The Power of Sex in Advertising and the Role of Gender.

This week I will be looking at the way companies and brands use sex within advertising and whether this technique works for everyone. Most people will probably have heard the saying that ‘sex sells’ and judging by the amount of adverts conveying this the impression is it clearly works. The amount of adverts that are around exposing half naked women and men to promote products seems to have increased hugely. Might I add most of them are women and this must be for a reason. Every big company seems to be under the impression that by using half naked women to display their product that this will automatically be a success and people will rush out the buy their product. So does this work? Does Scientific theory emulate this point?


In case you were unaware sex in advertising uses sexual or erotic images of to try and draw consumers attention towards their product. The main examples of this can be seen with fragrances and perfumes, clothing and car advertisement. However it doesn’t seem to be limited to this and it appears that this technique can be applied to anything even something that is clearly not congruent with sexual themes.

toilet paperandpleasure

How does it work then?? When we see an advertisement featuring sexual images it automatically attracts our attention towards the advertisement. This tackles the first problem that products have of brand awareness. It then produces feelings of arousal towards the advert. The next step to this is Pavlov (1927/1960) which shows that we often condition certain stimulus with another stimulus. Therefore when we feel a sense of arousal towards the advert we then link this feeling with the product that is being advertisement. The science is that the next time you are shopping or in the buying process when you come across this product you will then link this with the feeling of arousal. Once this conditioning occurs it then increasing the chances of you purchasing this product as  Damasio (2000) found that emotions are processed automatically. Mizerski & White (1986) found that this can then have a huge bearing on your preferences in the buying process.


Dahl (2009) however showed that it isn’t always as clear cut as we might think. He concluded that sexual images do a great job of attracting attention which is what we have discussed. Nevertheless it has been found that it can actually have a negative impact if the sexual image that is used has little relevance to the actual product that is being advertised. Therefore companies need to be careful and make sure the advert that is being used is actually congruent with the product.

Is there a difference in the effects depending on gender?

I don’t think its a big surprise that men are susceptible to sexual imaging in advertising. You only need to look at magazine such as FHM which displays naked women on the cover to show that companies are using this techniques to lure men in. Showing that men are attracted to the sex in advertising.  Mikulak (2013) backed this up using research showing that men were attracted to sexual and erotic imagery. Therefore it is clear that to target men this can be a very clever and useful technique.  Dahl, Sengupta, & Vohs (2009) again showed that men were susceptible to all sexual ads even if the messages were different.

Companies that have cleverly used this technique is Lynx. Everyone has probably seen the advert which shows by spraying their deodorant hundreds of women automatically become attracted to the male. They have even created a slogan called ‘the lynx effect’ which is now well known. Many reasons why this works, it’s trying to portray the message that by using lynx you will then attract more women, you are deemed as sexier. This is a clever thing to target as every man surely wants to be able to do this. Lynx is seen as successful as there is a congruent message between their advertising and the product that they are selling which is why there are successful. (Kahle & Homer, 1985).

Now we look at females outlook on sexual advertising. Unlike the male research which showed that men have a tendency to be attracted, Dahl, Sengupta, & Vohs (2009) found that women actually behave differently. Research showed that women are actually offended by the sexual and erotic imagery that is shown in advertising when the product is cheap. This is the key, if the product is deemed as expensive and of high quality then the women have a different opinion and can see it as acceptable. However if the item is cheap they automatically frown upon the use of sexual imagery. Now if this makes all men pigs for being automatically attracted to sexual imagery, could it be suggested that women are more interested in wealth. Not saying this is my opinion but maybe this could be construed as this…..

Roles of each gender within advertising

The problem with showing half naked women in advertising for products is that they then become seen as just objects. For example with the lynx advert displaying 100’s of basically naked women running after one guy who has used the deodorant is showing women as sexual objects rather than humans. Within the advert they are seen as almost animals chasing the alpha male animal even making animal noises within this. This can have a negative impact on the way men treat women and how they think of them. However lynx are not alone and a lot of companies go down this same route almost trying to attract men in by persuading them they by using there product they will be sexier and able to attract more women.


Common examples of the difference in how men and women are treated can be found within aftershave and fragrance advertising. Often the man is shown as being dominant and almost owning the women who is being seen as a sexual object. The women is seen as submissive almost letting the man ‘have’ her. The basic message being that by using this fragrance and smell you will have women almost belonging to you as well. Again this is deprecating for women.

ck IN2U ad 1

Finally I have found a funny video that shows a tongue in cheek example of how women are seen within advertising and the difference with men.


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