In recent years there has been an increase in the use of sexual themes and erotic stimuli in advertising. In fact, it almost goes without saying that today’s consumers are exposed to more sex in advertising than ever before.
This trend towards the increasing depiction of sexually-oriented themes in advertising is evident upon even the most casual inspection of print and broadcast media. In general, advertising copywriters use nudity, romantic themes, or suggestiveness to draw attention to specific advertisements and their sponsoring products.
While some studies assert that the use of sexual appeals in print-ads increases brand recall, others claimed the opposite. Furthermore, some studies indicate that the existence of nude or partially nude models in print-ads affects attention-getting positively and brand recognition negatively.
It’s also worthy of note that, many societal changes have occurred with sex in advertising. Analysts said although, some perceptions are negative, nudity resulted in a more attention-getting, interest, appeal to make a brand more distinctive. For these analysts, the nude model is generally more favourably rated than the topless model.
The Nigerian Example
Interestingly, the Nigerian marketing landscape is not an exception to this unholy marketing mix. For in Instance, in 2019, a repulsive viral video of semi-nude ladies in a see-through mobile advertisement truck circulated on social media.
Recall that, the sudden appearance of quasi-nude ladies dancing around a stripper pole in the full glare of commuters at the toll gate along the Lekki-Ikoyi link bridge provoked instant controversy.
Both commuters who personally experienced the rude shock and viewers of the offensive video that has gone viral on the social media had condemned the act, as it negates Nigerian cultural values
The offensive mobile advertisement for an identified product or service was supposedly exposed and driven along Lekki-Epe Expressway in Lagos.
The then APCON on its side condemned in strong term, the advertisement which was grossly indecent, disrespectful to Nigeria’s culture and prepared with little or no sense of social responsibility.
The regulatory agency said It violates the common principles of decency promoted in the Code of ethics of advertising practice and unnecessarily exploited and depicted unwholesome sexual behaviours.
On its side, the Lagos State Signage and Advertisement Agency (LASAA) also disparaged the act, even as it took immediate stringent action of suspending the practice licence of the alleged advertising firm, Pro-Vision Media System Limited, over the indecent advertisement around the Lekki-Ikoyi toll gate.
In another development, in line with its mandate to ensure that advertisements in the country conform to ethical standards, the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria, the then APCON had directed Globacom Limited to stop the exposure of the “Glo link your NIN’’ commercial which featured Actress Osas Ighodaro in which she exposed her cleavage.
In a statement, the agency noted that, “the advertisement was neither submitted nor approved for exposure by the Advertising Standards Panel, the statutory body charged with the responsibility of ensuring that advertisement confirms the prevailing laws of the federation as well as the Code of Ethics of Advertising in Nigeria.”
Sex appeal has been widely used in most countries. However, little is known about consumers’ responses to sex appeal advertising in different cultures. African, Australian, European, Chinese and US consumers have significantly different attitudes when exposed to the same ad.
However, consumer buying intentions towards the advertised brand are not significantly different. Despite the general assumption that Chinese consumers might react least favourably to sex appeal ads, findings revealed that, they hold similar attitudes towards sex appeal ads as US consumers and even more favourable attitudes than Australian consumers. Product involvement is found to be a significant covariate.
Based on culture identity theory and schema theory, it’s important to note that, model ethnicity influences the perception and effectiveness of potentially offensive nudity advertising in Africa and Western Europe. In fact, nudity advertising has led to a higher perceived offensiveness and more negative advertising outcomes in Africa, as compared to America, Canada or Western Europe.
Nudity ad appeals are popular and frequently used in international advertising. However, they are a double-edged sword: while they typically attract consumer attention, offensive nudity appeals can also lead to adverse reactions toward the advertising and a rejection of the advertised product. Nonetheless, advertising practitioners still rely on “sex sells,” as it touches on humans’ most “basic, primal instincts” Yet, the lines between sex in advertising as an artistic means and offensive innuendo are blurry.
Analysis of data led to product congruence as a key theme. Product congruence is where the respondents show greater approval of an advertisement because they feel the nudity is justified. The product is such that there is good reason to show a naked person (e.g. for underwear as it is worn next to the skin). Respondents were equally disparaging where they didn’t see a good link between the product and nakedness.
In support of extant literature product congruence became an important theme within this research, in particular when discussing one particular advertisement for bottled water. Consumers were particularly vocal about the very tenuous links between bottled water and nudity.
Despite decoding the message in such a way that it was displaying the woman as a drop of water, or alternatively linking that humans are made up of a lot of water, this some Consumers were very annoyed by the use of a naked woman in the copy. Consumers were considerably angered by the advertisement, suggesting that it was enough to stop them from purchasing such a product in the future should such an opportunity arise.
Similarly, several groups did not approve of the advertisement for a clothing brand featuring a model who was completely naked except for a white, lacey garment draped around her shoulders. The garment was described in a range of ways from lacy shawl, tiny shawl, scrap of lace, a scarf or a granny shawl. Some groups felt that the image would look better without it, but that it doesn’t really marry with a clothes shop.
The advertisement that received the least criticism and seemed to be judged the most congruent with the product it was selling was for a body moisturizer.
Participants appeared particularly interested in the fact that there was actually a hint of a flesh coloured garment in this advertisement, possibly a thong. In this instance, some people even considered that this was inappropriate, suggesting that the model should have been completely naked or that this small patch of garment should have been airbrushed out.
The use of sex in advertising has important social, managerial, and public policy implications.
These implications hinge, of course, on the desired portrayal of women in contemporary society, the conditions under which advertising and marketing managers should not use sexually-oriented stimuli in communicating with consumers vis-a-vis competitors, and the impact of such communications on certain consumer groups (e.g., children).
Other broad issues, such as the overall image of corporate advertising and consumers’ rights in avoiding media content which they deem offensive also must be considered when sexually-oriented advertising is evaluated.