Exploring Erotic Rhetoric
in Sexually Oriented Advertising
University of North Texas
University of Alabama
The pleasure of the text is that moment when my body pursues its own ideas—for my body does not have the same ideas I do. (Barthes, 1994, p. 17)
Wise advertisers will always attempt to find out first what it is that we are after and then fashion a campaign with which to position their product. Only a fool, soon to be bankrupt, attempts to change our patterns of desire. (Twitchell, 1996, p. 14)
Sex, in its many cultural guises, stands as a rhetorical commonplace or topoi in much American advertising in the 20th century's last decade. Although advertising producers and consumers alike would probably avow the selling power of sexual images, findings from academic empirical research fail to lend much support to this perception. Some researchers even have warned advertisers to avoid using “overtly seductive, nude, or partially clad models” (Courtney & Whipple, 1983, p. 118), because these appeals can distract, cause offense, or result in negative evaluations of brands (for review, see Belch, Belch, & Villareal, 1987). Despite the findings from this body of research, sexual appeals continue to be employed by advertisers. Recent evidence even suggests that mainstream advertising is increasingly explicit with regard to clothing and sexual interaction (Reichert, Lambiase, Morgan, Carstarphen, & Zavoina, 1999). Most quantitative sexual appeal research is located in the advertising and consumer behavior literatures, as opposed to theoretical work on this topic performed by scholars in the humanities, such as Freudian, semiotic, rhetorical, or literary analyses.