What is Sex Appeal?

Sex appeal is when products use immediate appeal or obvious potential to interest or excite others, by appearance, style, or charm. Nudity and other sexual approaches are the most common ways companies advertise their products, however researchers are now finding products do not sell as well using this type of approach. Advertisers have now shifted to more sexual cues, suggestions, and innuendos to entice consumers. Sex appeal has been used in advertising since the very beginning of advertising itself and can range from highly overt to extremely subtle. It builds on the premise that people are curious about sexuality and that experience in marketing has been that sexuality sells products.

How do companies use it to sell their product?

Over the years, advertising executives have been using these five popular approaches to advertising sex appeal:

Subliminal Approaches - attempt to affect the viewer’s subconscious mind by inserting sexual cues or identifiable icons in advertisement
Sensuality – arousing the senses through imagination. It is considered more sophisticated and enticing hinting at romance and love in an advertisement than pure raw sexuality.ang_jolie_ad.jpg
Sexually Suggestive Approach – using sexually suggestive messaging to increase sensuousness by suggesting sexual activity.
Nudity or Partial Nudity – is most popularly used to sell products that have sexual connotations. Although some advertisements are designed to create sexual responses – such as perfume and cologne ads, while others are not referring to ads such as Hanes undergarments, to women’s deodorant. When using nudity a common approach is to use decorative models
Overt Sexuality – using blatant sexual images and actions to sell products. Companies must beware when they are using this technique and are not selling sexually oriented products, as it is very easy to cross the line of controversy

What is a Decorative Model?
A decorative model is an individual in an advertisement whose sole purpose is to embellish the product as a sexual or attractive stimulus. This model serves no functional purpose in the ad except for attracting attention from consumers.
Models used in many car advertisements are decorative models.

Factors to Consider When using Decorative Models
    • Companies must remember that the presence of the model improves ad recognition, but not brand recognition
    • Attractive models produce a higher level of attention to ads than do less attractive models
    • If the product is sexually relevant than it increases purchase intentions from the presence of the attractive model
    • Decorative models influence emotional and objective evaluations of the product along with both male and female audiences

Does Using Sex Appeal Work?

  • Using sex does increase attention of products, in spite of the gender of the individual in the advertisement or the gender of the viewing audience
  • Companies are now using both genders in their advertisements to entice males and females to pay attention to their products
  • Although they can attract attention, sexually oriented advertisements can actually distract a viewer from the product and brand name itself, therefore making it easy to forget after a few minutes of watching the ad
  • It is very important for the consumer to view the advertisement as pleasant. When sex works, the advertisement can increase sales of the product. However, if the viewer is offended by the ad, it could potentially create strong negative feelings toward the company

David and Victoria Beckham's Armani Advertisements are an example of companies using both males and females in sexually provocative manners in a single advertisement to sell their product
Five ways Advertising Sex Increases Business Success
  1. Get noticed - Pay attention to the design of the advertisement, choose colours, words, and pictures carefully, and proofread the advert before publishing it.
  2. Be the dream - The most successful advertising taps into the dreams of the customers and shows the potential customers how the product fits into that dream. Show how your product helps the target market tap into those dreams.
  3. More than one night stands - When designing your advertising keep in mind two ideas: you want to form a long-term relationship with your customers rather than have one-time buys, and you want to attract attention more than once.
  4. Variety adds spice to sex - Variety adds spice to life and using a variety of themes in your advertising campaigns will ensure that your advertising retains the customer’s interest in the long-term
  5. Go for satisfaction - Your business advertisement is only the start of the process in satisfying your customers. Make sure your advertising is truthful and does not make claims that your product cannot meet as this only leads to unhappy customers in the end.

Disadvantages of Using Sex Appeal in Advertising
The largest criticism of using sex appeal in advertising is it creates dissatisfaction with one’s body. Females are the dominant gender affected by this statistic, with the widespread results of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia in women and teenage girls – the media creates an image of what you have to look like to be sexy, which is actually far from your everyday woman. Women feel unhappy about their own bodies triggering stigma’s against such products. What is interesting is that these exact advertisements also effect male’s, but in reverse. Men are left feeling they are not fit or muscular enough – therefore branding themselves too thin or too fat, and it does not matter whether the male is viewing a female or male model selling the product to activate these feelings.
Firms are now using “regular person” models in their ads to help with body advertising. The goal for companies is to use sex in a manner that is interesting, and to entice consumers to the product, while maintaining the ethical standards of the region.

To learn more about sex appeal in advertising you can visit these sites:


  1. Kenneth E. Clow and Donald Baack, (2010) "Intergrated Advertising, Promotion, and Marketing Communications", Fourth Edition, Prentice Hall Upper Saddle River
  2. Sex Sells - Business Advertising Basics for Successful Selling. (2009).
  3. Wikipedia contributors. "Sex in advertising." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 22 Jan. 2010.