Axe and Vulva Original and Sex in Advertising

In South Africa, the ad for Lynx spray by Axe (which has aired in Canada) offended one viewer in South Africa. The result of this single complaint was the removal of the advertisement.

 A male Christian viewer complained about the spot, specifically over the idea that angels would forsake their divinity for aerosol cologne. And apparently all it takes is one person’s hurt feelings to cancel out months of creative effort. “The problem is not so much that angels are used in the commercial, but rather that the angels are seen to forfeit, or perhaps forego their heavenly status for mortal desires,” the regulating body noted in its ruling. “This is something that would likely offend Christians in the same manner as it offended the complainant.”

Watch the ad yourself and see if you are offended.

Personally, I am simultaneously amused and offended by all of the Axe ads. The ads are nearly all based on the concept that women will drop everything and chase a man who wears this particular perfume. Some of them, such as the fallen angels ad above, can be seen in a humorous light, but there is no doubt most are extremely sexist and demeaning towards women.

This got me thinking about ads for scents. Another product that is offensive and extremely odd, is a relatively scent (not a perfume) from Germany called VULVA Original.

The real erotifying vaginal scent of a desirable woman – VULVA Original is NOT a perfume, but the captivating intimate scent conserved as odorous substance, made to satisfy your own smelling pleasure. VULVA Original is the natural vaginal scent which is produced by movement and sweating in the female intimate area, the scent that arises for example a couple of hours after having had the last intensive shower.

Here is one of the creepiest ads you may ever watch.

 

I just can’t imagine what is going on the the mind of the man who is stealing the seat. I can however, imagine what would go through the mind of the woman if she had watched him take it. I also am quite sure that, had I seen this is a gym, I would give him a wide berth and report him to the owners.  As much as I love sex, I just don’t get this product at all—unless it is purchased as a masturbatory aid.

This got me thinking about the use of sex in advertising. An extreme example is found in this as for Guinness.

This one is particularly obnoxious as it equates a women as an object to be shared and used as an object (table). What do ads like these say about the people who are stimulated by them to purchase the products? What do they say about the creators?

I wrote the other day about sexism and the impact misogyny is having on women on the internet. I can only assume that campaigns such as these are successful because they are pretty well ubiquitous. Are they feeding the objectification of women, or feeding on it?

I know, sex sells, or at least that’s the general wisdom. However, there are some critics who disagree.

Parker and Furnham (in press) decided to test whether sex really does sell using an experiment with a total of four conditions. In the first two conditions participants watched an episode of ‘Sex in the City’ specially chosen for its even higher than normal sexual content. In one of these two conditions participants were shown ads with high sexual content (e.g. an ad for Budweiser). In the other the ads had low sexual content (e.g. one for Fosters lager). Then in the second two conditions the TV programme chosen was Malcolm in the Middle, also a comedy drama, but one that is suitable for the whole family. The ads embedded in this again either had high or low sexual content. After watching the programmes participants were tested for their recall of the ads.

The results are a blow for our budding ad execs. There was no significant difference in ‘brand recall’ between the adverts that used sexual content and those that didn’t. Worse (for our beloved ad execs) the sexual content of ‘Sex in the City’ actually reduced the recall of the embedded adverts.

Of course, it at least partially depends upon what product is being advertised.

Sexual appeals are most effective when the product itself is sexually relevant. If not, there is a disconnect with the intended message resulting in a counterproductive advertisement.

There are also gender differences in how sex in advertising is perceived.

Some of the conclusions: Sexual ads have a strong, polarizing effect on the visual behavior of men and women. Men spend a high amount of attention on the sexual imagery (e.g., female breasts, legs, and exposed skin). While this does increase ad liking and product liking, and transfers to purchase intent, it draws men’s attention from other elements such as the brand logo –one of the reasons why their brand recall is worse than women’s. Women,

on the other hand, avoided looking at sexual imagery or even exposed skin. “You can increase purchase intent using sex when advertising to men. But you pay a price; brand recall suffers. That means using sex in ads only makes sense for companies with a well-established brand, or those where branding plays no role,” said Karsten Weide, President and CEO, MediaAnalyzer Inc.

The study also found that sexual ads polarize the sexes in general: While men like ads with sexual themes and do not think they have negative effects on society, women feel the opposite way. Most women believe there is too much sex in advertising (58%), and more than 40% of all women feel that sexual ads signify and promote a general deterioration of moral and social values, and pose a threat to the proper upbringing of children, respectively. The study tested ten current US print-ads, five of them included sexual imagery and five did not, with 400 US respondents split evenly between men and women.

What are we to take away from all of this? Sex can sell, and it can turn people off. In the vein of all advertising, sex will sell if the product and the ad match the targeted demographic. It is also a matter of degree. I think the Guinness ad would offend a much larger percentage of the population that the Axe ads. However, the Axe ads are a little bit subtler in their objectification of women, and perhaps can be more harmful in that sense.

Of course, there are many examples of negative gender stereotypes that exist in the world of advertising. It is not difficult to find ads about male homemakers wh0 are incompetent, in fact, nearly all household products ads contain women with men in a very peripheral role.

I have always been of the opinion that on the measure of gender stereotyping is, does the ad play the same with gender roles reversed?

The real question in my mind however, is does advertising shape or reflect our views? I have no answer to that.

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One Response to Axe and Vulva Original and Sex in Advertising

  1. Pingback: Blog vulva | Justmetel

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