A bare leg here, a dangerously low v-neck here, a couple in the throes of passion–you see it all the time. Sex used as a way to garner attention and sell products. Companies like Abercrombie & Fitch and American Apparel routinely use this method in their advertisements and the public has routinely become more accepting of it. And it works; sex sells. But why?
According to Forbes contributor Kim Winser, it’s a two-fold answer: Sex sells because the innate human desire to be attractive (to get a mate) plus our desire to “portray ourselves as sexual beings” to maintain that attractiveness makes us more susceptible to sexual imagery. On a basic, subconscious level, the mind translates what it sees in an ubser-sexualized Dolce & Gabbana perfume ad and applies it personally: The ad is s*xy, therefore I am s*xy if I wear Light Blue. Basically, our natural instincts have everyone out on the streets wanting to be magnets of sexuality. Brands take advantage of this fact on the regular.
Think about it: How often have you seen a risqué ad and not wanted to give it a second look? Getting a peek into a seemingly private moment–especially if it’s glamorously styled–satisfies our natural voyeuristic curiosity and makes you feel sexier in the process. It’s why Fifty Shades of Grey ruled The New York Times bestseller list for 30 straight weeks in the number one spot. It’s why American Apparel sells so many of those damn leotards. (Granted, they are actually amazing. So versatile.)
But there are caveats. According to Winser, who was once Chairman of Agent Provocateur, “In order for it to work as an effective sales tool, sex must be used in an elegant, eloquent way that reflects a customer’s aspirations. If it is used crudely as a mere way to court publicity, it may raise the profile of that brand, but it probably won’t have a direct impact on sales.” There’s a fine line between what’s seen as crude or merely “envelope pushing” and once crossed, the consequences are clear.
To read more about Kim Winser’s thought on sexual advertising, including how it influences our youth, head over to Forbes.com.