Wednesday, December 23, 2009

CosmoGIRL!(s) confess to kissing each other and sexting: Should teen-girl pubs be asking such questions?

In its "Fun & Games" section, CosmoGirl! recently featured a quiz game for its readers. The "Never Have I Ever: Romance Edition" asked girls to choose in a series one of two sexual behaviors they had engaged in. Once a selection was made, statistics would indicate each choice's popularity. Some of the more notable options included "dressed skimpier to impress a guy," "went skinny dipping," "had my BFF take sexy pics of me for a guy," and "lost my virginity to my BF."

Perhaps more alarming is the number of respondents who admitted to engaging in these behaviors. In response to "made out with a girl to impress my crush," a stunning 24% of roughly 8,000 girls answered "yes," and 53% said they have "sexted."

"CosmoGIRL! has a fresh, well-defined identity and mission of its own: build strength and confidence in girls." Editorial statement (MRI+ 2009)

CosmoGIRL!'s editorial statement makes it clear that the online publication is designed to appeal to young girls and teens. But does its sexually advanced and explicit content empower girls or communicate and potentially misrepresent dangerous and risky "norms" of sexual behavior?

"CosmoGIRL! is the roadmap to teens understanding themselves and the world around them" Editorial statement (MRI+ 2009)

Not only do the quiz questions suggest it is okay to compromise oneself to impress a boyfriend or to appear confident, but options can encourage serious consequences. Consider "sexting" which means to send sexual or pornographic pictures via text messaging. Dangers of sexting include online publication, child pornography charges, and reputational harm when it comes time for college/job applications. The CosmoGIRL! poll revealed that more than half of respondents "sext" which sends the implicit message that the behavior is normal and appropriate.

That is not the case, however. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, roughly 20% of teenagers have tried "sexting"; a vast difference from the 53% shared on CosmoGIRL!.

Implications stemming from questions about sexual behavior, and misrepresentations of their popularity, are great. As we know from Albert Bandura's widely cited theory of social learning, people (especially teenagers) can learn new behaviors and their social acceptability from the media. When a publication such as CosmoGIRL! frames "sexting" and kissing girls to impress boys as fun, inconsequential, and "normal," teenage girls may be influenced to adopt behaviors that would put them at risk.

--Posted by Michelle Weidner

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sexual social marketing for HIV/AIDS

Controversy is brewing about some sexually explicit posters hyping the Minnesota AIDS Walk. The organization is using skin to create awareness about the event, and headlines such as "How much will you raise?"

The campaign also includes outtakes of the photo shoot that are posted on YouTube. The videos will probably raise as much if not more awareness than the posters.

Brent Mackie's masters thesis contains a comprehensive review of sexually-explicit promotional approaches for HIV/AIDS campaigns. The idea, especially for the posters, is to grab attention and raise attention among those in the target audience. Some people think the sexual approach stereotypes Gays and that advertisers should appeal to our higher instincts. But Mackie's interviews with campaign organizers reveal that they believe the materials should speak directly to the people most at risk--young Gays in this case.

If creating attention and awareness are the goal, these messages will effectively spread the word.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"OM3!" CW hypes Gossip Girl threesome

I missed the episode, but looks like Dan got entangled in a menage a trios in the most recent episode of "Gossip Girl." CW is hyping the episode with promos hearlding "OM3!" instead of it's usual "OMG."

Ad Age's Brian Steinberg asks, "So why is it that whenever TV shows depict people engaging with multiple sexual partners (not particularly common, mind you, on ABC and the rest), the critics come out in force?" He's refering to condemnation from the Parents Television Council.

It's clear in this case that viewer age is the vital concern. Today, adults can handle sexual themes. With kids, however, showcasing threesomes is a different matter. Kids learn from what they see on TV. They might not go out and "do it" (immediately), but they'll think about and likely come to the conclusion that it is more prevalent among teens than in reality.

More important, CW is trying to attact teen eyeballs. How better to do that than with sex?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Hitler has sex in a shocking AIDS PSA


This extremely steamy AIDS awareness PSA featuring Adolf Hitler is almost too much to handle.

I’m not alone: The spot is creating media attention and controversy among AIDS groups. The PSA, designed to make its splash during World AIDS Day (Dec. 1) reportedly will be aired in Germany after 9 PM because of its sexual content. The campaign—which also contains posters of Saddam Hussain and Josef Stalin, was designed by the German agency “das comitee” to be very hard hitting. That goal is achieved. Some groups are complaining that the spot stigmatizes AIDS carriers and associates them with mass murder.

The spot is likely to draw in viewers with its nudity and graphic carnality. Viewers only see the man’s face—that of Hitler—at the very end.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

"If it plays in Singapore..." may not play in the States." That's the latest reaction to the accompanying Burger King ad for the "Super Seven Incher" meal deal that ran in Singapore. Not to disappoint my subliminal friends, but the ad's sexual meaning is clearly evident. Burger King has been attractive negative attention for its viral Whopper Virgin campaign, and well as "square pants" commercials. Mainstream media and blog reactions, as well as those of franchisees, are critical of the sexual and otherwise offensive themes in BK ads. The quick-service brand and its advertising partners agreed to tone down the sexual content but promise to continue a quest for "edgy" to build and maintain share.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

What do you see in this billboard?

That's the question puzzling Athenians recently as they leave downtown. A second question quickly follows: "And what does she (and what's she's doing) have to do with a credit union?"

Credit Flagpole's Chris Hassiotis with the picture and printing both questions in the June 10 issue. Answer #1: A woman looking for change in her dryer. Answer #2: Well, the credit union's VP of marketing said it was one of several images in the the campaign targeted to college students who are, you know, always scratching for a couple bucks.

According to Hassiotis' lead, the image has tickled the male imagination, or at least triggered thoughts within both sexual and sexist contexts. But others see something else entirely. "It's funny to me," said the CU's VP, "...It's a girl who's fully clothed. The advertising is of someone fully clothed. I mean, I'm a Sunday school teacher."

Which begs the question, when is a young woman on all fours with her head stuck in a dryer just a young woman on all fours with her head stuck in a dryer?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Universities offering more educational opportunities to attractive students

In a recent posting I noted the trend toward increasing enrollment during sluggish economic times appears to be limited to physically attractive people. Recent ads for graduate schools are featuring students with big smiles, tans and tight tops. Are these model actual students or are the staffs of university public affairs departments borrowing a page from product advertising? The models in ads for degrees including doctorates are just as likely to populate the pages of talent books.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Download yourself to AX's lust land

Armani Exchange is leaving no male backside covered in its Summer 2009 campaign. More important, those who what to surround themselves with these images can download them to their computers and mobile devices as screensavers, icons, wallpaper and badges.

Imagine slightly more European models in Abercrombie catalogs and you have the AX campaign. Instead of just boys romping together, this time the protagonist is a woman and she’s doing her best to straddle, kiss, embrace, and get her way into two men’s pants.

AX is branding itself as sexy, playful and chic with a summer twist. It’s a land of tan chiseled men and sexually assertive women, all who wear Armani when convenient. For those who want to be part of this scene, who find these images compelling, they can download these lustful images into their lives and share them with friends. No more tearing pages from Cosmo and tacking them to the bulletin board. In this way digital technology allows advertisers to infuse their brand images beyond the pages of a magazine.

Text AX to ARMANI [276264] for image download/signup. Downloads are free. Text AX requires opt-in for up to 3 messsages p/mo. Standard rates/data charges may apply. Participating carriers only.

AX is simply branding its clothing: “This is how we think of our brand and how we want to be perceived.” Just good old sex-in-fashion-advertising. But these images also communicate messages about social and sexual norms and ideals. And with the power to surround oneself with these images, the stronger is their power to resonate with consumers.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Sales of sexual accessories up during down times

Sales of off-the-shelf “sexual accessories” are selling extremely well, even during the recession, reports Advertising Age’s Jack Neff. Personal lubricant sales increased 32% in Q1-09, led by Johnson & Johnson’s K-Y “Yours and Mine” line, and K-Y “Intense,” the “first major mass-market female-arousal gel” (available at Wal-Mart).

In addition, sales are up 74% year-over-year for “sexual-enhancement devices”—products such as Trojan’s Vibrating Touch (that fits on one’s fingertip).

It seems that no one can explain with complete certainty the increase in sales during slow economic times. Some claim people are staying home and having more sex; reconnecting with each other. Could be. But I think Neff has it right when he says that until recently no one has ever applied “consumer packaged-goods” research and marketing to these types of products. “…The reality is that some of this was always a pretty big business, just not one conducted in grocery, drug or mass-merchandise stores…”

Johnson & Johnson and Church & Dwight have been legitimizing sexual accessories and lubricants and taking them mainstream. There is a market out there that has been neglected. According to Jim Daniels, VP-marketing for Trojan, “These are areas where there are unmet consumer needs…the industry really hadn’t paid that much attention to [this area] until recent years.” Estimates are that sexual devices alone is a $1 billion market.

Jack Neff, (2009), "Is Recession Sex Even Better Than Makeup Sex?", Advertising Age, 25 May, p. 2.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Schick Quattro for Women urges proper lawn care "down there" in latest ad campaign

"Never feel untidy, just spruce up your Aphrodite!" chirps a blonde Stepford-wife clone in this new ad by Wilkinson Sword for its Schick Quattro for Women Bikini razor.

The world of this promotional video is populated with gorgeous women enthusiastically trimming bushes and mowing lawns accompanied by a group sing-along (apparently yard work has never been so much fun). Of particular interest is the copy itself, full of clever euphemisms and accompanied by a bouncy, toe-tapping soundtrack. All in all, a catchy yet potentially controversial spot. Word is that a version of the viral video ran in the UK and US. What was that line about “tulips?”

A spot like this can raise some interesting issues. According to The Adhunt Blog, the advertisement was produced by JWT New York and all the creative work was done by women (Executive CD: Sarah Barclay; CD: Lisa Topol, AD: Megan Penmann, Writer: Margie Chidley). This raises the question of gender appropriateness in certain product categories especially concerning sensitive topics (pun intended) framed with sexual references: Women can sell beer but can men sell feminine products such as women’s razors? What would this advertisement have turned out like if men had written it instead of women? Much more coarse, for sure.

There is a double standard regarding creative gender and sexual appeals. Recall the Clairol Herbal Essences campaign--created by women--with women feigning orgasm while washing their hair: “A truly organic experience.”

--Posted by Kurt Thomson

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Online ads promote infidelity

The online "relationship" site, Ashley Madison, continues to advertise it's promise for a hush-hush affair. The accompanying online ad brandishes a seal with its "100% Guarentee:" If you don't have an affair within the first three months [see fine print here] the site will refund your $249. Talk about a unique positioning strategy among online dating services, Ashley Madison only caters to men and women in current relationships. According to its website, 2.5 million people have registered as members. The company made headlines recently when its television ads were banned from broadcast in Canada during the 2009 Super Bowl.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sexually-enticing banner ads may boost CTR

A recent banner ad for a legitimate online dating service appears to promise salacious images of local singles. As visible in the accompanying ad, the banner features a visual of an attractive woman on her back looking suggestively at he viewer. Simply click to see more. positions itself as an "online relationship service" that offers a safer and more secure matchmaking experience. The company promises to prosecute married members or convicted criminals. In addition, boasts proprietary software designed to enhance matchmaking success. However, none of these features are promoted recent online ads. What is the selling point?: The opportunity to look at sexy women in your town.

A 2004 article in Nature Neurosicence adds credence to's approach. The researchers found with the help of MRI that men are much more "interested in and responsive to visual sexually arousing stimuli than are women." The researchers attribute the response to men's highly activated amygdala response. In short, visual stimuli plays a large role in men's sexual behavior.

Safety? Proprietary research? All fine, but the allure of "appetitive and biologically salient stimuli" is sure to boost click-through-rates in this and similar banner ads for dating services.

Hamann, Stephan, Rebecca Herman, Carla Nolan, and Kim Wallen (2004). Men and women differ in amygdala response to visual sexual stimuli, Nature Neuroscience, 7, 411-416.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Vintage 1874 suspenders ad offers peek-a-boo appeal

Who says sex in advertising is a recent phenomenon? Consider this 1874 vintage ad for suspenders with "metallic ends." The tongue-in-cheek message appears to be that women will be better able to use them to escape papa, thus joining you for a midnight rendevous. If you don't by that appeal than her low-cut bodice may be the true attention getting device in the ad. Although 50 years later, this ad reminds me of Elliot Springs' ads for Springs Mills. The fabric manufacturer's ads were known for their sexual puns and peekaboo shots of women's breats and backsides.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Vintage STD awareness campaign

We talk quite a bit about contemporary safe sex and social marketing campaigns that address sexual issues. Many recent campaigns contain sexual imagery or the subtle interplay of text and image that contributes to sexual meaning. Compare that to this 1919 outdoor ad that appeared in New Jersy [click here to see the billboard]. Imagine passing this message heading south for the family vacation with stationwagon full of kids. "Daddy, what is venereal disease?" I came across this outdoor ad while viewing the "Emergence of Advertising in America" collection; part of the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sexiest ads of the 2009 Oscars

The Academy Awards show is the second largest advertising event after the Super Bowl. Over 32 million U.S. viewers tuned in this year to see the spectacle: Hugh Jackman, People magazine’s Sexiest Person of 2008, introducing beautiful actors looking their best. For this reason alone, the 2009 Oscars deserve a peak to seek if its advertisers utilized sex appeal to market their products.

Unlike the Super Bowl, Oscar viewers are more upscale and more likely to be female. As a result, sexual content is more subtle than the "shock-and-awe" of commercials. Typical are attractive models, with fetching smiles and flirtatious glances. Last year’s sexiest Oscar ads included promos for "Dancing with the Stars," and commercials for L’Oreal (not in this year’s line up) and Cadillac. Here is a shortlist of the sexiest ads aired during this year’s telecast.

3. Diet Coke. "Red Dress."
Just about any commercial with supermodel Heidi Klum in a short red dress qualifies. The spot helped to create awareness for women’s heart health.

2. JCPenney. "Style. Quality. Price."
Stylish, attractive models. Flirty looks into the camera. The sexual content was certainly subtle and playful in the seven Penney’s ads showcasing designer lines it carries with the tagline “Style. Quality. Price.” Last year, Penneys used the Academy Awards to introduce its Ralph Lauren-infused "American Living" line.

1. Dial. Antioxident Body Wash.
Soap ads have contained veiled images of people showering for years, so what’s the big deal? Well, this Dial ad definitely updates those standards by showing more than before. The ad kicks off the launch for the new anti-aging line (cranberry extracts and antioxidant infusion combat aging). With little doubt the ad raised awareness among the 40% of viewers who are male.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Edition revealed today

A major seller sure to be on newsstands at least a month, Sports Illustrated today released its annual Swimsuit Edition. The issue is SI's largest and most widely read (last year's edition garnered 66 million readers).

Knowing that readers are as into the cover story as much as sports, advertisers are more likely to position their products with sexual content. Those in the 2008 issue to do so included Budweiser, Pontiac, Old Spice, Evan Williams, Axe (no surprise), Yamaha, Honda, AT&T, Canadian Club, Lifestyles, Peak antifreeze, and GMC.

Someone once said about magazines, "the biggest ad for what can be found inside is the cover." True to form, SI's 2009 swimsuit edition cover features Leonardo Dicaprio's girlfriend and Isreali model Bar Refaeli. Houston Chronicle's Clifford Pugh described the cover this way: "...Bar Refaeli, tugs on the strings of her Missoni bikini bottom while just a smidgen of fabric covers her ample breasts." As convential wisdom and past swimsuit issues attest, Bar, her supermodel friends, and advertisers will not fail to disappoint those drawn to SI by this year's cover.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Carnival ad might prime impure interpretations

A reader brought this ad to our attention. It's certainly innocent at surface level but subliminal enthusiasts would see much more. The ad appeared on the backs of busses before the recent Wellington (NZ) Cup Carnival sponsored by Century City Developments. Perhaps the headline, "Are you ready for a good time," might trigger a sexual interpretation of the accompanying image. Priming theory research demonstrates quite conclusively that words and phrases can influence how subsequent information is interpreted. I think our reader is on to something here. Thanks for the comment.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Top Five Sexiest 2009 Super Bowl Ads

Sour economic times lead to less tolerance for gratuitous sex appeals in advertising. That’s the conjecture from some Russian sociologists. Judging from this year’s Super Bowl, I would have to agree. Compared to 2008 (see a rundown of last year’s sexiest ads), this year’s spots are much more subdued both in terms of number and explicitness of sexual ads. Overall, my team noted only two clear instances of sex in advertising (GoDaddy), two mild instances of sex in advertising (Doritos and Taco Bell), and three instances of sexual content flashed momentarily on the screen (movie and network promos).

5. Movie/Network Promos (Fast and Furious 4, Star Trek, Chuck)
What do these three promos have in common? One brief sexual scene. It wasn’t enough to qualify them individually, but we’ll lump them together because they’re promos. Two women kiss (almost) in the "Fast and Furious 4" spot, two dark figures are unmistakably entangled in the "Star Trek" promo, and a woman on all fours moves toward the camera in the "Chuck" spot. She wasn’t on screen for long but the "Chuck" promo aired at least four times. Research shows that most movie and network promos contain sexual scene even if that scene is insignificant within the program.
How does the come-on-too-strong-at-a-party theme qualify? We did mention that this is a mild example of sex in advertising. The couple is attractive and there is flirtation. But using enchiladas from Taco Bell to win her over takes the cake. The spot is lite and humorous, much like last year’s Super Bowl “Mariachi” spot for Taco Bell.

3. Doritos: "Power of the Crunch"
He crunches. Her clothes fly off. Audience sees woman in underwear. A classic example of unclothed female model used to attract attention. The man’s saving grace: It was an accident and he didn’t use his new found power on other women. Overall, a cute and memorable spot. But tough to top last year’s amateur-produced spots.

1. [tie] GoDaddy: "Baseball" and "Shower"
The domain name provider is known for its tasteless and downright bad examples of sex in Super Bowl advertising; most recently featuring Indy car driver Danica Patrick. Last year she promised to take it off. This year—in two separate spots—she takes multiple showers and talks about “enhancement.” In the “Shower” spot, a voyeuristic college male and his friends direct Danica to take showers. He even adds Ms. Schmidt, "the German woman in the Dean's office," to the Danika shower fantasy. In “Baseball,” a take on the steriod circus, GoDaddy spokeswomen testify to a Congressional committee. Danica is the first to admit that she did “enhance”--her image that is. Envious, an obviously "enhanced" female witness is about to rip open her top as proof when the commercial cuts to “Continued at”

Personally, I hate to see Ms. Patrick in these ads, but she is a visible sex symbol in a male dominated sport—with many adoring male fans who are GoDaddy’s target market. Last year’s ad drove men to the site. These ads appearently did the same.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Goldstar reads our minds

This Goldstar ad, and others like it, have been making the rounds. One of my students sent it to me because the ads are humorous and accurate... and "kind of go along with 'sex in advertising.'" While certainly deemed sexist in some quarters the ads do evoke a knowing nod. From what I've seen the ads are credited to McCann-Erickson, Tel Aviv, and can be found in pub/club bathroom stalls and urinal walls. The ads ask "What goes through your mind when someone says 'Let's go for a drink?'"

CTV bans infidelity ad

As posted by David Kiefaber at Adfreak, Canadian viewers of this year's Super Bowl will not see a spot for, the online dating service for married people seeking affairs. As Kiefaber notes, the spot is fairly tame. But what Ashley Madison represents is likely the issue. Click here to see the firm's related media efforts. Reportedly, a print ad in the NFL game program was rejected as well.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

PETA too hot for NBC

Victoria's Secret and GoDaddy aren't the only marketers pushing the limits on Super Bowl advertising. NBC rejected (no surprise here) PETA's commercial "Veggie Love." The spot features beautiful women undressing while getting especially close to their vegetables (definitely a twist on "veggie tales"). The message is that vegetables are good for you which means you'll have more love to give.

One NBC exec said the spot "depicts a level of sexuality exceeding our standards." NBC asked PETA to cut the following shots before reconsideration: licking pumpkin, touching her breast with her hand while eating broccoli, pumpkin from behind between legs, rubbing pelvic region with pumpkin, licking eggplant, etc.

The move by PETA is a smart way to get high levels of publicity without forking over $3 million for a 30-second spot. It also is in line with recent PETA ads featuring sexed up imagery to get its message noticed.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Jim Beam's "Perfect Girlfriend" ad

Adrants reports that Jim Beam is hosting a new contest to update its "The Girlfriend" spot. A perfect girlfriend is attractive and doesn't care about flowers, endless hours of football, strip-club visits, fat, hairy backs, etc. Enthusiasts are encouraged to upload their versions of the perfect girlfriend for $25k and a trip to Vegas; how appropriate.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Victoria’s Secret offers unique coupon

To highlight its “Vintage Victoria” efforts, Victoria’s Secret is once again offering the ultimate in sales promotion—a “free panty.” Brochures with coupons were recently direct mailed to past customers. No purchase is necessary and customers can also get $10 off a new bra.

Sales promotion, such as coupons, sweepstakes, and free stuff, is designed to stimulate action; to move merchandise. These tactics drive prospects or lapsed customers into the store. In this case, Victoria’s Secret is using sales promotion to get women into stores to see the new line.

Victoria’s Secret is known for its sexy Super Bowl ads and network broadcast fashion shows. But VS’s status as a leading intimatewear brand is largely built on its direct marketing efforts. It’s catalogs are ubiquitous, reaching millions of customers each month. One study found that 88% of male Stanford MBA students read the catalog on a regular basis.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Joe's Seafood offers "last shot"

This ad for Joe's Seafood, Prime Rib, and Stone Crab implies a bold claim, but I'm still trying to figure it out. "When you've only got one shot" is the headline. I'm posting the ad because the implicit message appears to be something along the lines of "Hey, if you're a Tony Soprano-type guy doing lots of business on your phone, Joe's is the place when in Vegas and Chicago to pick up women." So it's a restaurant-pick up bar? I need help with this one. Because the ad appeared in a recent issue of Maxim, I'm fairly confident my interpretation is in the right direction.