My proposal research topic is related with objectified sexuality in advertisements in United States.With technology today, we can see advertisements from the comfort of our own homes. We do not have to step outside anymore to see posters, billboards, or ads in the paper; rather we simply turn on the television or open our internet and see thousands of advertisements. In order to catch more audience’s attention, many businesses start promoting their products by using sexualized women and men. According to a blog posted in wordpress.com, called “Sex in Advertising,” today, up to 10% of commercials contain sexual content. There are sexual commercials targeted to both men and women. In these eroticized images or videos, men or women usually expose their skins with desirable facial expressions to deliver their sex appeals physically to arouse attentions from the viewers: male models use their sexual appeals to emphasize their power of domination while female models use the same appeals to illustrate their seduction and temptation. Also sexually implicit words are intentionally used to arouse viewers’ desire and attentions. In this research paper, my intention is to understand the ideology reflected by sexualized advertisements in modern popular culture. Generally, while either men or women are sexualized in the advertisement, they are objectified as well, so they can please audience and bring profits. This research is essential because the objectification of sexuality has changed both cultural values and business advertising: viewers of advertisements have adapted the sexual orientation in commercials subconsciously, and various kinds of industries had changed their ways from traditionally advertising to including sexual contents in advertisements to introduce their products. My question of this research paper is how the practices of advertising as they relate to sexualized images of men and women in mainstream media bring social impact and influence the cultural values of the United States.
The social impact of sexualized images in the United States is enormous. As the original impulse of human, sexuality has the power of changing viewers’ emotions and attitudes: for example, Marilyn Monroe used her beauty and her white skirt, a symbol of her sexuality, arousing energy and excitement of millions of audience during and after the war in United States. When Sexuality encounter advertisements, which is a powerful media of communications between individuals and the society, this special combination of these two elements influence audience and the society greatly. In order to understand the enormous impact brought by sexualized advertisements in the United States, a broad research is essential. The sources below give the illustrations of the beginning of using sexualized advertisements as a way to promote products, types of ways of how sexuality has been used in advertisements, and stereotypes reinforced in sexualized advertisements.
Sex in advertising, the use of sexual information in promotional messages, has present since advertising’s beginning. In several cases, sex in advertising has been the motivation for increased consumer interest and sales. For example, documented in the blog called “sex in advertising,” in order to increase cigarette sales in 1885, W. Duke and Son inserted trading cards into cigarette packs that featured sexually provocative starlets; during the time of World War I, Ivory Soap use an image of sailors bathing together on a deck as the advertisement. The way of promoting products by including sexual information has been used by advertisers over time.
The commonly defined forms of sexual information in advertising include the following: nudity (dress), physical attractiveness, suggestive behavior, interactions innuendo, and other fraction such as setting, content, and camera effects. According to Plous, S., and Dominique Neptune, by far, most content and effects research in the advertising literature involves revealing displays of human body, which refers to nudity. This form of sexual content often related to the amount and style of clothing wore by the model. Another element of sexual content is sexual behavior: model moving and talking in a manner that communicate sexual interest or in a manner intended to evoke viewers’ sexual interest, which include sexualized language and interaction between two or more people. Sexual language which, for example, models speak in breathy and low tone can deliver sexual sensation, while interaction among people such as kissing, embracing, stripping, and voyeurism contribute to the same sexual interpretation. Furthermore, Contextual factors also enhance and frame sexual content are also present in advertisements. These elements include settings such as a romantic bedroom, a small space with dim lights, strip club or campfire beside the beach, and filming techniques such as fast pacing and slowly moving camera over models’ breasts or other sexually implied anatomy. Sexual referents, such as verbal elements, or the mix of verbal and visual elements, including sexual innuendo and double entendre, can also intend to give sexual appeal to the advertisements. For example, an advertisement for the Rice Council promoting their rice industry featured the image of a women looking at the camera with her finger between her lips with the headline, “ The first time it kind of scared me.” The women was referring to cooking rice, but the interpretation was sexually suggestive, even more with the image.(Why the first time of cooking rice can be scary. I’m confused by this ad.) Overall, there are much more ways for advertisers to give sexually suggestive interpretations and put them into advertisements as a way of promoting the industry; however, the four elements are the common pattern we will receive each day.
At the same time, viewers also found that the gender stereotype is explicit in advertisements. In this case, women are always thought as sexualized and decorative beings in advertisements, and as the trend, the stereotype of women is increasingly spreading. For example, Lazior Smith found that the percentage of advertisements portraying women as decorative or sex objects increased from 27% in 1973 to 37% in 1986. This emphasis on female beauty and sexuality suggests the gender bias in advertising industry. Furthermore, the research made by Plous, S., and Dominique Neptune shows that women are more likely to wear animal prints than men do. In the research, of conducting 43 advertisements that display animal prints, 30 showed a black women wearing the prints. In remaining, animal prints were worn by white women in 10 advertisements, by white men in 2 advertisements, and by both white man and woman in 1 advertisements, and none of black men wearing animal prints in samples. The research includes the difference of frequency between two races, which can also reflect the racial bias; however, we are not focus on race in this research. The same research also showed that 70% of animal in prints are predatory and sexualized, like a predatory jungle cat. Evidence suggests that animal prints evoke sexual stereotypes: animal prints were thought to make women feel more sexy, wild, seductive, and beautiful than matched control prints, and that the most common reason given for wearing animal prints was that man find them attractive or sexy. People finds out women who wear animal prints were more sexually active than other women, less educated, lower income, more concerned about their physical appearance, less concerned about their society’s problem, which can be summarized as — wild instincts.
After we combining all these sources which illustrate the history, different forms, and gender bias of sexualized advertising, we then proceed to analyze the social impact brought by sexualized advertisements. While the history proves that Americans have been influenced for long time, the different forms of sexual information and the way of advertising promote gender stereotypes help us understand how sexualized advertisements influence audience’s mind and values better. All of these sources bring great illustrations of sexualized advertising from different perspective.
“Sexuality is socially constructed, that is, it is a learned set of behaviors accompanied by cognitive interpretations of these behaviors. Sexuality, then is less a product of biology than of the socialization processes specific to a given culture at a particular point in time” (Fracher & Kimmel 367). Sexuality provides a powerful expression of masculinity and femininity, but it also reflects the cultural understanding and social value of both men and women, and partly change them. As the communication between the society and individuals, advertisements play an important role delivering sexual informations, which brings great social impact to the modern society. The objectification of sexuality in advertising brings great influence to American culture and society because of the following factors: promotion of products that can easily draw attentions, reinforcement of gender stereotypes, and finally, the gender appearance liberation movements which challenge the traditional image of men and women and change them.
The objectification of sexuality in advertisements helps companies promote products in three ways — increasing attractions of attention, giving positive feelings(attitudes) , and invoking purchase intention, which finally raise the economy of the country. Sexual ads are more engaging, involving, and interesting than nonsexual ads. For example, Bello et al. tested both a sexual and a nonsexual version of the Brooke Shields’ Calvin Klein jeans commercial. Framed with a camera shot that took 13 seconds to slowly move along her leg before including her face, Shields asks, “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing”, which had an unmistakable sexual meaning in the 30-second commercial. The sexual version was rated as more interesting by both female and male 18-24-year-old respondents(Bello et al., 39). This study show that sexual ads are able to captivate viewers and maintain attention, since sexual images stimulate viewers’ vision more than normal images of ads.
Additionally, since the attention is directed toward sexual informations, recognition of sexual images in ads, like women in revealing cloth, is significantly higher than ads without sexual images, which brings the deep memory of product and its company. The most significant example can be brand name recall. Sexual ads also give viewers positive emotions. As individuals view ads through media, they form favourable or unfavourable feelings toward the ad which can influence things like attitudes toward the brand and purchase intention(which will be mentioned). When sexual explicitness increases in the ads, audience will have positive attitudes since the sexual images trigger the excitement of the viewer, which leads to the final benefit — purchase intension. In the study made by Dudley, the pattern indicated that ads with sexual information consistently produced high levels of purchase intentions: Dudley found that a sustain lotion brand feature in sexual ads was more likely to stimulate purchase and usage interest than the same brand in a product-only ad(Dudley 93). Overall, the objectification of sexuality has been used for earn profits by drawing attention, creating positive attitudes and feelings, and increasing purchase intention, which makes sexuality in advertisements influence our society economically for centuries.
The objectification of sexuality in ads also reinforces, even increases the gender stereotypes. In most western cultures, women don’t have the same social status like men do. S. Plous and Dominique Neptune summarize the four gender stereotypes reflected from magazine advertisement:(a) “A women’s place is in the home,” (b) “Women do not make important decisions or do important things,” (c) “ Women are dependent and need men’s protection,” and (d) “Men regard women primarily as sex objects; they are not interested in women as people.”(Plous & Neptune 628) Sexual image in magazine reflect those four gender stereotypes in three ways: sexualizing and decorating women, using different frequencies of male and female exposure, and wearing animal prints. In magazines, as the trend, women are always displayed decoratively and sexualized. Lazier Smith found that the percentage of advertisements portraying women as decorative and sex objects increased from 27% in 1973 to 37% in 1986. Women are far more likely than men to be portrayed as nude or sexualized(Plous & Neptune 628). Also according to Plous’ and Dominique Neptune’s research, women who expose buttocks, upper legs, stomach, shoulders, or back are approximately four times more common than men exposing themselves in ads. This emphasis on female beauty and sexuality promote the gender ideology that women are always the object of sex, being decorated, staying in home and waiting their men come back and enjoy their bodies. The frequent exposure of skins emphasizes that women are overtly sexual beings who always ready for sex, which is highly problematic.
While women are sexualized in most of the ads, men also share the same sexual objectification in advertisements as well. The objectification of sexuality creates a certain gender liberation which leads to a change of culture. For example, Depictions of male sexuality in ads create the male liberation movement. In the sexualized presentations of men in ads, erotic men represents a physical and sexual ideal. Sexuality of men promotes masculinity, and because masculinity is believed to proceed from men’s bodies, the male body becomes a tool that men manipulate in order to achieve gender identity.Amen must engage in an incessant “surveillance” of his performance to ensure that he is sufficiently masculine. However, as the social ubiquitous communications, advertisements with erotic men challenge how people define masculinity, which create the male liberation movement. Rochon’s explanation provides great understanding of “movement”: broad cultural change begins with critical thinkers who think intensively about a problem and develop a shared understanding of how the problem should be viewed. In order to make the thought survive in the society, people spread the idea with “cultural movement”, advertisements in this case(Rochon 95).
Advertisements are a particular good source for studying values because advertisers often position the product in relation to cultural symbols and values. As the men’s movement expanded it’s understanding of men’s liberation to the wider culture, the liberation movement starts being commercialized and becoming “palatable”(Rochon 97), since the liberation is promoted to the level which can be lucrative. The commercialization of the male liberation has effected the cultural identity of men somehow. The joy of bodily movement and expression as well as diametrically opposed to the manly appearance associated with masculine stereotype. Appearance of men changes to a more “natural” look, such as long hair and loose-fitted clothing, which challenged gender distinctions. Men’s liberation movement triggered by erotic male image in advertisements is just one of the examples among all, which proves the powerful and meaningful use of dissemination by the sexuality in advertisements.
Most of the audience think that promoting sexual image of both men and women in advertising can only be entertaining. However, beyond of triggering visual pleasures, sexualized advertisements are changing the viewers’ perspective: sexualized advertisements construct the idealization of both men and women, which reinforce the definition of human beauty among the audience while change it too; they captivate viewers’ attention in order to arouse intention of purchasing; and last but not least, they construct and strengthen gender stereotypes. Advertisements have great social power to change our value because we can easily access these images everyday. While we are viewing sexualized advertisements, we are having communications with those advertisements and receiving messages from them subconsciously as well. After again and again viewing those sexual informations, our minds and values usually are changed somehow. This is one of the example of social media controls and leads individuals’ mind and perspective: advertisers use sexualize advertising media to lead audience’s perspective of beauty and stereotypical images of both gender, and attempt audience to pay. And this is why sexuality in advertisements can be so important to be discussed frequently. Overall, even sexual images in advertisements may promote problematic gender ideas, we still can’t deny that sexuality in ads greatly brings cultural and economic effect in our daily life. No matter it’s right or wrong, the objectification of sexuality show us a different perspective of viewing male and female sexuality.
Bello, D. C., Pitts, P. E., & Etzel, M. J . (1983). The communication effects of controversial sexual content in television programs and commercials.Journal of Aduertising, 12(3),32-42.
In this source, the author give a nice demonstration and multiple examples explaining how sexual informations in advertisements communicate with the viewer. In the research, the author used both sexual version and non-sexual version of Brooke Shields’ Calvin Klein jeans commercial to test that sexual content bring more benefits. This source is essential because the research proves that sexual orientations bring more attentions among young generation.
Dudley, S. C. (1999). Consumer attitudes toward nudity in advertising. Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, 79(4), 89-96.
This source gives great explanation of how sexual advertising arouse purchase intention. First, this source provides me a new term which is purchase intention, which is the reason why customers pay for products. The author tested various commercials to test how nudities captivate attentions from viewers and bring purchase intention. This research is useful, because the logic in this research helps me string other sources about sexuality in marketing together.
Plous, S., and Dominique Neptune. “Racial And Gender Biases In Magazine Advertising.” Psychol of Women Q Psychology of Women Quarterly 21.4 (1997), 627-644.
In this source, the author did a research gathering informations of proportions of both men and women with different race being sexualized. In the research, they have tested samples from six fashion-oriented magazines, 12472 advertisements in all. The source discusses the issue that women has been sexualized more frequently than men, which promote problematic gender stereotype of women. The paper also mentioned issue such as that black women usually wear animal print, and white women are more possibly expose their skin in magazines.
Rochon, Thomas R. Culture Moves: Ideas, Activism, and Changing Values. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1998, 213-222.Print
In this book which mainly writes about the changing value of the American culture, the author widely wrote about gender discrimination, sexual harassment, racial solidarity, and movement involvement. I mainly focus on the chapter7-2 — movement ideology. First, the author explains the specific definition of cultural movement, and brings ideas and effects of it. This source is quiet important because this explanation give me a brand new idea about advertisements which is the most significant communication between individuals and the society. Advertisements fit perfectly in his definition of cultural movement, so I can combine the male appearance shifting I learnt with it, which brings a quiet interesting conversation.