Ethics in Advertising: Sex Sells, but Should It?

By Blair, Jessica Dawn; Stephenson, Jason Duane et al. | Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Ethics in Advertising: Sex Sells, but Should It?


Blair, Jessica Dawn, Stephenson, Jason Duane, Hill, Kathy L., Green, John S., Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues


ABSTRACT

The purpose of this paper is to discuss whether or not it is ethical to use sexual appeals in advertising. The study also examines (1) if sex actually sells and if so, when and where is it being used in advertising, (2) the use of men and women in ads of a sexual nature, and (3) the role that ethics plays in the use of sexual appeals in advertising. It is important because it not only focuses on the use of sexual appeals in advertising, but also how ethical it is to do so.

The study found that sexual appeals are used often in advertising. Sex does catch people's attention in advertisements, but usually without much brand recognition. Women have been the primary focus in sexual advertising in the past and present, but men are starting to be used more often as the sex object in advertisements. Ethics plays a definite role. There is no clear view of what is ethical and what is unethical when it comes to advertising, but with careful consideration and planning, it is possible for advertisers to find a common ground and use sexual appeals without offending people in the process.

INTRODUCTION

As stated by Richmond and Hartman (1982), "Every media consumer is alert to 'sex in advertising.' Its pervasive use and misuse are constantly before us, and typically elicit strong criticism" (p.53). As one can see, the use of sex in advertising has been happening for several decades and the reason for it? - It works. Advertisements that are sexy in nature tend to be remembered more often than advertisements that are not. The question to ask, though, is how ethical is it to use sexual appeals in advertisements? This research paper will discuss whether or not sex sells, when and where sexual appeals are used in advertising, who is the primary focus in the ads, and the ethical dilemma of using sexual appeals in advertising.

The purpose of this study is to discuss whether or not it is ethical to use sexual appeals in advertising? The study also examines (1) if sex actually sells and if so, when and where is it being used in advertising, (2) the use of men and women in ads of a sexual nature, and (3) the role that ethics play in the use of sexual appeals in advertising.

This study is important to its readers because it not only focuses on the use of sexual appeals in advertising but it also looks at how ethical it is to do so. Advertising draws people in and coaxes them into buying things based on how the ads make them feel. It is not always fair to assume that everyone knows what the advertisers are doing.

DOES SEX SELL?

"Does sex sell?" Actually, sex does not sell, but sexiness does (Cebr/ynski, 2000, p. 14). Using sex appeals in advertising is a good way to target certain market segments but not all. What is identified as sexual appeals in advertising? Where and when should sex be used in advertising? Does the use of sexual appeals lead to an advantage for brand remembrance? These questions will be the next topics of discussion for this paper.

The use of sexual appeals in advertising has been happening for decades. Sex is everywhere. There are several different distinctions as to what is being categorized as sex appeal. A study conducted by Ramirez and Reichert (2000) revealed four characteristics of sexy ads: (1) physical features of models, (2) behavior/movement, (3) intimacy between models, and (4) contextual features such as camera effects (p.267).

Ramirez and Reichert (2000) sought to find what people consider sexy in advertising. The most common réfèrent was physical features (66%), followed by a model's movements and verbal and nonverbal communication (39%), contextual features (26%), and proxemics (15%) (p.269). They made an important note that what people referred to as sexy differed gender to gender. The study showed that females responded more to context than males did at 35% to 20%. It also showed that 28% of the females responded to proxemics or references to physical distance or relative interaction between models compared to 6% of the males (p. …

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