, attractive models adorn products in ads from hairspray, to autos, to softdrinks, but apparently they are making their way into ads for higher learning. One wonders if the woman in the UTEP MBA ad is a current student, a model, or the type of person the program would like to recruit.

Readers stop to look at physically-attractive models, especially when those models are making eye contact with them. Numerous academic studies show that to be the case. In addition, Sam Shahid, the man behind much Abercrombie and Calvin Klein advertising, said that he considers attractive people a form of "sex in advertising." On the other hand, the message may be that this is the type of student that represents the program. A prospective student might be wondering, "Wow, I had no idea I would be going to class with people who look like that if I pursue an MIS degree at Nova."

I may be wrong, but I doubt the models in these ads are actual students (a quick look at UTEP's website suggests they are not). If so, it is somewhat misleading to use stock images of good-looking models to promote a grad program.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Arby's "Birthday" commercial

Ben, one of our esteemed alums, sent me a link to this Arby's fast food commercial where the fast food marketer plays a central role in a husband/wife roleplay fantasy. It's the one where she dresses as an Arby's employee to serve her husband an Arby's combo.

A quick search reveals that the "Birthday" spot shows up on several family blogs with comments like: "I totally see me and Barry doing this," and "I love this commercial." The spot doesn't rank high on the "taste" meter but it evokes chuckles nonetheless as it pokes fun at men and their fantasies.

Several bloggers noted the "subliminal" factor in the commercial; the Arby's hat boinking above the man's head as she emerges from the bathroom. In fact, the symbolism is hardly masked which pretty much disqualifies it as a truly subliminal tactic.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Zombie Strippers

Haven't seen the movie but here is the poster for Zombie Strippers (2008). Starring Jenna Jameson and Robert Englund, the film's plot revolves around an escaped retrovirus that infects strippers in a Nebraska nightclub. Infection can kill, technically, but also make one a "super zombie stripper" (which results in better tips). Do the women succumb to the temptation? You get the drift.

Axe taps Facebook to reach college men

Axe is dangling tantalizing trips to European cities to get college men to funnel their buddies to an Axe Facebook page.

Axe is touting weeklong grand prize excursions to Rome, Paris, and Madrid as tongue-in-cheek "Study Abroad"opportunities. A quarter page ad in Univerity of Georgia's Red & Black directs men to the contest's website. The ad features pictures of young beauties and the promise of "learning the language of love." Contestants must be 18-to-24-year-old males enrolled F08 in an institution of higher learning. Winners are determined by the largest number of male friends registered on Axe's Facebook page.

Each grand prize winner, there are four, can take three friends to a destination city. In Paris, for instance, contestants can discover why it is "known as the city of romance, and get to know firsthand the age-old art of French kissing." In Rome, one can expect to find young beauties who "like to strip down and jump into fountains." In Marid, the "hot senoritas" like to "frolic into the afterhours."

Unfortunately, the contest only provides the flight, room, spending money, and a Flip recorder and Marmot bag. Contestants must ignite their own romantic opportunities. Pity the young women in these cities when the "Study Abroad" winners touch down with their amorous expecations.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Meet Verizon’s sexy wireless girl

As a Verizon customer, I’m surprised to see it partnering with Maxim to promote its “girl of the month.”

Verizon, a Fortune 500 company, promotes itself as “family friendly” with dependable and reliable service. Its Foundation seeks to foster education, health, safety, and literacy—with links to videos about domestic violence prevention.

But here Verizon is promoting wireless services with promises of sexy behind-the-scenes shots of Kimberly Sarah: She “calls herself a ‘goodie-goodie,’ but if her sexy photo shoot was any indication, we have a feeling there’s an inner wild chick bubbling just below the surface.” Readers who “like what [they] see,” can see more “only on Verizon wireless V-cast.”

One has to question why Verizon, a company that publicly values corporate responsibility, partners with a sexist publication like Maxim to market video streams of modeling shoots. The tactic obviously enhances viewership, but much more is expected from a company such as Verizon.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A sexy twist on organ donation

A Belgian agency recently won an award for best non-profit ad by putting a sexy twist on a topic known to be a conversation killer.

Duval Guillaume, a 200-person outfit, produced "Reborn to be Alive" campaign to get people talking about organ donation and to make them aware that in Belgium one needs to sign up (opt-in) to be a donor.

Similarly in the U.S., states require you to "opt-in" to become an organ donor. If not, your next of kin is asked to make the decision if something happens to you. Unfortunately, many people don't talk about their wishes because it grosses them out or--"knock on wood"--talking about it might make it happen.

The accompanying ad, "Becoming a donor is probably your only chance to get inside her," appeared in a leading Belgian men's magazine. According to the awarding publication, the campaign is a "sexy and surprising interpretation of a serious topic." The ad is a definite example of how sex in advertising can be used to promote prosocial issues. Whether this ad is in good taste or appropriate for audiences other than Maxim readers is completely different issue.

Sex appears to be on the minds of Duval Guillaume. Consider some of the campaigns it showcases on its site.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Can sex be used to sell safe sex?

Brent Mackie believes so. He should know; he conducted an exhaustive literature review on the subject and interviewed HIV-campaign producers and audience members to complete his thesis, “Selling Safe Smut…” Mackie recently earned his MA at University of NSW, National Centre in HIV Social Research.

Specifically, he found that explicit language and imagery are often used to promote safe sex practices among gay men. More important, he found that campaign producers, the people in charge of directing these campaigns, believe that for the message to be perceived as credible and believable, it must be produced by and reflect the “community” and “must at times be sexually explicit.” These message producers also believe that sexually explicit campaign materials work because they communicate “unambiguous and accurate information.”

According to Mackie, sexual appeals do more than just garner attention: “Explicit materials work because they are engaging and relevant to the lives of gay men when responding to the HIV epidemic…”

I was a member of Mackie’s thesis committee. His work covered research from several fields including public health, advertising, social marketing, and mass communication, among others. His thesis is a “must read” for practitioners developing HIV prevention materials as well as scholars with an interest in this area.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sex and sado in "Rock of Love" promo

Just what we need, more “Rock of Love” from VH1. This time the women aren’t vying to be Bret Michaels’ rock pet but, with the help of Headmistress Sharon Osbourne, cleaning up their act, learning manners and trying to ditch their “rebellious” ways. Note the full-page promo pitching "Charm School" that recently appeared in People. Osbourne threatens to paddle “bad” contestants dressed in hyper-sexed schoolgirl uniforms—an obvious blend of sadomasochism and pornographic themes. This ads is over the top in many respects, especially considering that it ran in a publication that reaches a huge chunk of middle America.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Vintage sex-and-cigar ad

Here’s a vintage ad that borders on believability. This Muriel cigar ad is intriguing for several reasons, some of which I’ll let you decode. But essentially Muriel is arguing that smoke from its flavored cigars (blueberry, burgundy, grape, cherry, etc.) has the power to subdue attractive women—just exhale in their face.

White Owl Cigars
I’m reminded of an infamous 1930s campaign for White Owl cigars. Company research revealed that White Owl cigar smoke contained fewer chemical substances that caused bad breath then competitive cigars. Capitalizing on this marketing advantage, the J Walter Thompson agency ran print and billboard ads with men and women passionately kissing accompanied by the White Owl logo. The message: A man didn’t have to worry about nasty cigar smoke preventing intimate time with his favorite woman. Sales increased the first year but declined the next.

White Owl’s brand promise fell flat: “less” bad breath is still bad breath. I suspect Muriel experienced the same result with its fruit-flavored cigar line.

This ad was posted on Camel Tap as an example of cigarette ads you’re not likely to ever run again. Visit the site and you'll see why.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sex and chocolate: A timeless combination

Image the following scenario: A single women, popcorn in-hand, is watching her favorite romantic comedy. The woman, longing for her own personal George Clooney to appear and sweep her off her feet, gazes enviously at the film’s happy lovers, when a Pepperidge Farm spot flashes on the screen. Finally it clicks: That’s what’s missing—love AND cookies.

A similar scenario may be playing out in this Pepperidge Farm Milano cookie print ad that appeared in a 2007 issue of Good Housekeeping. The cookie “man” and chocolate “woman” are locked in an intimate embrace—the perfect combination for a delicious cookie experience. In addition to the sexuality of the embrace, the ad plays on the emotional attachment that women have to love—every woman is searching for her soulmate.

In my opinion, the ad says that cookies are equivalent to love. Overall, the ad is attempting to create an emotional attachment between the viewer, love, food, and the brand. This is an effective combination given that for women, sexual appeals and relationships are much more powerful than blatant sexuality or nudity.

This ad also created a stir for its hints of racism. See Steve Hall's commentary on Adrants for details.

--Posted by Sarah Doss

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ultimate in sex promotion

CNN recently reported that a 21-year-old Sacramento State U student is selling her virginity. Natalie Dylan is promoting herself via Dennis Hof's "World Famous" Bunny Ranch. Her motivation? To earn enough to not work while earning a masters degree in, of all things, marriage and family development. Her promotional efforts landed her an interview on "The Howard Stern Show," local news exposure in Sacramento on CBS 13, and a clip on CNN.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Network shots of Misty May and Kerri Walsh may be strategic

Anyone watching the Beijing Olympics is sure to catch a glimpse of a network promo for bikini-clad U.S. beach volleyball duo Misty May and Kerri Walsh. Both grabbed national attention in the 2004 Olympics for their physiques and athleticism.

In a recent article and book chapter, University of Alabama researchers Kim Bissell and Andrea Duke researched the network coverage of 2004 Olympic beach volleyball games to determine whether NBC spiced up its coverage to attract viewers. As reported in Bump, Set, Spike: An Analysis of Commentary and Camera Angles of Women's Beach Volleyball During the 2004 Summer Olympics, they content analyzed several matches and found that while the commentary was not overtly sexual the camera shots were very sexual: "More than 20% of the camera shots were found to be tight shots of the players' chests and just over 17% of the shots were coded as buttock shots, which," note Bissell and Duke, "leaves viewers with lasting memories of players' bodies rather than of memories of athleticism."

Bissell and Duke frame their analysis in commentary and analysis of female sports (e.g., LPGA) and recent moves to "sex up" athletes to attract viewers. While May and Walsh report that their attire is purely functional (August 20, 2008 "All Things Considered"), NBC producers and promoters make the decisions on what to show in enhance ratings. Bissell and Duke make a compelling case that NBC is showing plenty.

Bissell, Kimberly, and Andrea M. Duke (2007). Bump, Set, Spike: An Analysis of Commentary and Camera Angles of Women's Beach Volleyball During the 2004 Summer Olympics. Journal of Promotion Management, 13 (1/2), 35-53.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Getting cozy with Mack's earplugs

A recent ad in Newsweek visually touts a sex-related benefit of earplugs: Earplugs bring you "together." "Mack's Earplugs saved our marriage." Hence the appeal, "by this, get this..." Jacque Lambiase and I have been writing about the use of sex as a brand promise. When using this approach, only about 20% of the time do advertisers explicit state that sex is an outcome. More often, like in the Mack's ad, they use an interplay between headline and visual to get the meaning across. Using sex to sell audio inhibitors is an original. If you've seen something similar, us know.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Post's Shredded Wheat is sexually satisfying (?)

A fairly common assumption is that sex is used to sell sex-related products, right? Like perfume, clothing, or even jewelry.

But cereal?

My eyes did a double flip at the new campaign for Post’s Shredded Wheat. I have to admit, sex is not the first thing that comes to mind with thinking about healthy, fibrous cereal.

Satisfy those urges
Post is obviously seeking to empower women by saying “you don’t need men to satisfy your urges,” whatever those urges may be. The ads use sex appeal in reverse by saying that women don’t need sex to feel satisfied, they can get satisfied with a bowl of wheat. The ads portray that idea by depicting a woman, dressed in lingerie-inspired red satin ensembles, posed in a demure position with a bowl of Post Shredded Wheat. She looks directly into the camera, making a definite connection with the viewer. The woman and the cereal are the primary focus of the ad.

In the background, almost blending in to the scenery is a passive man either sleeping or paying the woman little attention. The copy reads “What satisfies a hungry woman?” Using sex appeal with a cereal is not the obvious route, but as Post demonstrates here, it undoubtedly makes for an attention grabbing ad.

The tagline does a great job of focusing on the product benefits in a creative and attention grabbing way proving that sex in advertising has now reached new territory; the cereal aisle.

--Posted by Erica Goss

Monday, July 14, 2008

Benefit’s thrrrob face powder ad

This recent ad for Benefit’s thrrrob face powder caught my attention as I was looking for an example of sex in advertising and flipping through a recent Cosmo.

The ad qualifies as a fairly conventional example of sex in advertising: It contains implied nudity and voyeurism. But more interestingly, the ad contains a thinly veiled sexual referent.

My heart is thrrrobing
For starters, the name of this face powder is “thrrrob.” The word throb itself is sexual because it relates to desire, arousal, and sex. Perhaps the product’s name can also be related to the notion of a heart throb, or of a heart beat, which beats quicker when a lover is present. Or maybe the man in the ad is the woman’s heartthrob in the sense that she desires him. Either way, the word throb is clearly a sexual referent that can be read on many different levels.

The product name also features three “r’s” and the “r’s” are italicized. Therefore, it seems that the triple “r’s” are meant to be noticed, and are perhaps supposed to resemble a lustful sound such as growl or a purr. The text of the ad also informs the viewer that thrrrob is a powder that is “turned on.” Once again, the use of the words “turned on” illustrates the power of this cosmetic to stimulate arousal and desire.

Perhaps the most interesting use of the text is featured in the thought bubble that is coming out of the female’s head. The female is allowing the viewer access to her inner thoughts which are, “Think he’s makin’ my heart thrrrob? Guess again!”

The female's inner thought informs the viewer that it is this face powder that makes her heart “thrrrob.” Or in other words, this face powder is what stimulates her desire instead of the man featured in the ad. Based on the implications of this text, she is informing the viewer that the man featured in this ad is not what satisfies her, it is instead the cosmetic that provides the pleasure.

Sexy names for cosmetics
Thrrrob is not the only cosmetic to feature a name that can be related to sex, desire, and arousal. According to a classmate, Smashbox cosmetics and NARS also make products with sexualized names. Smashbox is the creator of “O-GLOW,” which similar to thrrrob, is used on the face. NARS, on the other hand, is the creator of a line of lip gloss whose colors feature names such as “Orgasm,” Supervixen,” and “Triple X” among others. Therefore, it appears that cosmetic companies are quite deliberately forging a connection between their products and sexuality, by linking the cosmetics’ abilities to provide beauty with both sexual attractiveness and desire.

----Posted by Brandi Kilgore

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Cartier borrows from subliminal playbook, chastity belt

A recent ad for Cartier’s new Leve bracelet has a sexual feel, but not from the types of sexual content typically found in magazine advertising; as the ad contains no physically attractive models, no nudity, and no sexual behavior. At a higher level of processing, however, one could argue that the ad is fraught with sexual referents (allusions to objects with sexual meaning) and embeds (content interpreted as sexual at the subconscious level).

Sex and Death Embeds
Looking at the ad though the lens of Wilson Key (the guy who sees sex in ice cubes, and clouds, and…), it becomes obvious that the bracelet and key could be interpreted as symbolism for genitalia. While size is obviously distorted, there is an argument for power dynamics if the ad is geared toward women, as the key is much smaller than the bracelet it locks.

Notice the flames/steam coming off of the bracelet which could allude to the heat of passion this product evokes. Also note the red smoke in the background. One can argue that there is a skull-like face in the smoke (aka, death embed).

A Modern-Day Chastity Belt
At another level, there is the implied issue of bondage, or at least of “locking your woman up” to keep her away from other potential mates. Consider the tagline, “How far would you go for love?” The line could imply bondage or invoke ideas of chastity belts. The inspiration for Leve was a Cartier bracelet that “screwed around the wrist of the beloved with a screwdriver… possessing or letting yourself be possessed.”

In this ad, most viewers probably just see a bracelet and a key. Upon further analysis, however, some might say this ad is a very good example of sexual referents and embeds.

--Posted by Justin Pettigrew

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sexy jet-setters fly Korean Air

“Only sexy supermodels fly with us.” That’s the impression one gets from a recent Korean Airlines commercial designed especially for audiences in the U.S.

Incorporating “high brow” images ranging from partially nude women to sexual innuendo, the Korean Air spot looks more like a high profile, risqué perfume ad rather than an airline commercial. Instead of scenes showing off its fleet or multitude of destinations, which is typical in this category, Korean Air opts to brand themselves with a variety of glamorized sex-in-advertising tropes such as nudity, sexual behavior, and physical attractiveness. There is even a nod to shoe fetish.

Maybe the approach is a smart one. If you have a choice when flying to Asia, why not fly with a sexy, high-brow airline? Apparently that’s what Korean marketers assume is motivating to its potential U.S. customers. Based on America’s obsession with sex, it’s not an assumption too far from the mark.

--Posted by Rachel Jackson

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sexy Brooke Shields ad appears in family magazine

My assignment was to locate an example of sex in advertising. I found one in a very unlikely place.

In the May 2008 edition of Family Fun magazine there appears an ad in the “got milk” campaign featuring Brooke Shields. (I chose this magazine assuming that the sexual content would be presumably light, if present at all.) Shields appears in a black leotard positioned in a flexible posture with her legs bent beneath her. She has the ubiquitous milk mustache and a very sophisticated gaze on her face, peering into the lens of the camera (and thus into the eyes of the reader).

Although the ad may at first glance appear innocuous it certainly could be argued that there is present a degree of sexuality.

In terms of dress Shields in wearing a form fitting black leotard that exposes her legs. However, the greater degree of sexuality is found in other aspects of the ad. There is a sense of sexual behavior present in the ad. The look that Shields is presenting to the reader could certainly create a parasocial dynamic. It is clearly intended to create a connection between the viewer and the model.

Brooke Shields' Sexual Persona
Perhaps the greatest sexual aspect of the ad revolves around Shields herself. She built her notoriety in the 1980s starring in sexually controversial films such as Blue Lagoon and Endless Love and her playfully provocative role in Calvin Klein commercials. (She also had a smaller role as a teenage prostitute in an earlier film.) Anyone who grew up during the 80s would recognize the sexuality character that is present in Brooke Shields. The target audience for this magazine (parents presumably in the 30s – 40s) certainly grew up in that decade and could not distance themselves from the sexual baggage that Shields brings to the ad.

Another aspect of ad that can be seen as sexually charged is the copy. The ad opens with the phrase “busy body.” Clearly, this phrase could be interpreted in a number of ways. However, the emphasis is apparently a connection between a healthy body and sexuality. Presumably, the target audience is at a point in their lives when they may be struggling with a perceived loss of their “sexiness” due to a perceived or real decline in their physical condition. Brooke Shields it would seem has not experienced this loss and thus there is a connection between her sexuality and her use of milk.

This ad could certainly be used to support the argument that if sexuality is present in a publication such as Family Fun sex is ubiquitous in advertising.

--Posted by Curt Wanner

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bud Gal and sexy POP displays

“Hi, I’m a larger-than-life, bikini-clad, point-of-purchase display.

“I’m just hanging out with three of my friends at the end of aisles in a convenience store somewhere in rural Oklahoma.

“We’re here to increase Bud sales. At least that’s what I was led to believe.”

Good question: Do sexy POP displays have any influence on sales?

My guess is “yes.” I find it difficult to believe that this truly one-dimensional Bud Gal—and others like her—have no affect on beer sales.

The Research
At first glance research fails to support this perception. A 1984 study published by Marjorie Caballero and Paul Solomon in Journal of Advertising tested the influence of physically attractive models on POP displays for both beer and tissues. They found that good looking models failed to encourage men to buy more beer: “males tended to buy beer from displays depicting male models rather than from those depicting female models” (p. 21). Equally as interesting, they found that “low attractiveness” (read: ugly) models sold more tissues.

Reading deeper into the article we discover that Caballero and Solomon were only testing facial attractiveness. Basically they included mug shots of high, medium, and low attractive models or no photo at all. In other words, the images tested in their study are a far cry from the POP image shown here.

How sexy POP displays work
My guess is that marketers and retailers are very aware of the influence of POP displays. First, it’s a way to bring attention to your product just as consumers are making a decision. If you are a brand-switcher, and really don’t perceive a difference between Miller and Budweiser, the momentary gratification of a sexual image might get a sponsor the nod.

Last, let’s not forget that sexual information evokes a small but perceptible positively emotional response in most people. Especially domestic beer drinkers, right? When in such a state, one is more likely to make the impulse purchase: “Okay, I’ll get a 12-pack instead of a six.”

I’d be curious to see the research showing Bud Gal’s influence on sales. I bet she sells more Bud (and perhaps more Kleenex) in convenience stores she inhabits.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Lacoste goes Playgirl... in Esquire?

I just discovered this Lacoste faux Playgirl pose in a 2003 issue of Esquire while working on a content analysis... and I'm still trying to figure it out.

These days good-looking male models are the norm in men's style magazines. And there is partial nudity; think Calvin Klein and Dolce & Gabanna. But this image has the feel of a 1970's Burt Reynolds layout in Playgirl magazine (see him here in a 1972 Cosmo layout).

The headline "Style on Skin" must be referring to the "high style" of Lacoste on one's skin. I'm not sure straight readers flipping through Esquire would be comfortable making eye contact with a nude male model enjoying a spot of tea. It may be likely that Gay Esquire readers would have a different opinion: It's commonly believed that men's mags like GQ and Esquire have a fairly high Gay readership.

It's no surprise to magazine readers that bare male physiques are on the rise. In a previously published content analysis, we found that 11% of men in a sample of magazine ads were dressed in a sexual manner. By 2003, that proprotion had increased to 21%. Nudity (Lacoste ad), while absent in 1983, represented about 3% in 2003.

Obviously in no rush, men are making the 30-year migration from '70s layouts in Playgirl and Cosmo to ad pages in men's magazines.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Vassarette's repositioning

Behold the latest Vassarette ad. It appeared in a recent issue of Redbook.

Earlier this decade Vassarette attempted to reposition itself as “sexy” with some smart ads designed by The Martin Agency. I’m not sure, however, if they were able to shake their department store, white/beige “basics” image. The Martin Agency’s ads lasted only a couple of years.

A Cross Between VS and Wonderbra

The current attempt looks like a Victoria’s Secret ad with a Wonderbra appeal: “May all your bad hair days go unnoticed.” The design appears have changed, however, as have the names: “The Real Sexy Crazy In Love Bra.” Vassarette is a Vanity Fair brand, which may or may not still be controlled by VF Corporation (the receptionist at Vanity Fair is not authorized to say at this time).

Victoria’s Secret had a major impact on the intimatewear category. Many competing brands have felt compelled to reposition themselves as “sexy.” Vassarette is no exception.

Friday, April 25, 2008

OMFG -- Sexy "Gossip Girl" Promos

You may have seen one of the recent network promos for CW's "Gossip Girl." We did; me and my three-year-old son. The promos were hyping interest in "Gossip Girl" newest show since the writer's strike. It premiered Monday, April 21.

The promo aired about 3 pm on Oxygen network. It definitely caught our attention. As Brian Sternberg of Advertising Age noted, the promo "feature[s] Serena, Nate and other characters from the program locked in passionate embraces, with the text message "OMFG" superimposed on top." Couple those passionate embraces with nudity and a high degree of sexual tension to complete the picture.

Network Promos
Sternberg notes that CW is using sex to attract interest in the show. This is most certainly the case. Network promos are intended to hype awareness of programming and increase viewership. In a sense, sex in the promos is an implicit promise of "see more of this" if one tunes in.

CW and Sex
In a recent analysis, we found that CW contains more ads with sexual content (25% of all ads aired during prime time) compared to FOX, ABC, CBS, and NBC. More important, we also found that 38% of CW promos contained sexual content, which was much higher than all other networks. The next highest was NBC with 22% of promos containing sexual content.

Clearly CW, and its advertisers, use sex to appeal to the network's young audience. Sternberg noted that the audience for "Gossip Girl" was 18-34, but I would suspect that it skews much younger.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Victoria’s Secret meets "The Brand Gap"

Is the arbiter of “What is sexy?” too sexy?

“Yes,” say Victoria’s Secret executives. In a recent article, VS President and CEO Sharen Turney, told analysts that the lingerie marketer’s slowing sales are attributed to (1) being “too sexy” and (2) neglecting women in their 20s and 30s.

I read this article as I was finishing Marty Neumeier’s book The Brand Gap (New Riders, 2006). It’s a good read about the basics of branding, and it helps to explain VS’s $370 million hiccup.

VS is Sexy

Victoria’s Secret is an undisputed leader in the intimate-wear category. Owned by Limited Brands (LTD), VS has over 1000 stores and 2007 net sales of $3.7 billion. Victoria’s Secret’s sexual branding strategy took intimates to the next level. It positioned itself as sexy with a stable of supermodel endorsers, a highly successful catalog, memorable Super Bowl commercials, pioneering fashion webcasts, and network television prime-time events during the shopping season. Since its beginning, VS has successfully traversed the fine line between sexy and sophisticated.

VS meets its Brand Gap

Despite these milestones, annual sales are down 10%. It appears that VS is losing its status as a “charismatic brand.” Neumeier defines such brands as products “for which people believe there’s no substitute.” These brands have cult-like followings that must be carefully protected from “a wandering brand focus.”

Victoria's Secret is wandering wide of its core consumer. VS executives admit that they’ve put too much emphasis on their “pink” line; designed for younger women. A sexy positioning strategy makes sense for young women who are less offended by scintillating appeals. And if you can hook them early, they’ll turn into lifelong brand zealots.

But being too sexy is alienating older women as they move from college to careers and families, and who increasingly fail to identify with the latest 18-year-old Brazilian supermodel.

One problem with VS’s approach is that it is continually trying to outdo itself by pushing the limits of “what is sexy?”. As a result, VS has slowly shed the “sophisticated” component of it’s brand.

Nancy Bernard, a brand design consultant and critic, observed the shift. She told us: “I remember when Victoria's Secret launched. The whole point was that it was NOT Frederick’s of Hollywood. It was beautiful, sexy-but-classy lingerie for AnyWoman. Now it’s brazen provocation—hardly a secret Sweet Victoria is keeping.”

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Sex in advertising: Jenna Jameson, lip gloss, and chili beans

Jenna Jameson, lip gloss, and... chili beans? Several posts this week reveal the lurid—and sadly humorous—side of advertising.

Breaking March 10, (former?) porn star Jenna Jameson will be modeling a “pleather” bikini in a PETA campaign. Also breaking this week, Hanes is debuting its “wedgie free” panty campaign on Tuesday’s American Idol. Speaking of underwear, a few voyeuristic shots are intentionally shown in animated promos recently produced for FX’s Dirt starring Courtney Cox.

In the viral video department, VH1 Charm School’s Sapphyri stars in an video promoting her line of lip gloss. I’m still trying to figure out the thinking behind her video: It’s clearly designed to appeal to men but women must buy the stuff.

Last, in a twist on sex and food, a video for features a couple smearing each other with Roquefort, vegemite, and canned chili beans. The tagline: “What you do with your groceries… Your business. Saving money on your groceries… Our business.”

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

There is no sex in TV advertising

How much sex is there in commercials aired on network television? Not much according to a recent article published in 2007 by Amir Hetsroni in the journal Sex Roles.

Hetsroni conducted a content analysis of prime-time commercials aired on the major broadcast networks in both the US and Israel. He analyzed approximately 1,700 commercials from each country. He reported that sexual conduct existed in a mere 1.2% of US commercials, compared to 3.4% in Israeli commercials. As can be expected, complete nudity was practically nonexistent in both countries. When it comes to sexual acts, Hetsroni reported that both men and women initiated sex about the same amount.

One notable difference between ads in the US and Israel is that 60% of American ads portrayed sexual acts in the context of an established relationship. On the other hand, only 8% of the Israeli ads did the same. Does this mean that Israelis are more comfortable with sexual behavior when portrayed outside of a relationship? Perhaps, but a careful analysis of the types of products (male- vs. female-oriented) may have played a role as well.

Overall, it was surprising to see such a small level of sexual content in prime-time advertising. Almost all published studies report that sex is present in about 10% (+/-) of prime-time network commericals.

--Posted by Jackie Ayrault

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sexiest ads of the Oscars

Red carpet. Gorgeous celebrities. Skimpy gowns. The Academy Awards presentation showcases the glitz and glamour of our entertainment industry. As the second leading TV event of the year, it’s intriguing to see which advertisers—if any at all—use sexual appeals to speak to the 40 million or so (mostly females) who tune in to the event.

Not to be disappointed, sexual content was present among the three big “C” advertisers (cars, cosmetics, and clothing). Unlike the Super Bowl, however, there were no babes in bikinis or disrobing Danica Patrick in the lineup. Sexual content was subtle and obtuse. When targeting women, sexual appeals are more apt to emphasize benefits such as enhancing one’s attractiveness or self esteem. The top four ads containing sexual content were no exception.

4. L’Oreal. Just about any L’Oreal commercial aired last night qualifies. Again, while not overtly sexual, physical attractiveness can be an important component of sexual content. These spots featured sex symbols such as Heather Locklear, Eva Longoria, and Andie MacDowell extolling the benefits of looking beautiful (with a little help from L’Oreal).

3. JC Penney’s “American Living” brand. At least five spots served to introduce Penney’s new Ralph Lauren line. These slice-of-life ads, meant to reflect “Americana,” included some embraces and deep stares, and a young interracial couple. On the creepy side, one spot set in the forest featured a few kids on a bed.

2. Cadillac CTS. We’ve referred to this spot in a previous post. The ad—airing for a few months—features "Grey’s Anatomy’s" Kate Walsh purring: “When you turn your car on, does it return the favor?” As noted, it received a favorable rating from Ad Age’s Ad Review and Bob Garfield; one of the few examples of sex in advertising he’s liked.

1. "Dancing with the Stars” promos. The network promos speak for themselves; as they promise a “steamier” and “sexier” season than before. Not to disappoint, one of the two promos aired a few seconds of provocative dance moves. A clear example of “truth-in-advertising.”

Although we’re stretching it a bit, honorable mentions go to attractive models demonstrating the utility of Crest White Strips and a few dance moves in a JELLO swirls spot.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Sexiest ads of the Oscars

Stay-tuned for our ranking of the sexiest ads of the "Super Bowl for women." Sunday's telecast of the Academy Awards typically represents the second largest television event of the season. Last year approximately 40 million tuned in (60% women) which is a "mega" turnout in today's fragmented media world.

According to Ad Age's Brian Steinberg, this year's advertisers include: Coca-Cola, P&G, American Express, Unilever, JC Penney, L'Oreal, Mars, McDonalds, Mastercard, GMC, and Walt Disney. Noticeably absent are this year's scintillating Super Bowl advertisers such as Given the high composition of females watching the telecast, sexual appeals will not be as brazen or potentially offensive as programming with a high male audience.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Want to photograph SI swimsuit models?

Now you can. Grab your camera and photograph Daniella Sarahyba at one of several beach locations: Governor's Beach, Rum Point, or Smith's Cove. "Are you the new photographer?" she asks.

Taco Bell created the tie-in with Sports Illustrated to coincide with the massively popular 2008 Swimsuit edition. According to Marketing Vox, the being promoted with online ads at,, and sites popular with male audiences, as well as in-store promotions at Taco Bell.

Visitors use their mouse to take pictures of Sarahyba, which they can download or send to friends. Adrants notes that the campaign was created by DraftFCB, Orange County.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Playboy's sexiest commercials of all time

In its February 2008 issue, Playboy ranked the 21 sexiest commercials of all time. Previously reported by Adrants, you can still view and vote online for the sexiest of the lot. The commercials they've chosen range from recent commercials starring Paris Hilton (Carl's Jr.), Britney Spears (fragrance), and Axe (bom-chicka-wah-wah) to early spots with Gunilla Knutson (Noxzema, 1967), Dodge (Charger, 1970), and Brooke Shields (Calvin Klein, 1980).

Other interesting calls include Suzanne Somers demonstrating the Thighmaster, Nicole Smith touting her Trimspa, and Calvin Klein's CK ads from 1995 featuring underage actors and models. To be expected, all commercials identified by Playboy feature sexualized images of women as the primary ingredient--which is certainly true for most sexy ads. To be fair, several commercials for Lee, Dockers, and Subaru turned the tables by featuring hunky guys.

Missing spots
Spots missed by Playboy include Farrah Fawcett lathering up Joe Nameth for Noxema, as well as the infamous Milwakee's Best ad introducing the Swedish Bikini Team--"It doesn't get any better than this." More important, Playboy missed the only example of sex in advertising to receive praise from Advertising Age's Bob Garfield and his Ad Review team. The spot features Grey's Anatomy's Kate Walsh pushing the pedal to the floor in her new Cadillac CTS (see below).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Just in time for Valentine's Day

A Valentine's spot for UK intimate wear/toy marketer Ann Summers puts a twist on Santa's workshop. Three lingerie-clad models deliver gifts made of "wood" to unsuspecting men, followed by a shot of the women crafting additional "toys" in their workshop (Adland). The spot--obviously too suggestive for TV--is a viral video that creates attention and awareness as it spreads across the web. The tactic makes sense for marketers like Ann Summers that do much of their business online because it avoids network standards boards and the risk of scruity, and customers are only a click away. What it says about women is a completely different story.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Top Five Sexiest 2008 Super Bowl Ads

Although the finale for Super Bowl XLII was a surprise, it was no surprise that sexual content made its way into several of this year’s commercials. Overall, the ads were tame compared to previous years as only a handful of sexy ads were broadcast. Here is our list of the five sexiest Super Bowl ads in 2008 plus an honorable mention. View all the Super Bowl ads at USA Today, AOL, or YouTube, and tell us what you think.

5. Tie -- Taco Bell: ‘Hola’ and Planters: “Unibrow”
A sexy commercial for Fiesta Platters? A true stretch but Taco Bell pulls it off with a bit of spice and playful flirtation between a mariachi and a female coworker… Hola! Also, technically, Planter’s “Uni-brow” spot does qualify as sex in advertising: Men falling over themselves because of a woman’s scent is a classic convention, though in this instance the twist is “essence-de-peanut.”

4. Ice Breakers: Whoa!
Any spot featuring sex symbol Carmen Electra is a candidate for the list. In this spot overly excited male admirers line up for a photo op with the gorgeous celeb. Given rumors that she dated Joan Jett, it’s surprising that a female admirer wasn’t shown posing with Electra.

3. SoBe Lite: Thrillicious
It wasn’t the nude lizards so much as an attractive Naomi Campbell. The spot featured Campbell—and the SoBe lizards—dancing to “Thriller.” The commercial is fun to watch; ranking 11 on USA Today’s Ad Meter. Again, ads with physically attractive models in revealing clothing represent a primary form of sexual content in advertising.

2. Victoria’s Secret: “Let the Games Begin”
This spot contained no voiceover, just the soundtrack for “I’m in the mood for love” and 30 seconds of a playful Adriana Lima. Aired during the second half, the spot reminded viewers that “The game will be over soon” so the “real games” can begin. A lingerie-clad supermodel making eye contact with the camera qualifies, but the innuendo between “real games” and sex certainly evoked a few thoughts in the minds of viewers. However, after too much beer and nachos it’s not clear however how many Americans were in the mood for a game of “touch” football after the game.

1. Exposure
The spot begins with Doug surfing while describing his disappointment with recent Super Bowl ads: “I used to watch—for the commercials.” He announces that Danica Patrick’s “Exposure” ad is airing online, and everyone rushes to the computer. Viewers see Patrick “unzip” her leather jacket with a classic cutaway to “See it all…only at” Visitors to GoDaddy can view the “REJECTED” spot where, in true sophomoric fashion, disappointed paparazzi ask Patrick: “Where’s the beaver?” Victoria’s Secret was successful getting Super Bowl viewers to its website with online fashion shows. Using sex to do the same for the rouge, is a marketing “no-brainer.”

Honorable Mention: A pair of passionate kisses deserve some love. Among them include: the trailer for Universal’s “Wanted” starring Angelina Jolie, and the kiss in the Dell ad promoting its red computer.

Give us your two cents. Was there a commercial we missed? Again, find all the ads at USA Today, AOL or YouTube.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Victoria’s Secret Super Bowl ad no secret

According to Ad Age and many news sites, Victoria’s Secret will be airing it’s first Super Bowl ad since 1999. Can it have been that long?

Like many people, I still remember VS’s first commercial during the big game. That spot, described by Adweek’s Barbara Lippert as containing plenty of “jiggle,” beckoned viewers to the lingerie marketer’s website for its first ever online “fashion” show. Eager visitors quickly crashed the server.

The new spot supposedly rides the line between taste and sleaze. Fun and “flirtatious” are adjectives used to describe the commercial. According to Age Age’s Natalie Zmuda, the commercial “features Victoria’s Secret Angel Adriana Lima, a football and words that will scroll across the screen.” Ed Razek, Limited Brands’ president, also noted that the commercial will have a different approach than previous VS themes. The spot will air during the second half of the game and be available on VS's website.

This year’s Super Bowl ads are fetching an average of $2.7 million (a record) and advertisers are optimistic that the contest will entice a record number of viewers--94 million watched the game in 1996. With the Pats flirting with a perfect season, a record number of viewers seems likely.