Sexual love and marriage is a central theme in the lives and culture of human beings throughout the world. With very few exceptions, even the most diverse societies share the general concept of romantic love and the ritualistic importance of the monogamous union between man and woman (Ackerman, 1995). Certainly, major components of the complex emotions and physical urges that we associate with romantic love are purely biologically based. In this respect, we share sexual urges, ritualistic mating, courtship displays and pair bonding with (other) animals. In other respects, human intelligence and cultural diversity have given rise to a tremendous variety in societal beliefs about romantic love and marriage. In the United States, sex and love have been commercialized to such a degree that it is clearly the dominant overall marketing theme of the advertising industries. Many of the same evolutionary biological bases of human sexual love also give rise to gender specific differences in behavior and expectations (Branden, 1981), which inspired gender specific advertising and the use of marketing themes that capitalize on those differences, virtually from the birth of modern commercial advertising. By the end of the twentieth century, commercial exploitation of gender-based beliefs and expectations about romantic love is so ingrained into American culture that commercial images motivate perception and expectation at least as much as vice-versa. Deviating from socially accepted societal norms usually comes at a cost, in all cultures, and in proportion to the overall importance of the norm within a given society. In modern American culture, some of the penalties of violating established norms include stigmatization (such as where females defy their expected sexual role) and potentially damaging a relationship by disappointing a mate's romantic expectations (such as where a courting or pair bonded male fails to acknowledge a romantic holiday or commemorative occasion appropriately).
Commercialization of Sexual Attraction and Romantic Love in American Culture:Traditional American cultural values encourage sexual exploration on the part of single courting males while imposing much stricter so-called "moral standards" for single courting females. Commercial advertising themes reflect (and inspire the perpetuation of) that element of our cultural expectations about love through images explicitly validating and promoting those respective gender-based sexual roles. Products and services intended for men are marketed through images and association with themes of freewheeling sexual exploration. Advertising geared toward male consumers relies on images of virility and the power to attract attention from many sexually desirable females. Since both female biology and American social culture value a male's relative status and power potential, images of high status among others and acquisitive success are standard features of advertising to American men (USNWR, 1994).
Conversely, products and services intended primarily for women are marketed more through images and associations with themes of attracting a responsible and dependable life-mates. Certainly, much American advertising also employs images promoting female attractiveness and sexuality as well, but in the case of marketing female sexuality, the context is more likely to be for the explicit purpose of attracting the best possible candidate for marriage and family (USNWR, 1994).
Whereas the genders reflect definite differences in their respective expectations in the realm of sexual love and romance, they also share a more general outlook concerning the prospect of finding a life-mate. Naturally, the commercial advertising industries also exploit these types of expectations via marketing themes specifically designed to appeal to courting singles, and to pair bonded couples via themes validating their commitment and presumed family values. In this regard, one of the best examples of the degree to which the commercial media have saturated popular culture is the celebration of Valentine's Day, a holiday essentially created by the greeting card industry (USNWR, 1994). Valentine's Day is now a fixture of American culture with very definite expectations of its properacknowledgement, particularly among women. Practically all American couples celebrate the occasion, exchanging millions of dollars in cards and flowers on the same day every year. Except for men actually in the relatively short-lived courtship or infatuation stages of a relationship on Valentine's Day, it is more likely to be perceived as an obligatory chore, with men merely going through the necessary motions to avoid disappointing their mates' expectations on that day. Women, on the other hand, generally place much more emphasis on the same holiday, looking forward with joy to the ritualistic gift exchanges throughout their relationships (USNWR, 1994).
Generally, commercial advertising exploits the same idealistic and unrealistic image of romantic love and marriage that has always been promoted by the motion picture, music recording and television industries. Romance novels, movies and popular music all rely on the romantic notion of "true love," according to which each person has a corresponding "perfect" mate waiting to be found. Furthermore, both American popular culture and commercial advertising have always invested heavily in the theme of "happily ever after," according to which true love, once found, is always wonderful and everlasting. Love songs focus on the excitement of finding true love or on the sorrow and heartache of love lost, romance novels end with the heroine's galloping into the sunset in the arms of her white knight, and blockbuster movies end with gorgeous young lovers embarking on a lifetime of happiness after the male character's successful pursuit of his one true love (USNWR, 1994). Virtually at every turn, commercial marketing matches these popularized expectations: products and services intended to appeal to young people relate to improving one's attractiveness to the opposite gender, products and services intended to appeal to pair bonded adults relate to their formal engagement and subsequent acknowledgment of milestones periodically commemorating their mutual commitment, and equally specific themes dominate commercial marketing of products and services designed to appeal to established marital partners and to elderly couples enjoying their golden years together.
The commercially promoted image of romantic love largely ignores the reality that most relationships end somewhat unhappily after the courtship or infatuation phases, that there is no such thing as any specific "perfect partner" for anybody, and that even relationships that do progress all the way from courtship to marriage often end within a relatively few years, and as likely as not, in conjunction with considerable mutual despair and grief. Marketing strategists are keenly aware of which specific themes comport with elements of male psychology and expectations from love and which (often contrasting) themes comport more closely with female psychology and expectations from love. Yet, because it is likely considered "unromantic," commercial advertising seems either to downplay, or even to ignore completely, the harsh reality that most men are motivated much more by their (purely) sexual urges, and just as often, their immature psychological need to "conquer" as many sexual partners as possible throughout most of their prime courting years. Women, by contrast, generally value and aspire to a comparatively "chaste" model, approaching romantic opportunities with the same idealistic hopes portrayed in popular culture and exploited by commercial advertising (USNWR, 1994).
The Reality of Romantic Love and Marriage: The reality of romantic love bears only superficial similarity to any of the images promoted by the modern commercial advertising industry. The courting phase of single adult life (one hopes) represents, by definition, only a relatively short period of one's entire life. Likewise (even under the best of circumstances), most of the "romantic" images promoted so heavily in advertising pertain only to the infatuation phase of romantic relationships, rather than to the realities of long-term marriage and family life (Branden, 1981). The age-old romantic notion of the "perfect partner" is a fantasy, since prior to the technological advances of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries which first made distant transportation possible for the masses, the vast majority of all marriages were between people who were born and had lived in the same community, or within a very few miles…