‘Sex sells’ is one of the most widely used phrases in the book. Brands targeting men have exhaustively used sexualised images of the female form. It’s science. When the camera flicks from truck to beautiful woman back to truck, the neurotransmitter chemicals in the synapses related to pleasure go into overdrive. The consumer wants something. The chemicals in his brain are telling him so. The truck becomes associated with positive feelings.
Things are changing: we live in a world where women can increasingly embrace their sexuality. The advertising industry is a reflection of this. A woman is free and independent where 20 years ago she would have been seen as promiscuous or flighty. Brands have responded to the emerging parity in perception of female and male sexualities. The woman is no longer the sexual object, she is the consumer to whom ‘sex’ can ‘sell’.
Keira Knightley is famously flat-chested. Is it coincidence that Chanel cast her in their ‘Coco Mademoiselle’ campaign? Straddling a motorbike, wearing minimal make-up and clad in an androgynous jumpsuit, she seduces and then rejects her suitor. ‘This is a man’s world’ plays ironically in the background. Chanel sells a sexualised image, in which Knightley calls the shots. She is no passive sexual object but an active agent instead. They sell by emphasising sex as the woman’s prerogative.
Burberry go one step further. They sell sex by making the woman an object of sexual desire to other women. In the ‘My Burberry’ campaign, Cara Delevigne’s strong eyebrows and jaw line and Kate Moss’s limited make-up and distinctive bone structure are striking. Their appearances teeter on the masculine and their focus is entirely on one another in the advert. The homoerotic undertones are evident, deliberate and heavily commented on by the press. By androgenizing these models, and making the women one another’s sexual focus, Burberry make their adverts appealing in a dual-pronged manner. The women are attractive and conventionally appealing. It depicts the kind of woman we want to be. But do we also want to be with her?
The undertones of the advert and the choice of models blur the gender boundaries enough to make the models sexually appealing to the female target market (unfortunately acknowledged to be predominately heterosexual). When using sex to sell to women, convention doesn’t work. Truck-body-truck-body style was birthed in sexism. We want something from the women advertising these brands. Whether to be like them, or to be with them, we acquire the only thing we can: the products they advertise.
The advertising industry is one which acts, by necessity of its consumer-driven focus, as a mirror of the thought trends of those it targets. Desire, be it for a person or a Prada plimsoll, is a driving force. An active mover in peoples actions. Sexuality as a domain is acknowledged to be increasingly more complex. The industry moves with it.
Madee Higson (GR. Features Writer)