Repeat after me: "I will not appropriate women's sexuality to sell unsexy stuff..."
This will be a hard one to keep, as long as Kate Upton keeps offering her services to the big brands. But let's put aside the feminist angle for a moment and look at this as professionals: Oversexed advertising is creatively lazy. It's borrowed interest.
On one hand, it definitely increases brand awareness, because anything that primal will cause controversy and arouse plenty of views. But does sex really sell product?
The intuitive answer is "yes". And science tends to back it up. A recent study at Yale showed that male capuchin monkeys shown explicit images of sex and power really did prefer “brands” associated with them. Social scientists Dan Ariely and George Loewenstein experimented on human males, and found that the more sexually aroused they were, the poorer their judgement became on matters of morals and self-preservation. The topics at hand had to do with their propensity to engage in risky and even criminal sex acts. But it's a fairly easy leap to assume that aroused men also make poor consumer decisions.
Only 3% of advertising Creative Directors are women. I can't find a reliable ratio for women Marketing Directors on client side, but I will note that the Chief Marketing Officers of CKE (Hardee's) and DirecTV (responsible for two of those Kate Upton ads) are men.
The conventional wisdom in advertising is that you can never go wrong using women's sexuality in ads, because men want them and women want to be them. But things could change fast.
For the many products that are not related to sex, using sex to sell them does not work. It can even backfire. A recent University of Wisconsin study shows that audiences view ads 10% less favorably if they use sex to sell un-sexy products. This study agrees with the data David Ogilvy accumulated over his long and storied career in advertising. In his book Ogilvy on Advertising, he says that sex sells only if it is relevant to the subject being sold. Advertising Professor Jef I. Richards from the University of Texas says, “Sex sells, but only if you're selling sex.”
But I'm not calling for censorship of any kind. In a free market, at the end of the day, it will be up to women to organize themselves as a consumer force and decide what they are willing to put up with.
Newest Miss Representation Trailer (2011 Sundance Film Festival Official Selection) from Miss Representation on Vimeo.
Call me a prude if you like. The fact is, I consider myself a very "sex positive" person. (Some of my readers seem to think I'm a little too "positive") I have an instinctive and an aesthetic appreciation of the diverse expressions of the female form and I respect and appreciate the women around me as equal human beings who are not only defined by their sexuality.
I just don't like the way women's bodies and sexuality are commoditized to get cheap attention for brands and products. It's not helping us have a respectful and equal society.
One of the unfortunate lessons I have learned from the internet is how easy it is for people to treat others as objects for their racism, sexism, and general scorn. I can't help but imagine the worst of them jerking off to the ad with one hand while simultaneously typing "what a dumb bitch" in the comments thread with the other. Advertising may not be the worst contributor to rape culture, but why would any brand want to contribute at all?