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Does sex sell to women or is it just for the boys?

by Madwoman on April 2, 2013
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Ever since the first Cadbury’s Flake felatio scene, advertising has been a bit obsessed with women putting things in their mouths in a suggestive way. And I’ve always been a bit perplexed by this given that in a scientific poll of a few of my mates, oral sex is really not what we usually think about when eating chocolate. But the analogy has launched a fair few sexy ads including the explicit Magnum campaign which was practically a blow-by-blow lesson.

Recently, both Pepsi and Diet Coke have ads featuring women who can’t wait to wrap their lips round something phallic. In the Coke version, the women are quite literally licking their lips as they lust after the guy who, orgasmically sprays diet coke all over himself.

It seems to me an oddly male, and gay male at that, idea. Giving head is not normally the thing women imagine doing when they see an attractive man – don’t we usually imagine what pleasure they can give us rather than what we can give them? So are we giving the Diet Coke can a thrill, or is it giving us one?

Will it appeal to the majority of women? Well, probably, if because objectifying a man in the way women are used to being objectified is a break from the usual. Not sure what it will do for the brand long term though once the novelty’s worn off.

Diet Pepsi goes for a similar scenario – featuring the Colombian actress Sofia Vergara. The voluptuous Vergara is in a restaurant with a girlfriend, whom she ignores while she apparently ogles a George Clooney look-alike. Like the Diet Coke ad, the camera is obsessed with her mouth as she too appears to be imagining sucking on something … but, it’s not what you think! No, shockingly for the Clooney-alike, she’d rather get her lips round something altogether easier to manage – a straw! We’re treated to her simulating oral sex on said straw, while Clooney walks away unsatisfied, curiously tugging at his groin area.

Is it meant to be funny? Is it meant to leave women feeling incredulous that Vergara prefers a straw to Clooney’s bits? Shock horror – blow jobs are not really all women want when they see a good looking bloke? This ad was created by a female creative team – which goes to show that the sex of the team is no indicator of empathy with women. Both the Coke and Pepsi view of female desire – and this is essentially what these ads are trying to tap into – is a male view of women’s sexuality. Which is why, for me, neither of these ads work.

There are quite a few studies that show how it’s men, rather than women who are turned on by sex-themed advertising, for example, an Adweek report showed that while 33% of male respondents said they would remember a brand more if its ads had a sexual theme, only 11% of women said sex made a brand more memorable. A UK study carried out by University College London identified that while men recalled the brand whose ads contained sexual imagery, women were actually put off by it. UCL researcher Adrian Furnham says that, “Sex seems to have a detrimental effect on females recall for an advertisement, so sex is only a useful advertising tool when selling to men”.

The exception to this is when the brand is actually about sex, as with Ann Summers or Victoria’s Secret – when the brand is ‘sexy’ then women in the survey accepted this. One brand that is overtly about sex and uses sex to sell in clever, intriguing ways is Coco de Mer. Their launch campaign focused on the benefits of their products (high-class sex toys) and instead of using images of women’s airbrushed bodies, it showed faces. Faces of women and men having an orgasm.  How relevant and clever is that?

Why are people so afraid of female pleasure? It’s okay to show images that arouse men – and we do see them all around us – but when it comes to female sexual pleasure, media owners go all coy. For example, Ann Summers ad for the Rampant Rabbit – featuring a mermaid and the line “wave after wave of pleasure” was banned from the underground because it was said to be “likely to offend passengers”. So, the company has now reverted to a style of advertising that’s designed to titillate guess who? Men of course. Because, that’s acceptable.

Now I’m no prude, and I’m a fan of sex, but if advertising is going to use sex to sell to women, shouldn’t it be about sex from a woman’s point of view? Doubtless there will be comments from women who get pleasure from pleasuring men, but would advertising be more successful if it tapped into real insights about female sexual pleasure and tried to create a ‘female gaze’ that isn’t just the ‘male gaze’ in disguise.

From → Advertising

One Comment Leave one →
  1. blue8011 permalink

    I know this is a late answer, but I think we’re experiencing changing times and would like to answer based on my experiences as a male model.

    More and more advertisements are tailored to women but I think there is no standardized expression for the female gaze yet, as there is for the male. There is definitely potential for sexualised/eroticised commercial for women, but it has to happen on female terms. The current problem in many commercials is that they objectify women too (there are often clad women in them and/or they behave sexually), or somehow apply the male gaze in them. This often creates confusion in terms of defining a clear target group, and this is probably what’s happening in the coke commercial. Another problem with this “paradigm” is the basis of assumed preferences. Often, there is a guy responsible for the commercial, and his perceptions about what women find attractive too often takes precedence. I’m sure we’ve all seen the commercials and videos where a huge, clad man is the main character, the typical beefcake.

    But I think it’s all slowly changing as the industry gain more insight and knowledge about female preferences and because more and more women are making commercials. Two years ago we got a female manager ourselves, and many changes have taken place since then. It’s hard to tell if her view of things reflect on women in general, but it’s probably easier for a woman to know what other women want than a male editor. Since she started she have made many changes to outfits, storyline and camera handling. The storyline does not contain cliches such as women simulating oral sex and most of the camera focus is on the male models while the clothing favours the female gaze. In general the women wear more clothes and the men less, often being shirtless. If this is the future of commercials – no one knows, but there’s a great chance, as women may be the major spenders and purchasers as they surpass men in higher education and professional lives.

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