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Sexuality and
Chapter 5
Key Points
Human sexuality is seen as one of the most potent tools
of advertising
In his book “Ways of Seeing” English critic and novelist
John Berger says the implicit message of sexuality in
ads is: “The good life in which you can buy whatever you
want. To be able to buy is the same things as being
sexually desirable.”
If you buy a given product, Berger adds, you’ll be lovable
and if you can’t, you’ll be less lovable
He says this means that buying products and services is
always charged with fantasies and dreams of sexual
desirability and power, even though we may not be
conscious that such is the case
Tapping into our Desires
Berger’s theory explains, for example, why we often see
beautiful young women in ads for autos, beer, fashions,
 Often in our unconscious, we make a connection
between buying a product and becoming desirable to (or
emulating) these women
 For other products, handsome men are used in the same
 The subtext of many advertisements, then, involves the
matter of sexuality and desirability
 Which may explain why the act of buying things is so
important to people and yields such great anticipated
Sex, Sexy, Sexual- and more Sex!
It is generally assumed in the advertising
industry that there is some kind of a transfer of
desire from male lust for sexually attractive
women to the products that are being sold
 Sexuality, sexual desire, lust, even intimations of
sexual intercourse are ubiquitous in
contemporary advertising
 In theory, seeing a beautiful woman in a print or
TV ad with a certain amount of cleavage
showing and other body parts “excites” both
men and women exposed to the image
Sexploitation and Anxiety
This exploitation of the female body can cause a
sense of inadequacy on the part of many
women– who aren’t six feet tall, don’t have lean
or curvy figures, who aren’t 20 year
old….models/super models
 As they age, women are put in a no-win situation
 Beauty is associated with youth, and women are
made to feel that when they lose their youth,
they will lose their beauty
 But while creating this problem, advertising also
offers solutions– products/services that will help
women become more youthful looking
Joe Camel– Sexy???
 Problems
for men too who see these
gorgeous women in advertising and
become dissatisfied with their
spouses/mates/sexual partners
 The government cracked down
on the Joe Camel campaign
calling it to influential among
young people
Joe Camel: X-Rated Smoke?
An AMA study about the cartoon figure Joe
Camel became “twice as familiar” to 3-to-6 years
olds “as a box of Cheerios” and became as well
known as Mickey Mouse
 The ads played an important role in making
Camels “the brand of choice among male
children, 12-to-17 years old”
 In her article “Joe Camel, an X-Rated Smoke”
from 1992 Marjorie Garber broke down the
power of the Joe Camel image/drawing
Phallic Symbols- say it ain’t so Joe!
“His long straight snout bulges
from above two pouchy folds…
a lighted cigarette hanging from
his lips”
There’s the Freudian idea that noses and
cigars are some of the most commonly used phallic
“It is the unconscious appeal to sexual potency that is
behind the acceptance of puerile (juvenile, childish)
young males of Joe Camel’s inducements to choose
Camel cigarettes” –Arthur Asa Berger
Berger: “We must never underestimate the power of
sexual images to affect us in mysterious and profound
“But the incessant clutter of sexual images may weaken
the power of any one ad/cx to sell us some
product/service and…having an impact on our sexual
“There is so much vicarious sex in our lives that the “real
thing” may be losing its appeal for a goodly number of
The law of diminishing returns may be in play!