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Sex Sells and So Do Sexy Men: The Objectification of Men in Advertising

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Sex Sells and So Do Sexy Men: The Objectification of Men in Advertising image zesty manSource: Kraft

We’ve all heard the age-old marketing mantra: sex sells. While I agree with this statement (to some extent), with the changing roles of women over the past several decades this has become less acceptable; or rather, it’s been met increasingly with more criticism, mainly from women.

As a self-proclaimed feminist (not the man-hating kind), I enjoy sexy ads – when they’re executed tastefully. Whether it’s because I’m not easily offended or I understand the tactics marketers employ to sell products, I’m a fan of watching and looking at ads with beautiful people, especially gorgeous men. I know there’s a fine line between appreciating and objectifying men and women, and sometimes I wonder if we know where that line is. So, I ask you: is there a difference in the acceptance of objectifying women as opposed to men? How do different genders react to sexualized advertising? Is it the same?

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say women react much differently than men do to sexual ads. In fact, I’m right. According to study findings from psychology journal, Psychological Science, “women generally show spontaneous negative attitudes toward sexual images.” Furthermore, the study found that women were more angry and upset by ads featuring seemingly “cheap” products as opposed to expensive ones. The study’s findings suggest this unfavorable reaction to “cheap” products is because “women have evolved to see sex as a special and prized act.” Products that are more expensive imply exclusivity, and therefore women are less likely to view the sexual nature of an ad for a high-priced item negatively.

OK, so women aren’t fans of looking at sexual advertisements (what a surprise), especially where other women are “objectified”, but let me ask you this: what happens when we use sexy men in ads? Cut out the “bikini-clad”, hyper-sexualized women and insert a gorgeous man (or several of them). This man could fit any woman’s fantasy; he’s the stereotypical stud-muffin. How do women feel about sexy ads now? I’m inclined to think many women wouldn’t have a problem appreciating the view or commenting on how good-looking, sexy, or dreamy this guy is. Why is this different? Why is this double standard acceptable? Why is it OK to “objectify” men?

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Let’s watch some of these advertisements:

Hefty Ultimate

Kraft Zesty Dressing

Liquid-Plumr

Sauza Tequila

While there are always going to be critics, it’s safe to say these ads are received with much less hatred and anger. Why is that? What makes these ads more acceptable? I have a few theories:

They’re harmless

I think it’s safe to say that men don’t generally care if they are “objectified” based on their physical appearance. Women have always been a bit more sensitive to the way they’re portrayed. Speaking as a woman (and based on some research I’ve done on feminism), it’s hard to group us all together. Some women, like me, don’t take offense to sexual ads and take them for what they’re worth – an advertisement – nevertheless, to each his (or her) own.

Anyways, ads like the ones above are harmless, from any point of view. No one is going to take these seriously, and if they do, I’m sorry but watch again. They’re for pure enjoyment. They’re not making fun of anyone or anything; they’re simply taking every day, seemingly unsexy aspects of life and adding an element of fantasy, in a truly harmless manner.

They’re humorous

In addition to being harmless, these spots are humorous. Yes, they’re a bit goofy and completely far-fetched, but that’s what makes them so enjoyable.

Humor is one of the most difficult cognitive experiences to create successfully. With humor, it’s a given that your message won’t speak to everyone, and that’s OK. Appeal to your audience; determine what they find humorous and cater to that.

In the case of ads with sexy men, the audience is clearly women (and some men, of course). Women enjoy looking at good-looking men. Add in a comical element and we’re hooked!

They’re obscure

I don’t know about you, but my plumber has never looked like this guy, nor has he ever spoken to me in a sexy voice, clearly alluding to some sexual innuendos. But, this is what makes it so obscure. Things like this don’t happen. Do you have three gorgeous garbage men personally coming to take out your garbage? I didn’t think so.

Kraft, Hefty and Liquid-Plumr take ordinary, everyday products and spice them up in unusual ways, and I applaud them for it. Adding sexy to un-sexy products is not easy, but taking the opposite approach to marketing these products is what makes them memorable.

Men don’t care if they’re “objectified”

Men rarely see being “objectified” as a bad thing and I don’t think objectified is even the right word. Men see an ad with exceptionally good-looking men for what it is – an advertisement.

It’s no secret men don’t think about things the way women do; they’re just wired differently. Offending a man is not the same as offending a woman; the reasons for being offended are often very different. This may be due to everything women have had to overcome to be seen as equals, but either way you look at it, an ad with a sexy man will always be more acceptable than an ad with a sexy woman.

Should we use sex to sell?

Like most things, there’s a time and a place for everything and it’s no different for using sex to sell. If a product or service could benefit from adding a sexy element to an advertisement, go for it. However, keep your audience in mind. Using sex to sell is more about your audience than it is about the product or service.

Think about who’s going to buy your product or service. Will they appreciate a sexy take on it in your advertising? If the answer is no, you probably don’t want to go the sexy route. The road less traveled is often a sexy one, and depending on your audience, your product and your openness to criticism, sexy ads aren’t always the easiest to execute. While I’m not discouraging the use of sex to sell, there’s a fine line between keeping it tasteful (harmless, humorous, and obscure) and offending the masses.

Try it out. As a business owner, you know your audience best and you can make the right call. Use a focus group consisting of your audience and even those who don’t typically make up your target audience. This will help determine if the ad entices or insults. Just remember, you won’t always make everyone happy, nor do you need to. In the end, it comes down to your judgment and what you believe works best for your brand.

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