sexual imagery and sexual concepts in advertising has existed for nearly a century. In the past several decades, however, this form of advertising has begun to target younger groups of consumers as a wider array of products are presented as aids to sexuality and sexual fulfillment. Whereas certain products, such as alcohol and undergarments, have traditionally been marketed using erotic ideas, today's sex-based marketing strategies include items such as gum, shampoo, and even computer hardware. The shift to sexual marketing for a youth culture and the changes in sexual conceptuality and acceptability in marketing are due to changes in cultural perceptions of sex, as well as changes in the youth culture over the last century.
According to Advertising Age's 1999 report "The Advertising Century," the beginnings of sex in advertising can be traced back a 1911 Woodbury Soap ad, whose slogan stated that using the soap gave an individual "A skin you love to touch" (Advertising Age, "Top 100 Campaigns"). The ad first ran in the Ladies' Home Journal, and while it would certainly not be found to be sexual in today's advertising world, this type of statement in 1911 would have been extremely out of the norm. The advertisement continues by implying that use of the soap provides "a radiant complexion" and "soft, velvety skin," and further states "can you imagine possessing a greater charm?." This was the first use of advertising to imply that the use of a product could enhance one's sexual potential (Watkins, 48).
By the 1920's, societal views of women were beginning to change. The "Roaring Twenties" brought with it a sense of freedom from the Victorian constraints of previous decades, and marketing strategists recognized this new trend. Whereas women in previous decades had been limited to ankle length skirts and a life at home, the working "flapper" of the 1920's was viewed as a more alluring, sexual being, wearing skirts to the knee. Stocking marketers, in an attempt to lure even more homemakers into the age, marketed their product accordingly. Illustrator Coles Phillips's artistic ads for Holeproof Hosiery were among the first to use sexual attraction as a marketing tool. His images of beautiful, slim women in knee length skirts with the text "Trim ankles, demurely alluring ... How they fascinate and captivate" appeared in almost every major women's magazine of the time, such as Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, and others (Goodrum and Dalrymple, 72). The advertisements appealed to women as they promised a sense of sexuality and attraction, only attainable through the advertised product. Further, this new role of advertising in displaying the changing values of society and sexual norms would become a mainstay of the industry.
It was also during this time that advertisers began marketing sexuality to a younger audience. The early beginnings of movies, glossy magazines, and tabloid newspapers embodied the sexual "freedoms" of the young working women of the 20's and 30's, and offered stories of sexual intrigue, confession, and temptations (Merchand, 52). Along with these concepts, advertising promoting products to make women more attractive to men, as were the women in the films and magazines, were highly successful.
By the 1930's, the concept of sexual advertising had reached the male population, as well. Advertisers, however, began using nude women or scantily clad women in ads for products such as luxury vehicles and speedboats. The intention, unlike in prior advertising concepts, was not to dimply draw the attention of the reader, but to imply that obtaining the product would allow the purchaser to also obtain a female counterpart similar to those in the ads (Goodrum and Dalrymple, 76). While this shift in concept seems subtle, it reflected a drastic change in acceptance of sexuality in post-WWI society.
In the 1940's, advertisers began to use not only sexual attraction as a marketing ply, but also the act of sex its self, introducing yet another new marketing concept. Fort Sumner sheets, in 1949, introduced an ad campaign that depicted a young military officer in a bedroom with a young female. The ad promoted that while the sheets no longer were used in the military, they still "stand up to rips and tears of ... derrieres." It went on to further note that the sheets were washed 400 times in testing, which equaled a lifetime of "vellication," a word at the time synonymous with sexual activity (Goodrum and Dalrymple, 79).
This shift from the promise of increased sexual appeal for homemakers to the blatant promise of increases in sexual activity of young males and females came about primarily due to social and political changes from the 1920's to the 1950's. The passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, giving women the right to vote, showed the advertising world that women were to be a strong force in the new century (Lambiase and Reichert, 56). Further, as World War I and World War II came and went, women went to work in full force, in all areas of industry and in all professions, furthering the concept of women as consumers for all products (Lambiase and Reichert, 58). The days of Puritan ideals and concepts, where women were to be protected, sheltered, and generally ignored were replaced with concepts of women as powerful leaders and creatures with allure, appeal, and fantasies.
Social attitudes and concepts again shifted as the post war baby boomer generation came of age during the 1960's. This decade was one of vast and quickly altering social concepts of sexuality, women, and identified consumers. The baby boom generation did not have a preconceived notion of propriety, and the ideal of the younger generation shifted from hard work to pleasure seeking and freedom. Birth control, introduced in 1964, and the almost simultaneous appearance of the Beatles, promoting sexual promiscuity were the highlights of the 60's, and brought with them the sexual revolution (Hooper, 34).
It was during this upheaval of social norms that advertisers began to see this youthful generation of new individuals as the primary market consumers for most products, particularly in the case of feminist women. The women of the 60's were not the demure, sexually challenged women of the 20's, but instead, were considered a sexual force (Barthel, 129). Thus, advertisers recognized that the younger generation would not be swayed by ads promoting soft skin as a sexual tool. Advertising needed a new concept.
During the 60's and 70's, the fragrance industry in particular began using this new view of sexually charged young women in the workforce to sell both male and female scent products. Jovan, a company founded in 1968, blatantly used the promise of sexual enticement and fulfillment in its advertising in the 70's. Jovan Musk Oil, marketed in 1972, was marketed almost exclusively by promoting the arguable proposition that the fragrance, made from animal pheromones "proven" to enhance sexual attraction, would help young, powerful women attract members of the opposite sex (Barthel, 96). Further, Jovan promoted the argument and the social acceptance of women as sexual predators, with marketing concepts such as "In a world filled with blatant propositions, brash overtures, bold invitations, and brazen proposals ... Get your share," which introduces the perception of women as brazen and brash (Barthel, 98).
Jovan quickly carried this same concept to the young males these brazen women were arguably targeting. In a 1975 ad for Jovan Sex Appeal, an after-shave for males, the headline read "Sex Appeal for sale, come in and get yours." Promoting the idea that males no longer "have to be born with it," the product line and marketing techniques promised increased sexual appeal (Lambiase and Reichert, 174). The company further peppered both its male and female product line commercials with slogans such as "Get it on," "Someone you know wants it," "Get more than your share,," and "Find the action," in combination with images of young, attractive, sexual men and women (Lambiase and Reichert, 175). The combined concept obviously targeted the younger sect of new sexually free society.
It was during the 1980's that the marketing industry saw a change in the sexual habits of the early to mid twenties consumers. In 1981, the world saw its first glimpse of AIDS, and as the horrific details of the disease spread, the sexual revolution ended (Hooper, 34). As a result, the previously sexually charged baby boomers and hippie generations began to teach their children ways to protect themselves during sexual relations, and pop culture began to speak openly of sexual promiscuity. Television shows primarily aimed at teenage populations, such as Facts of Life, Growing Pains, and Family Ties, began to discuss sex at earlier stages of development, in the hopes that teaching youth about these topics would help protect them (Twitchell, 155).
Furthermore, there was a noticeable shift in the teenage population relating to their work and spending habits. Previously, teens often worked for income to achieve a higher education or to assist the family during times such as WWI and WWII. During the 70's and 80's, teens began to work more for an…
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