CCS Contemporary Design Practice


The sexual objectification of women through advertising can be seen everyday, from clothing brands on television to perfume advertisements in magazines, it cannot be missed and it certainly does not seem to be stopping any time soon. “In an effort to cut through the tremendous clutter that exists in today’s advertising space, marketers have resorted to increasingly radical tactics to capture consumer attention. One such popular tactic uses explicit sexual images in advertising, even when the sexual image has little relevance to the advertised product”.(1) “Advertising is an over 100 billion dollar a year industry and affects all of us throughout our lives. We are each exposed to over 2000 ads a day, constituting perhaps the most powerful educational force in society. The average American will spend one and one-half years of his or her life watching television commercials”.(2)

The perception of women and men through advertising influences us massively by contributing to stereotypical gender roles and characteristics showing the masses this is what we think women/men should look like how they should behave. A strong example of the sexual objectification of women through advertising is Tom Ford’s 2007 For Men fragrance campaign shot by Terry Richardson. To the left we see a well oiled naked female laying with just the bottle of aftershave being advertised itself covering her genital area whilst on the right a male lays on a bed in his suit staring into the camera in a cool and calm manner whilst the females arm is gripping his chest. It’s a painlful obvious ‘sex sells’ approach to advertising which is so commonly used and seen in today’s society that we have become so accustomed to, its hardly shocking at all to us anymore. The brand itself even confirmed its own beliefs on males and females in advertising “The thing is, you can’t show male nudity in our culture in the way you can show female nudity. We’re very comfortable as a culture exploiting women, but not men”-Tom Ford. (3) The advertisement received multiple complaints but was deemed as not offence and was subsequently not banned.


This advertisement is not alone in its approach of advertising, showing men as a figure of power whilst the women are just there beside the man as an object of sexual desire.It is safe to argue that women are often and most of the time portrayed passive in ads with men placing them in more subordinate roles. The message behind this advertisement as well as many other advertisements is to express men as powerful beings and women as submissive. Moreover, women are commonly seen in advertisements as vulnerable objects. In essence, women are often shown posing as if they lack sense of action and purpose. Overall, women are often seen as completely passive or overly sexual in advertisements while men are seen as the dominant figure. Here is an advertisement from a Dutch fashion label suit supply. The campaign appropriately named “shameless” shows a selection of provocative images of well-dressed men in a variety of compromising situations, all of course featuring an attractive female being the object of sexual desire like shown below. We see the woman on the stairs with her legs wide open whist the male in his suit lifts up her dress and stares at her underwear, again showing the male in the position of power and the female of sexual desire and clearly being exploited.


My final example is an ad from American Apparel, a brand well known for their controversial overly sexual advertisement style. This example below is probably a more taim ad from the brand compared to others you can see in shops, magazines and online. It like the previous two ads shows a man in the position of power with his foot up a females dress causing her bum to be revealed as she poses there in a tight red dress, being the clear object of sexual desire and exploitation. “Research has shown that advertising promises its viewers a fantasy. If you drink this beer or smoke this cigarette, you will be more attractive to others and engage in more fun (Miller, 1992). Promises by advertisers are ideals of sex appeal, sexual esteem, sensuality, and sexual attractiveness from the use of a certain product (Lambiase & Reichert, 2003).”(4)


The objectification of women involves disregarding personal and intellectual abilities and capabilities, and women’s reduction to instruments of sexual pleasure for men. It is a sad truth that, in our culture, sex sells and In the examples above and in thousands if not millions of advertisements around the world this is shown to be true. Unfortunately, it is woman who are by a majority designed to be sexually objectified by the media and socially constructed to portray a either sexual role or that of a housewife. In recent years advertisers and their agencies have received criticism from a wide variety of sources concerning the manner in which women are portrayed in advertisements. “The critics state that the women shown in ads are too often “only housewives;” stupid or incompetent; dependent on men; decorative or sex objects; passive; and not involved in making major decisions”.(5)

In today’s society the exploitation of women is everywhere and this generation has been exposed to it more than any other. You cannot flick through a magazine or browse through the music channel without seeing a near naked woman being used to sell a product or grab the male audiences attention. “There is much evidence to suggest that exposure to gender-role stereotyping, common in advertisements, is associated with more gender-typed views of the world. In turn, this appears to be associated with heightened aggressive attitudes towards women, with women’s concerns about body image and with gender-role values. Exposure to stereotyped gender portrayals in advertisements actually may engender negative gender-role attitudes. Alternatively, modelling and identification with advertisements portrayals may reinforce existing negative attitudes and gender role stereotypes”.(6)

The exploitation of women in the media through advertisements does effect the way in which women see themselves and how men see and treat women. If you was to watch the majority of ads you would believe it was only possible for a women to either be a housewife/mother or an object of sexual desire to be lusted over by men and/or to be in the shadows of a powerful man and to just hang of his arm as a trophy to be nothing more than just a possession to look beautiful and sexy. The three ads ive shown all have the latter in common. Designed to grab the male audiences attention at the expense of exploiting women. If you buy this suit, wear these shoes or wear this aftershave you too could have an attractive women that may or may not now be interested in having sex with you seems to be the desired message behind the companies advertising techniques. Unfortunately, this does negatively affect women. If we are seen as nothing more than sexual objects of desire or either baby making housewives in the media then it is influences the younger generation especially who will struggle to break the barrier of the gender role stereotypes they are exposed to constantly on a daily basis. The ad examples that I have shown are only three of hundreds of examples of this blatant “sex sells” approach in advertising. “Recently, more brands have adopted this strategy and now numerous products ranging from clothing to fast-food employ some form of sexual content to promote their product. The level of sexual content can range from nudity to sexual innuendos depending on the brand and who is being targeted. It’s becoming more popular to see commercials containing sexually explicit content that targets just women. These commercials not only use sex to sell their products, but often women are being objectified and taken advantage of in advertisements by being presented as this “fantasy element”. Unfortunately, outdated stereotypes are often factored into advertisements incorporating sex-appeal. Women used to be viewed as the homemaker and their main responsibility was to cook and raise the children. Alice Sargent, author of Beyond Sex Roles, states that “Taking care of the house and the children are considered the most important concerns of any woman.” As the culture changes in society, so does the social perspective and social norms. Nowadays, women are more independent and many have their own career. However, the stereotypes surrounded around women still remain, even though they are very much inaccurate. Women were once viewed purely as a homemaker, now they are viewed as sex objects which is just as harmful.Advertisements that incorporate sexual aspects are further engaging and entertaining, especially when they present a “fantasy element”. However, despite the fact that they are engaging, customers should be aware of the fact that these advertisements are degrading and objectify women. Exploring the origins of gender-stereotypes and gender theories provides background information about why this marketing strategy is so effective.Companies lack originality which causes them to emphasize the sexual aspect of women in a degrading manner. Researching a deeper analysis of sex-roles and stereotypes from a psychological standpoint helps explain why sex-sells, which audience it targets, and how it triggers customers into buying their product. In order for women to maintain their dignity, it’s not only imperative for companies to respect women and eliminate sexually degrading, but it is also the consumer’s responsibility to be aware of these ads and to not purchase products that use this marketing strategy. (7)

So, where will we it from here? The continuation of sexually exploiting women, showing gender-role stereotypes and the “sex sells” technique in advertising is very damaging to our society. However, the more aware we are the better. If we do no purchase products from companies that use these marketing strategies then they will die out and it will hopefully become a distant memory to us all which will lead to a equal relationship between men and women.

1.Darren W. Dahl, Jaideep Sengupta and Kathleen D. Vohs (2009). Sex in Advertising: Gender Differences and the Role of Relationship Commitment. Retrieved from

2.Kilbourne, J. (2011). Beauty…and the Beast of Advertising. Retrieved from 3. Emma Hope Allwood (2015). Fashion V censorship: a history of banned ads. Retrieved from

4.Dawn M. Szymanski,1 Lauren B. Moffitt,1 and Erika R. Carr (2011) Sexual Objectification of Women: Advances to Theory and Research. Retrieved from

5.”Advertising Portraying or Directed to Women.” Advertising Age, (April 21, 1975), pp. 72.

6.”The Impact of Women in Advertisements on Attitudes Toward Women” Natalie J. MacKay, Katherine Covell. (May 1997) pp. 574.

7.Rebecca Chacko “The Mystery of Sex in Advertising”. Retrieved from



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