Sex Sells Media-Another Perspective

Diesel Jeans

“Made Ya Look”


Written by Kent Southers (site coming soon)

To me, the (over) utilization of sexuality is much like contrast, saturation, composition, leading lines, etc. In creating an image of any kind (landscape, product, fashion, etc.) ONE element of it is its ability to ‘grab’ the viewer’s attention amongst the competition. ANOTHER element is its ability to ‘draw the eye’ of the viewer to where you want them to go. Just like using high saturation doesn’t necessarily make for a better image than a desaturated one can … but it can definitely ‘Make ya look” a bit quicker … so it is with sexuality in imagery.

It is in my opinion that the fashion industry is a game of ‘one upmanship’ in the ability to GRAB the viewer’s attention and has relied more heavily on the sexuality as it’s method of ‘grabbing’. And given that the root purpose of fashion is to sell products, I find that most fashion images do a poor job of drawing the viewers eye. They do however strive to generate an association of ‘sexiness’ or glamor or richness or coolness or some other form of associative emotion… so the viewer goes “Oooooh, I wanna be like that, so I gotta have Designer X.” by virtue of the ‘creativeness’ of the image as a whole. (This is a reflection of society being a ‘wanna-be’ society, in my opinion.)

ENORMOUS amounts of money suggests that “Sex Sells” and thus it ‘must’ be the way to go … and becomes somewhat self-fulfilling… continuing the one upmanship to perpetuity. For me, I find that the more ‘sexual’ a fashion image is … the more often I find it lacking in other elemental areas. I realize that the photographer may not be the one driving this… rather it might be the AD, or simply being driven by the desire to set themselves apart with even more ‘cutting edge’ … i.e.”Made ya look” can apply all along the food chain.

I realize that I’m an absolute ‘nobody’ when it comes to this, but I find that the (over) utilization of sexuality is proportionate to the (under) utilization of other ways to draw the viewer to where you want them to go … yet has an undeniable power in tapping in on some base emotions. For money, sex sells … as an indication of a photographic excellence, “skin to win” can be a bit of a (money making) cover up. There are plenty of non-sexual ways to create a powerful image that both grabs and leads … they just take more talent & effort to achieve. Sexuality is quicker and easier … and thus very profitable.

Just say it like it is … SEX SELLS … and it’s all about the MONEY. It’s not a reflection of today’s society to ‘justify’ the further utilization of sexuality, but rather a reflection of those who are chasing the money … the masses of society are just a captive audience that trail those who have monetary influence. If you have a market that wants to pay for sexuality and you want to produce sexuality to garner that money … that’s an individual (albeit many individuals) choice.

While the masses may have become ‘normalized’ and ‘desensitized’ to the sexuality … it’s a game of “Made ya look.” one upmanship that took them there. Then again, so is the used car salesman wearing the clown jacket and screaming about the “crazy” prices at their BIG SALE, or the impoverished images of devastation fund raisers use. People eventually grow weary of “looking” and finding little interest in what lies behind the ‘grab’ when it is a shallow grab. Thus, the cycle of needing a LOUDER grab seemingly self-perpetuates … until such time everyone is screaming, then someone will ‘whisper’.

“Made Ya Look”…Now What?

Thanks for this wonderful article Kent.  Straight to the point, candid and honest.
I really appreciated it… Benjamin

  1. Sex… It’s what gets our attention and the industry exploits it vigorously.
    TV, news Media however have found that making you feel scared works even better. It creates the illusion of “importance” and nails you to the screen. I’ll take a sexual image instead of feeling scared any day of the week 🙂 … So lets hope the fashioneers don’t figure this out and change the strategy.

  2. Personally, I feel the entire topic is much more complex than you’ve presented it. Diesel is in your face on sexuality, but I have editorials where they mock environmental issues: New York roof top mega swimming pool while the earth goes up in smoke in the distance. Who gives a f***? Not Diesel. It’s their brand DNA. We have Terry Richardson who only flies on sex porn and can he be in the picture please.I’m getting truly confused about who is the model these days, if Terry is the photographer.  And we have many photographers and brands that are trying to liberate women and humanity with positive message about female sexuality that differ from the Diesel treatment. It’s my specialty to support these artists and brands and post their campaigns. I love Gucci Guilty, for example. Their brand positioning and massive philanthropy work with the world’s women is inspiring. They tap perfectly the ambivalence of the modern, thinking, sensual woman. We do exist, you know. For me your commentary is much too all encompassing. You seem to suggest that sexuality has no place in advertising. Am I reading you correctly?

    1. Anne …
      “You seem to suggest that sexuality has no place in advertising.  Am I reading your correctly?”
      Actually no, this is not at all what I’m saying.  What I’m saying is that all too often  advertising has entirely too strong of a RELIANCE on the overt sexuality as it’s strongest element of design. 
      There is a HUGE difference between a garment that has been expertly designed and crafted to flatter the beautiful lines of a woman (and her sensuality) and one that relies on  exposing her as its means of engaging attention.  Most any fool with a sewing machine can make a mini-skirt short enough to “make ya look” for the initial visual engagement.  It takes tremendous knowledge, experience, talent and understanding of women’s bodies to truly design a skirt that will be both engaging and captivating to the observer.  One shouldn’t mistake one for the other … yet it is far more easy, simple & quick to ‘raise the hemline’ than it is to design excellence. 
      Whether you are putting a silk dress on a pig or painting over rust or using overt sexuality to mask lesser quality design, the emphasis has been placed overtly on superficial rather than substance.  This is NOT to say that I oppose sensuality in marketing.  It is to say that just because you can make an overtly sexual image that ‘makes ya look’ doesn’t make it a good one for marketing purposes. 
      In the case of the Diesel ad at the top of this page, the “Made ya look” aspect comes and draws your eye first to her waist/chest/shoulder area due to the lighter tonal values and semi-nudity inference.  The leading lines of her body, then take you toward her face, which nearly runs your eye out of the frame.  The viewer then follows the tonal values down the wall, to the floor, and to her calf.  Now, the viewer encounters the text with its poor color and interrupting placement … and it’s miniscule reference to the product, i.e. jeans.  Lastly, still trying to figure out the what you are supposed to be looking at you get to the jeans, but have been taking on a visual journey that makes you think you’ve just stumbled into a “Crack House” with a girl who’ll do anything for her next fix.
      Yes, the overt sexuality of her half-nudity has some ‘Made ya look’ initial engagement capacity … but just like putting a silk dress on a pig, it is only superficial and really doesn’t change the pig or the fact that the image does a poor job of marketing the product.  Oh, it can “Make ya look” … as in “What in the world is a picture of a ‘crack whore’ doing here?”
      This kind of overt sexual imagery has little value in uplifting a woman’s sensuality or the product.  It does present the “”Made ya look.” element of visual engagement, but as photographic excellence or advertising excellence, it suggests the quality of neither.  Rather, it suggests an associative emotive “Bad Boy” personna via both the image and the ‘in your face’ text… which appeals to a certain market segment.  Is it a money making campaign that relies on the overtness of it as its form of engagement … and thereby Diesel is pleaed with it … maybe yes, maybe no, but it is clearly evident that the overt sexuality is being relied upon moreover than the other elements … quite possbly because it can’t compete otherwise … i.e. choosing brawn vs. brain.
      Overt sexuality can be a cheap, quick & easy way to “Make ya look.”  … just as well as a poorly crafted mini-skirt can “Make ya look”.  It is the over RELIANCE on overt sexuality in lieu of otherwise elemental aspects of imagery that to which I am alluding.  A photograph can be similar to the concept that just because a skirt is short, doesn’t mean it is a well constructed one … just because it can “Make ya look.”

      1. Kent,
        Thanks for elaborating – your reply to Anne was a fine addition to the original article.
        I agree with you that relying on overt sexuality as a replacement for good craftsmanship is a bad idea but I’m not sure that is always the case with pictures like the one from the Diesel ad.
        We live in a time where an entire generation of young consumers are used to being online always, and are sharing thoughts and images with the world instantly. Images that by and large are created with mobile phones or webcams by people with no formal training in photography – hence, “the moment” becomes the driving factor, not composition, color or other technical qualities.
        Sexuality and nudity is a part of these images and is used and understood quite differently by this generation – they celebrate, augment and expose their body in ways that were unthinkable just a couple of decades ago and happily shares images of their new tatoo or piercing with their frinds on Facebook or Myspace, almost no matter where it is placed on their body.
        These are the images this generation knows – they are used to them and understand their message (“reads” for the lack of a better word – perhaps someone who doesn’t have English as a third language can help me out here) much easier and almost instinctively.
        So, if I were creating a campaign that targets this group exclusively I think I would at least consider using the image language they are used to and know intimately. I would just have to be very much aware of the negative effect that the same images would have with their parents and consider if that is a problem or actually a good thing – young people seem to flock to things their parents hate. 🙂
        So, just to recap: I very much agree that playing the sex card because you are a lousy AD or photographer without any other tools in your belt will never be a good idea, but doing it as a part of a well planned campaign still may be.

        1. I’d say we’re close to agreement … and your point about the generation’s taste difference also begs the question of leading vs. lagging, to which I would suggest, it again comes back to the game of ‘one upmanship’  … likely fueled in part by they youth’s wanna-be desire to be different for the sake of being different, rather than understanding what constitutes excellence and mastery of the visual tools … i.e. it is MUCH EASIER to be different, brash, shocking, than it is to produce excellence. 
          So it is with each fresh crop of generations wanting to be different (before they figure out what it means to be excellent), marketing that taps into that temporary/ever refreshing/fleeting (youth generation) market can go down that path much more readily … leading them by the nose ring toward SEX SELLS because they are clamoring for distinction from their predecessors … whereas understanding what constitutes excellence would be following in the footsteps of those masters who have gone before them … akin to blasphemy for those wanting to be different for the sake of being different … i.e. a perpetual game of ‘one upmanship’ with each ensuing generation wanting to “Make ya look.” in a way that is an even further departure from excellence than before.
          NOTE:  I never said it didn’t have a degree of effectiveness (money) … just that it is a historically easy (money) way to approach “Make ya look.” moreover than an excellent way.

  3. Lets cut to the basics. Nobody ‘needs’ fashion. All humans need is food & water , shelter, transportation and the ability to reproduce. It’s that last bit that runs the planet. Men strive for money and power primarily because females are attached to successful males. I know, everyone wants to complicate it with deep psychological analysis, but that’s bunk.
    It’s our primal urges that really are at work. Nothing more or less than that.

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