Magazine Advertisements: The Use of Sex

Subject: Entertainment & Media
Pages: 36
Words: 9920
Reading time:
36 min
Study level: Undergraduate

Introduction

Background

The advertising industry is a major revenue generation machine. The industry functions on a global scale and is one of the few that tend to have a direct influence on lifestyles and their evolution with time. A very simple example of the expanse and scope of advertising can be found in the fact that it is present everywhere. It is present in every media channel. The advertising also holds relevance because it is a multidimensional industry which functions to facilitate the generation of revenue for literally every industry in existence. In essence, the significance of the advertising industry is rooted in the significance of the communication between businesses and consumers. Businesses will not able to communicate with the consumers unless they engage in advertising. In addition, consumers also look towards businesses to come forth and present their product and its attributes. As a result, advertising serves a very important purpose.

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“In the 1950s and 60s, scantily clad women populated many automotive ads. These women served to attract the reader’s attention (commonly referred to as “borrowed interest”) but served other purposes as well. For example, one study found that sexual images like the one to the left could influence perceptions about a car’s styling and performance” (Reichert T. , Bikinis in Auto Ads Have Gone Underground, 2009).

The portrayal of men and women in media holds a significant degree of relevance. This is because advertising has a significant influence on lifestyles. Modern day advertisements do not simply sell the product in question but also sell components of the lifestyle. For instance, a luxury product will sell a luxurious lifestyle while a low cost perishable product will sell a simple and down to earth lifestyle. The usage of sex in advertising is an undeniable phenomenon. Sex in advertising is often subjected to critical debates on the adequacy behind the portrayal of sex in advertising media.

The relevance of delving into the intricacies of the use of sex in advertisement can be observed through the fact that although sex has slowly become a part of mainstream advertising practices, the realization of the intensity of its presence still remains unchanged. While marketing experts continue to give more and more preference to making use of sexual material in the advertisements they develop, the consumer end is rarely considered. The reason because of which the severity of the situation merits highlighting is that the use of sex has now entered the advertising practices of products and brands that are not related to the portrayed sexual attribute in any way. The sexual portrayal is used for the singular purpose of capturing the consumers’ attention. In certain cases, the sexual portrayal is not even indirectly related or associated with the product being advertised; but the advertiser chooses to force the establishment of a similarity between the sexual portrayal and the product in order to encourage the consumer to consider the product and eventually purchase it.

The practice of the portrayal of sexual innuendo in advertising is also related to the fact that it comes into contact with sensitive social issues such as cultural values, gender representation, power balance between genders and the like. As a result, any exercising of sexual reflection in advertisement that acquires popularity tends to come into contact with the norms that are related to social variables and values. Examples of sexual reflection in advertisements can be found in cases such as advertisements for Clairol herbal essences feature women exclaiming in a sexually grabbing manner as they wash their hair while standing in lavatories and capturing the attention of the people standing outside. This is only one example of how a sexual element has been associated with a product that is not related to the depicted sexual element. However, the advertisement became one of many widely applauded commercials. There is little doubt in the fact that the use of sexual content varies extensively in the form and intensity with which it used, but the use of sexual content is present to an undeniable extent. In addition, the stimulation of human emotion caused by the use of the sexual advertisements is also undeniable.

However, it is important to highlight that any reference to sex in advertising practices does not refer solely to pornography but is meant to indicate the presence of a sexual appeal. The advertisement does not necessarily come across as an invitation for engagement in a sexual activity but entices the viewer in an attempt to lead the viewer to consider the sexual possibilities related to the activity. This does not necessarily have to include the specific portrayal of sex; in fact, the subject of sex in advertisements also includes the representation of a scenario or an individual in a position or condition such that the viewer is given a subliminal message about the apparent sexual possibilities associated with the consumption of the product.

“Aside from simply containing sexual content, sexual information in ads can be integrated within the message to greater of lesser degrees. For example, some ads contain images of blatant nudity or models engaged in erotic liaisons. On the other hand, some ads contain only a hint of sexual suggestion, perhaps a subtle innuendo or play on words. In many cases, people consider images of fully clothed, physically attractive women and men to be sexually attractive, and thus, a subtle instance of sex in advertising” (Reichert & Lambiase, 2003, p. 13).

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Furthermore, the use of sex in advertising does not necessarily promote engagement in sex. The use of sexual indications and innuendoes is meant to do little more than grab the attention of the viewer. In such cases, the viewer’s attention develops primarily out of the intention to observe the sexual innuendo; while the actual product comes in as a second thought to the sexual innuendo (Harris, A cognitive psychology of mass communication, 2004). It can therefore be surmised that the use of sex in advertising aims to develop a heightened sense of attention that can then be instantly shifted towards the product that is being advertised.

Sex in advertising is often sold as an augmented product. More than often the use of sex in advertising is aimed towards the indication of the possibility of a sexual encounter as a result of the usage of the product. In essence, sex is sold as an advantage of purchasing and using the product. Examples of such cases can be found in the famous advertisements by Axe Deodorants for men (Shah & Souza, 2009). Such advertisements do not simply give innuendo directed towards the possibility of engagement in sex as a result of purchasing the product, but insist that the product is directly related to the act of engagement in sex. In such cases, the sex appeal of the product is replaced altogether by the product acquiring a brand image that centers on sex (Gunter, 2009).

The use of sex in advertising is often also based on the understanding that “there is no such thing as bad publicity” (O’Guinn, Allen, & Semenik, 2008). While positive publicity helps to increase customer awareness, negative publicity challenges the customer to purchase the product. In addition, negative publicity also increases the media attention that the brand in question acquires (Neijens, Hess, & Putte, 2004). Needless to highlight, there are a number of regulations that place restrictions and set standards for the use of subliminal or open sexuality in advertisements; nonetheless, advertisers choose to find loopholes and bring forth blends that dull the line between the acceptable and the unacceptable.

Aims

The research aims to acquire an understanding of the dynamics of sex in advertising and the manner in which sex advertising attempts to function.

Objectives

The research will study sex in advertising to acquire an understanding of the approach through which sex in advertising targets the opposite genders individually as well as collectively. The study will also seek to identify whether sex in advertising is more prone to target men or women.

Research Questions

The research questions shall serve to define the scope of the analysis performed in the context of the research. However, it is imperative to note that the purpose of these research questions is not to limit the utility of the research but to ensure that the research process is aligned with the purpose of the study.

  • Does the frequency of sexual advertisements vary amongst different categories of magazines aimed at differing audiences?
  • What is the nature of the sexual appeals that sexual advertising tends to target?
  • Are women more likely to be casted in advertisements containing sexual content than men?

The research questions will play a key role in developing an understanding of the manner in which the advertising industry is evolving with regard to its approach to the use of sexual advertisements. In addition, it is important to highlight at this point that the first two questions shall play the role of supporting questions while the third question will assist in the verification of the hypothesis and the satisfaction of the central aim of the research. For the same purpose, the first two questions will be addressed extensively in the secondary research while the combined results of the primary and secondary research will assist in the verification of the hypothesis. Specific material has been chosen for these questions. The selection of the magazines has been aligned towards the identification of the nature of the audience of the magazines; which is the groundwork upon which differentiation between magazines is performed.

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Research Hypothesis

The research shall be performed with the following hypothesis in context:

H: Sex in advertising is prone to cast women in comparison to men.

The validity of this hypothesis will serve the last research questions and it shall indicate that sex in advertising tends to make use of the women as an advertising instrument more frequently and readily than it chooses to make use of men. This can also serve to indicate that the excessive use of women in advertising shows the alignment of modern advertising practices towards the male audiences.

Significance of research

The relevance of the research is incorporated in the fact that there is a shortage of literature in this area. While researches indicate that sex in advertising has been present since the 1850s, the research on the subject data back to only the last two decades. Also, the shortage of literature on the subject becomes further complicated through the fact that the use of sex in advertising is carried out through a variety of ways and therefore it becomes necessary to study it through a variety of research approaches. Currently the nature of the approaches applied is extremely limited when compared to the broader scenario. Since most of the use of sex in advertisements invites the viewer to interpret the advertisement through the underlying innuendo it becomes increasingly complicated to study them. For this reason, this research shall attempt to assist in filling the gap and eliminating the deficiency in literature in this area.

Structure of Dissertation

The dissertation shall be based on the following structure of chapters.

  • Chapter 1 Introduction: The chapter will constitute a basic understanding of the research. The chapter will be used to present the research questions, aims, and objectives of the research. The chapter will also constitute the research questions that the study process will follow.
  • Chapter 2 Literature Review: The second chapter will carry out an in-depth and comprehensive analysis of the literature available on the subject of the research. Peer reviewed publications shall be given special consideration during the literature analysis process. This chapter will serve to satisfy the exploratory components of the study process.
  • Chapter 3 Research Methodology: The research methodology chapter will serve to establish the research design most suited for the study. The chapter will highlight primary and secondary research elements and also put forth potential research limitations in the same regard.
  • Chapter 4 Findings: The chapter will present the primary and secondary data acquired upon the implementation of the research design. The chapter will bring the data into a form from where it can be analyzed to draw conclusions and recommendations pertaining to the research questions.
  • Chapter 5 Conclusion & Findings: The chapter will present the conclusions and findings drawn from the research process. Most importantly, the chapter will attempt to answer the research questions and bring the hypotheses to a concluding note.

Literature Review

Introduction

“There is little doubt that sexual content is woven into the media fabric of our cultural landscape. Flip on the television and you see sexual imagery and innuendo in programming and promos for upcoming shows. High-circulation consumer magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Glamour offer readers tips to sexual panaceas, and Maxim and Stuff – new men’s magazines – offer photo layouts of up-and-coming female models and actors” (Reichert T. , Sex and the marketing of media, 2010). It is evident that the representation of sex in media has reached a degree that was never known in the past. While the purpose and merit behind the depiction of sex in media is still subjected to extensive debate, the increasing intensity of sex in media is a subject that goes unchallenged (Gunter, 2009; Kern, 2010; Stutts, 2005).

The focus of marketing through media has gone from educating the consumer about the utility of the product, to convincing the consumer that he/she will be inept unless the product is purchased and used. As the motivation to use sex in marketing practices and media channels continues to increase, the reliance on the sexual representations also continues to increase (King, 2002). The use of sex in media is generally enjoyed by most consumers. Whether consumers approve of it or not, cleverly placed subliminal messages are frequently appreciated by the consumers.

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Forms of Sexual Representations in Media

Not all references to sex are made through the display of sexual innuendo. Some cases are designed so that multiple ideas can be generated through the same source (Gauntlett, 2008). Media advertisements such as these are generally designed to function so that the same graphical representation presents a multilateral context. Advertisements such as these tend to be the most popular since they can be used in a variety of media. Most of the sexual representations are targeted to address issues pertaining to teenage problems. Media representations such as these, claim that the product in question can help to bring about an improvement in relationships. The representation of sexual content in media is considered to be successful if the advertisement in question manages to create a buzz. A buzz is the hype that is created as a result of marketing activities (Salzman, Matathia, & O’Reilly, 2003). Most of the buzz created is generally on account of some form of controversial material. For teenagers, a buzz is created when the content in an advertisement successfully gets them to discuss about a new teen-oriented approach towards a sensitive issue; such as the use of contraception.

Sex in Magazines

An excellent example of the depiction of sex in magazines can be found in the men’s magazine Maxim. The magazine began circulation in the late 1990s and saw widespread sales on account of the manner in which it depicted women. The magazine is well known for encouraging sexual intercourse and alcohol consumption. However, this is only one example of sex in magazines. A majority of the representation of sex in magazines is based on the use of advertisements that try to sell products and services through borrowed interest (Rogers, 2001).

Using well known personalities tends to add to the glamour of the sexual content but the mere presence of sexually charged content is more than sufficient to make waves in the industry and across consumers. It is of the utmost importance to note at this point that sexually charged content is created by marketers for the singular purpose of ensuring widespread popularity. Once it has been published, not only is it promoted by the consumer groups who approve of it but unknowingly also by those who object to it (O’Guinn, Allen, & Semenik, 2008). This pattern of events further encourages marketers to make use of sexually charged content in the print media.

Borrowed Interest

Borrowed interest is interest that marketing strategies seek to develop and take advantage of. Borrowed interest is actually a multi-staged process. At first, the interest is generated by making use of a source that can be either directly or indirectly associated with the subject product and/or service. The viewer is not meant to consider the product and/or service before he/she considers the sexual representation (Chiaravalle & Schenck, 2007). Once the sexual representation generates a heightened sense of interest in the viewer, it is expected that the viewer will then come across the product and/or service in a heightened sense of awareness and interest. This heightened sense of awareness and interest is referred to as borrowed interest (Gunter, 2009). The idea of using borrowed interest is becoming rapidly popular in all forms and types of media. It is imperative to highlight at this point that borrowed interests may not always involve sexual representations or depictions. In fact, borrowed interest can be generated through a variety of means. However, the use of sex in media is perhaps the best example of how borrowed interest is generated and then subsequently borrowed (Hines, 2007).

The use of sex in magazine advertisements is a subject that is frequently subjected to debate and controversy. This is because “ads are not about the way men and women actually behave but rather about the ways we think men and women behave. By creating what is sexy, fashion advertising works to emphasize gender differences and sex roles to maintain an ideology of the naturalness of female submission and male dominance” (Kern, 2010, p. 27). It would not be unfair to surmise at this point that the use of sex in media is generally placed as a promise. The advertisement promises to deliver sex if the product/service is purchased.

Development of Sex in Magazines

The evolution of sex in advertising has been observed to follow a self-stimulating pattern. The fact of the matter is that higher sales trends are recorded when sexual representations are used in magazines (Shah & Souza, 2009). For instance, high sales reported by one magazine will lead other magazines to adopt strategies that will rival those being used by the first one. As a result, a practice adopted by one media channel acquires widespread popularity overtime and eventually evolves into a trend. The example of Maxim’s success provoked other men’s magazines to resort to changing the manner in which they fashioned their cover pages and center folds (Reichert & Lambiase, 2006).

The use of sex in advertising is designed so that non-erotic content is used to depict and relate an erotic message to the viewers (Reichert & Lambiase, 2006). An aspect that merits highlighting at this point is that regulations over media have increased over time. These regulations seek to place a clamp on any sources from where subliminal erotic innuendo can leak in. This can be considered as an indication of the growing trends for sex in marketing and media practices. There is little doubt that media practices have undergone significant development in the last few years and the media is now in a position where it is perhaps the most integral contributor to the development of society (Stutts, 2005). There is therefore, a need to acquire an understanding in which sex in media functions. Researchers have established that the general perception no longer considers magazines like Playboy to be offensive, but considers magazines like Maxim and Stuff to be scaled-down versions of magazines like Playboy. This is further evidenced through the fact that researches carried out on hotels have revealed that the guests are more likely to order pornography movies than non-pornography movies during their stay in the hotel (Reichert & Lambiase, 2006). It is perhaps because of the same reason that supporters of the use of sex in media assert that their usage of sex and sexual innuendo is driven by an increase in demand for the same.

“A study of 929 sexual images of male models in six general interest, women’s, and men’s magazines replicates previous studies that addressed the same topic. Results indicate that, overall, males in 2003 are being portrayed more sexually in magazine advertisements although most changes are due to subtle sexual depiction. The amount of partially clad male models increased from 1964 to 1993 and remained constant in 2003. Suggestively clad male models increased over all four time periods, as did the amount of simple contact between male and female models. Intimate contact and depiction of intercourse increased from 1964 through 1993, but decreased in 2003. The amount of verbal sexual references increased between 1964 and 2003” (Stutts, 2005).

Common Innuendo

Generally, the use of sex in media is exercised to carry out any one of three objectives. The first of these is the development of sexual attraction in the consumer. The product/service promises that the purchase of the subject product/service will develop a sexual appeal in the consumer (Gunter, 2009). A common example of such advertisements can be found in body spray commercials and commercials for accessories and clothing.

The second type of promise that is made through the representation of sex in media is the promise that the purchase of the product/service will bring the consumer sexual gratification by giving the consumer the opportunity to engage in sex. In such cases, the advertisement promises that the product/service in question will become the cause because of which the consumer will eventually receive sexual gratification (Turner, 2003). In such cases, the purpose is to place the consumer in a state of mind where the consumer can develop a perception that the product/service is mandatory if sexual gratification is to be acquired.

The third kind of promise that is made through the depiction of sex in advertisements is that in which the consumer is promised an increased feeling of sensuality (King, 2002). Such advertisements imply that the usage of the product will make the consumer feel more sexy and/or sensual than before.

It is clear that all three promises made by the representation of sex in the media are aimed towards delivering consumers with a heightened state of sexual excitement (Worell, 2002). It can therefore be observed that sexual excitement is the central purpose of the use of sex in media.

Drawing the Line with Sex in Media

“Standards for television are more conservative than for radio, which is in turn more conservative than the recording industry” (Harris, A cognitive psychology of mass communication, 2004, p. 288). In each industry, there are standards that media channels are obliged to follow. However, complications can arise in cases such as the reporting of sex-related cases in the news. The complication arises from the question that asks about the degree to which more intensive cases should be addressed and detailed in the news reporting. Similarly, while frontal nudity is out of the question for most media channels, groups campaigning against the representation of sex in media assert that an indication towards sex is just as harmful as the depiction of sex in media channels (Salzman, Matathia, & O’Reilly, 2003). However, as media channels continue to evolve, it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate between advertisements that use sex in media from those that do not use sex in advertisements (Rogers, 2001). This is because the use of sex in media now chooses to adopt an approach which rests on passive portrayals and subliminal indications of sex. Most of the representations of sex in media do not even indicate towards sex but choose to present the advertisements so that the consumer is reminded of the possibility of sex. Since the entire idea behind the use of sex in advertisements is to generate interest that can then be borrowed for the product, a scantily clad model can have the same influences on the consumer that can be expected to be derived from a direct mentioning of sexual intercourse.

In the Support of Sex in Media

Analysts such as Harris (2004) highlight that the depiction of sex in media is mainly driven by the demand for adult content. Those who campaign for the utility of sex in media base their case on the increasing demand for adult content through adult websites and DVD sales. Arguments such as theses also call for the increasing sales figures reported by adult magazine publishers.

Criticism

Sex in media is often subjected to extensive criticism. No discussion on sex in media can be considered to be complete without a mention of the manner in which sex in media is subject to criticism. The criticism that is generally directed towards the representation of sex in media is that the net result that comes forth as a result of the depiction of sex in media is that gender roles are subjected to bias. Criticism such as this is generally aimed towards the influence that sex in media has over children (Reichert & Lambiase, 2006). The general idea holds that children tend to grow up with inadequate perceptions about gender roles if they are continuously exposed to sex in media. The criticism that stresses upon the severity of this situation highlights that it has become next to impossible to shield growing children from the depiction of sex in media channels. During the course of this study, it was observed that there are countless websites on the internet that campaign against the use of sex in media (Chiaravalle & Schenck, 2007). Websites such as these generally constitute advertisements containing sexual innuendo or sexual depictions as examples of how sex in media has continued to increase in intensity over time.

It is imperative to highlight at this point that sex in media does not necessarily refer to the depiction of sexual intercourse. In fact, quite a few representations of sex in media are based on the possibility of sexual intercourse. “Explicit sexual materials have traditionally been designed by men and form men. As such, they have a distinctly macho and hyper-masculinized orientation… Women are seen eagerly desiring and participating in sex, often with hysterical euphoria. There is little concern with the consequence of sex or the relational matrix within which most people find it” (Harris, A cognitive psychology of mass communication, 2004).

Conceptual Framework

Gender Roles in Sex in Magazines

The use of gender roles in sex in magazines is a key component of this subject. This component holds relevance because the use of sex in magazines has followed certain patterns in the past when considered with regard to the depiction of sexual innuendo for men and women (Harris, 2004). Former advertisements were mainly based on the presentation of half-dressed people. However, the approach has undergone a significant change in the last few decades. While the common understanding is that sex in magazines is generally directed towards the male audience, modern day magazines are taking a turn in which the use of sex in magazines has now also begun to address the female audience (Worell, 2002). It is imperative to highlight once more that the use of sex in magazines does not require the advertisement to constitute a graphical representation the directly addresses sexual intercourse. In fact, the purpose is to develop excitement based on the fictional possibility of sex that is present.

The use of sex in magazines with regard to the portrayal of gender roles holds relevance because the depiction of gender roles in such advertisements in the media has a significant influence on the manner in which gender roles are perceived (Turner, 2003). For instance, while a group insurance advertisement can be expected to depict a happy family, it is highly unlikely that a modern day body spray advertisement will not constitute a sexual innuendo. Furthermore, while normal understanding would dictate that an advertisement for a product that is specific to one gender would constitute a member of another gender, the fact remains that the approach has changed considerably (Gunter, 2009). Instead of depicting members of the opposite gender, sexually charged content in the media now depicts members of the same gender in an attempt to convince them that the use of the product will increase the sensual appeal of the consumer.

Depictions of Male and Female Representations

Researches that have been carried out in this area have revealed that the tendency to place female models in sexually charged magazine content has been replaced by the tendency to place male models in sexually charged magazine content. As a result, it would not be incorrect to state that the focus has gone from the indication of sexual possibilities to the development of sexual attributes in the consumer. However, the motive of developing interest in order to take advantage of borrowed interest remains uniformly present (Gauntlett, 2008). Yet another attribute observed in the case of sexually charged content in magazines is that the advertisements that constitute this sexual innuendo are now moving towards direct referrals to sexual possibilities. Contrary to popular belief, the sexual innuendo in magazines can no longer be classified as innuendo since indirect and passive referrals to sexual possibilities are now being replaced by direct and clearly visible referrals to sexual intercourse (Hines, 2007). A point that merits highlighting in this regard is that referrals are now made directly to sexual intercourse. This attribute is present not only in the magazine advertisements for sex-related products but also for advertisements for non-sex related products.

Advertisements that contain sexually charged content play a significant role in developing media hype and presenting an opportunity for the creation of a buzz (Gauntlett, 2008). The idea that holds that publicity is a positive element, regardless of its actual polarity, stimulates marketers and magazine publishers to publish sexually charged content. However, the point of concern that merits attention and has been highlighted multiple times at earlier instances in this literature review, is that the sexually charged content is not always related to the product/service that it is peddling (Barry, 1997). This serves to raise concern over the tendency of marketers to make use of sexually charged advertisements and the tendency of consumers to find an element of appeal in such advertisements. As the tendency to make use of sex in magazines has increased, so has the boldness with which sexual content is depicted.

Male and female representations are no longer brought into use to indicate the possibility of sex but are used to directly address sex. Completely unrelated products/services are now marketed with sexually charged content to make use of borrowed interest (Barry, 1997). In certain cases, the sexually charged content is used for the singular purpose of catching the audience’s eye. In these cases, half-dressed or scantily dressed models are frequently placed in the advertisement. In certain cases, the graphical representation does not even constitute either male or female models and chooses to make use of subliminal messaging in order to communicate the possibility of sexual intercourse (Kern, 2010). In such cases, the sexual content may not even be related to the product and is generally present for the singular purpose of thrill development for the audience.

Summary

The above exploratory literature analysis shows that the use of sex in media is generally motivated by the desire to increase market share for the subject media channels. Such representations of sex in the media consider sex to be an undeniable and insatiable entity that can be provoked to generate a heightened sense of interest. The interest is then challenged towards the central product/service being advertised. Therefore, the interest is not created genuinely for the product/service, but for the sexual innuendo incorporated in the scenario. Furthermore, it was observed during the course of this literature analysis that the use of sex in magazines has shifted from the depiction of direct referrals to sex, to passive indications hinting towards sex-relates possibilities. However, the central purpose of the use of sex in media and in magazines in particular, has not shifted from the objective of creating interest that can then be borrowed. Products that are non-sexual and not related to any form of sexual excitement in any way are presented with content that is mainly inclined towards sexual innuendo. The innuendo is rarely designed to directly refer to sex and it is generally implied that sexual attraction is one of the characteristics of the product/service.

The literature analysis makes it clear that the use of sexually charged content in magazines is acquiring wide-spread popularity amongst marketers, on account of the fact that advertisements that include such content not only acquire popularity amongst consumers but are also discussed extensively on internet forums and focus groups. As a result, the product/service in question manages to acquire widespread popularity and reaches consumers that can only be reached through a heightened sense of alertness and attention.

Research Methodology

This study used content analysis to investigate the research questions. Using observed content converted to statistical formula qualifies the study as quantitative research (Creswell, 2009). The research was designed so that the exploratory element of the study remained limited to the examination of the content. Once the content analysis was performed, the study attempted to quantify all observations. Furthermore, the use of the quantitative approach also enables the study to develop findings that will benefit future researches.

Sixteen magazines across three distinct categories were used for analysis. The first category of magazines consisted of seven that are designed for the male audience while the second category consisted of seven designed for the female audience. The third category constituted two gender-neutral magazines designed to address subjects based on news or lifestyle. Two coders, one male and one female, each thoroughly examined the sixteen magazines for sexually-charged content in the advertisements. Ads that contained the use of sexual content as identified by Coltrane and Adams (1997) were scrutinized.

Coltrane and Adams (1997) define sex and the three basic ways it is used in advertising: “A female or male could be the object of another’s gaze or self-gaze (i.e. looking in the mirror) within the advertisement itself. An advertising character might express alluring behavior (i.e. flirting, winking, puckering, batting eyelashes, or sexual teasing) or be wearing provocative clothing (i.e. half-dressed, tight fitting, low-cut, sexy clothes, or no clothes at all). If any of these conditions were met, the advertisement was coded as using sexually-based content.

Only advertisements that are of full-page length or larger were analyzed. No exceptions were made to this rule. While the complete magazines were analyzed for the identification of the use of sexual innuendo, the analysis was limited to the sexual content of advertisements that were full page length or more. In addition, the magazines chosen for the purpose of this study are those that were published and available for sale in the United States.

Chi-Square Goodness of Fit test

The resulting findings were then analyzed using Chi-Square calculations. The Chi-Square test is fundamentally a non-parametric test that is used to determine whether the difference between the observed and the expected values is that which was expected or not. This goodness of fit test compares the probability-distribution with the sample-distribution. In order to enable the calculation in accordance with the requirements of the Chi-Square test, the general approach to the application of the Chi-Square test is through the use of intervals.

“In the Chi-Square goodness of fit test, the term goodness of fit is used to compare the observed sample distribution with the expected probability distribution. Chi-Square goodness of fit test determines how well theoretical distribution fits the empirical distribution. In Chi-Square goodness of fit test, sample data is divided into intervals. Then the numbers of points that fall into the interval are compared, with the expected numbers of points in each interval” (Statistics Solutions, 2009).

In the context of this specific study, the Chi-Square Goodness of Fit test will make use of the following set of null and alternative hypothesis.

  • Null Hypothesis
    Women are more prone to be cast in advertisements compared to men.
  • Alternative Hypothesis
    Men are just as likely to be cast in advertisements as women.

The Chi-Square goodness of fit test is applied through the following mathematical equation:

Formula

(Statistics Solutions, 2009)

In the above equation:

O refers to the observed readings; E refers to the expected readings.

The above equation is based on two fundamental variables. It is mainly designed to provide a practical differentiation between the observed distributions and the expected distributions. The concluding values provide the goodness of fit for the case in question. The Chi-Square Goodness of Fit test is heavily reliant on the degree of freedom. “If the calculated value of Chi-Square goodness of fit test is less than the table value, we will accept the null hypothesis and conclude that there is no significant difference between the observed and expected value” (Statistics Solutions, 2009).

This research design rests on the foundation of the quantitative approach because former studies in this area validated the presumption that the quantitative approach is the most appropriate for the purpose of this study (Reichert & Lambiase, 2006). Furthermore, the Chi-Square Goodness of Fit was chosen as the statistical instrument of choice because there was a need to carry out a non-parametric analysis in this study.

Limitations

Traditional research approaches visited the limitations of the study in the concluding phases of the research process. However, modern day research approaches are significantly more sophisticated and therefore call for a more proactive approach. As a result, it is in the benefit of the research process if the limitations of the research are considered before the research design is implemented and the findings are established.

The Chi-Square Goodness of Fit test is a frequently used statistical instrument but it is important to note that the fact that the Chi-Square test has certain limitations. The Chi-Square test does not function at full utility if the observed values are spread out across a number of categories. While the test accommodates data collected over a variety of categories, the test provides a more accurate output if the number of categories for which the data is being recorded are kept to a minimum.

The Chi-Square Goodness of Fit test also succumbs to the limitation posed by the sample size. The size of the sample taken tends to have a direct influence on the authenticity of the findings derived from the Chi-Square test (Healey & Prus, 2009). Making use of a Chi-Square test without an adequate number of expected frequencies can jeopardize the outcome of the test.

Yet another limitation of this research lies in the fact that this study is based on observation. The magazines were observed to identify sexual content in the advertisements. As a result, the observed readings had a direct reliance on the researcher’s perception of sexual content. In order to counter this limitation, the research made use of both genders to assess the intensity of the sexual content.

Results

As prescribed in the previous chapter the study of the use of sex in advertisement is carried out by examining the advertisement content presented in three different categories of magazines. For collection of data required for the analysis, a coding sheet was prepared that is attached to this report as Appendix I. Statistical findings are presented in the following sections along with a descriptive explanation to make clear representation of the conclusions derived from the study.

Magazine Selected for Study

The research included the following 16 major magazines in three distinctive categories namely men’s magazines, women’s magazines, and neutral magazines. The magazines selected for review are following:

Men’s Magazine Women’s Magazine Neutral Magazine
Men’s Health Cosmopolitan People
Esquire Allure Time
Maxim Elle
Men’s Journal Vogue
FHM Shape
Details Glamour
Men’s Fitness Marie Claire

Table 1: Categories and Names of Magazines

Sexual Content in Magazines

The study indicates that out of 931 advertisements published in October issue of these magazines, 324 advertisements contain sexual content. The criteria for deciding upon the sexual content has been drawn from the study by Coltrane and Adams (1997) who saw three basic ways that sex might be used in advertising. A female or male could be the object of another’s gaze or self-gaze (i.e. looking in the mirror) within the advertisement itself. An advertising character might express alluring behavior (i.e. flirting, winking, puckering, batting eyelashes, or sexual teasing) or be wearing provocative clothing (i.e. half-dressed, tight fitting, low-cut, sexy clothes or no clothes at all).

The first research question focuses on the frequency of sexual content presented in different categories of magazines. This is addressed by examining advertisements based on the criteria above. The findings indicate that sexual content is most published in female magazines i.e. 84% of the total advertisements with sexual content. This is way higher when compared to male magazines (15.74%) and neutral magazines (0.31%). The findings from the research are summarized in the following table along with graphical depiction of results:

Sexual Content
Male Magazines 51 15.74%
Female Magazines 272 83.95%
Neutral Magazines 1 0.31%
324

Table 2: Sexual Content in Magazines

Sexual Content in Magazines
Figure 1: Sexual Content in Magazines

The analysis is further extended to present findings collected from each magazine reviewed for collection of evidence. The following table and figures present findings:

Category Magazine Sexual Content
Male Magazines Men’s Health 10
Esquire 5
Maxim 10
Men’s Journal 7
FHM 9
Details 6
Men’s Fitness 4
Female Magazines Cosmopolitan 37
Allure 22
Elle 64
Vogue 54
Shape 12
Glamour 49
Marie Claire 34
Neutral Magazines People 1
Time 0
Totals 324

Table 3: Sexual Content in Magazines

Sexual Content in Men’s Magazines
Figure 2: Sexual Content in Men’s Magazines
Sexual Content in Men’s Magazines
Figure 3: Sexual Content in Men’s Magazines

This suggests that amongst Men’s Magazines Men’s Health has the highest frequency of advertisements with sexual content. On the other hand, Vogue is considered to have the highest number of advertisements with sexual content amongst seven women’s magazines.

This above results support the findings of various studies such as those by Frith, Shaw, & Cheng (2005). They are of the view that the women’s magazines in US are increasingly portraying women as a symbol of sex. The concept of beauty beholds in these magazines via use of body and clothing that female models wear. Such depiction of beauty is significantly differently from that portrayed in magazines published in far eastern countries. Moreover, this finding also supports to some extent the reverse sex model suggested by Martin Oppermann (1999) that implied that with women progressing in their career fields and are getting more involved in the society their roles are merging with those of men. Women are becoming more attracted towards lust and sex, and that could be one of the reasons that magazines are now more inclined towards depicting sexual content in their advertisements.

Nature of Sexual Content

The second research question focuses upon the nature of sexual content depicted in the advertisements published in the sixteen magazines. The findings suggest that the sex appeal in both men and female magazines differ in many ways. In women’s magazines sex appeals tend to address attractiveness, behavior and self esteem. Sexual attractiveness could be observed in women’s magazine that is associated with the use of products or services. Women are convinced that with the use of certain products or services they could actually achieve better image and they could achieve more attention from their partners. For example, one of the advertisements in women’s magazines by a skin care treatment company makes a claim, “Look as Good as You Feel”.

Sexual behavior in advertisements is derived from the use of model that is based on exerting influence on the behavior promoting greater involvement in sexual activity by readers. Such advertisements are observed to often include couple models that are either gazing each other or touching in such ways that can stimulate feelings or thoughts of sex and thus, may induce sexual activity. For example, it has been observed in the review of magazines that advertisements aimed at marketing products for sex protection contain couple models who are engaged in postures set out in the criteria for this study.

Sexual esteem in advertisements seems to be derived from the sensuality that models appear to achieve from the use of the product marketed in the advertisement. It is observed that sense of sexual esteem has been portrayed by display of half nude or semi nude models. For example, topless female model wearing jeans in one of the advertisements in women’s magazine allows readers of magazines to relate themselves to the sense of sensuality that such advertisement depicts.

In men’s magazines, the sexual appeal is concentrated on the display of sex. Majorly, advertisements with sexual content in these magazines could be viewed as the ones that are aimed at inducing sexual feelings and depict sexual activities. For example, there was an advertisement in a men’s magazine where couple models are used to market an after shave product, and in this advertisement female model is pulling male model on top of her, while she is in a reclining position.

Proportion of Male and Female Models

The third question set out in this report is aimed at determining the proportion of male and female models in advertisement containing sexual content. This question is addressed by calculating the proportion of male and female models in 324 advertisements. The findings indicate that out of 324 advertisements, 243 contained female models suggesting 75% of the advertisements with sexual content making use of female models. Also, 10.80% or 35 advertisements used male models, while another 46 advertisements or 14.20% contained couple models i.e. both male and female models. These findings are provided in the following table along with the graphical depiction of results:

Proportion of Male / Female / Couple Models
Male 35 10.80%
Female 243 75.00%
Couple 46 14.20%
324

Table 4: Proportion of Male / Female / Couple Models

Proportion of Male / Female / Couple Models
Figure 4: Proportion of Male / Female / Couple Models

These findings clearly suggest that female models are more likely to appear in advertisements containing sexual content as compared to male models. This is further investigated using results from Chi-Square Goodness of Fit test (Appendix I). Two hypotheses have been tested out from this test H0: Probability of both male and female models is equal and H1: One of the probabilities is not in proportion to the other one. The test results indicate that for 278 observations of advertisements with sexual, X2 is 155.6258, which is greater than the critical value 3.84146 at a degree of freedom 1. On the basis of this, H0 can be rejected for H1. This is in line with the findings presented in Table 3 and confirms that female models are more likely to appear in such advertisements.

This analysis is further extended by assessing content on the basis of the three categories of magazines included in the study. This requires evaluating the sexual content in advertisements presented in each category of magazine and determining whether female models are likely appear to more or male models in different categories of magazines.

Sexual Content in Men’s Magazines

A total of seven Men’s Magazines were examined in this study. In these magazines, 51 advertisements were observed to contain sexual content. Out of these advertisements, 26 advertisements used male models (50.98%), 15 advertisements had couple models (29.41%) and the lowest number of advertisements i.e. 10 used female models (19.61%). This implies that the male models are more likely to appear in such advertisements published in men’s magazines.

Proportion of Male / Female / Couple Models in Men’s Magazine
Male 26 50.98%
Female 10 19.61%
Couple 15 29.41%
51

Table 5: Proportion of Male / Female / Couple Models in Men’s Magazine

Proportion of Male / Female / Couple Models in Men's Magazine
Figure 5: Proportion of Male / Female / Couple Models in Men’s Magazine

These findings are further tested out using Chi-Square Goodness of Fit (Appendix II). The test was carried out to assess the validation of two possible hypotheses including H0: Probability of both male and female models is equal and H1: One of the probabilities is not in proportion. The results reveal that for 35 observations X2 is 7.883 that is greater than the critical value of 5.9914, which means that we can reject H0 for H1. This supports findings presented in Table however; this does not imply that female models are more likely to be used in advertisements having sexual content. Therefore, these findings are not supportive of the research hypothesis set out for the present study.

Sexual Content in Women’s Magazines

It has been observed that seven women’s magazines selected for review in the present study contained 325 advertisements with sexual content meeting the criteria set out. Out of these, a total of 232 advertisements (85.91%) used female models for depicting sex for marketing of various products and services. Couple models were observed in 31 advertisements (11.40%) and male models appeared in 9 advertisements (3.31%). These findings support the claim that female models are more likely to be used in advertisements containing sexual content.

Proportion of Male / Female / Couple Models in Women’s Magazine
Male 9 3.31%
Female 232 85.91%
Couple 31 11.40%
272

Table 6: Proportion of Male / Female / Couple Models in Women’s Magazine

Proportion of Male / Female / Couple Models in Women's Magazine
Figure 6: Proportion of Male / Female / Couple Models in Women’s Magazine

These findings are subject to further testing using Chi-Square Goodness of Fitness that is carried out based on 241 observations (9 male models and 232 female models). This test is aimed at validation of two hypotheses including H0: probabilities of both male and female models are same and H1: One of the probabilities is out of proportion. The degree of freedom is 2 and the critical value is 5.9914. The test results in X2 being equal to 330.1318 that is greater than the critical value and therefore, we can reject H0 and support H1. This supports results presented in Table and contributes towards validation of the research hypothesis set out for this study.

Couple Models in Sexual Advertisements

As a by-product of the study carried out in this report, it has been possible to carry out an analysis of the use of couple models in all three categories of magazines reviewed. Advertisements using couple models are those that contain both male and female models representing sexual content as prescribed in the criteria of the coding sheet. The table provided below summarizes the findings in this regard. These clearly indicate that couple models appear in 46 advertisements (75.41%) in women’s magazines and 15 advertisements in men’s magazines. Neutral magazines do not contain any such advertisement. These findings are graphically represented in the chart below.

Couple Models in Magazines
Men’s Magazines 15 32.61%
Women’s Magazines 31 67.39%
Neutral Magazines 0 0.00%
46

Table 7: Couple Models in Magazines

Couple Models in Magazines
Figure 7: Couple Models in Magazines

Analysis of Research Questions

The above findings could be presented with a view of answering the research questions set out for this study and also identify the research gap that this study has attempted to fill when compared to previous studies provided in the literature review.

  • Does the frequency of sexual advertisements vary amongst different categories of magazines aimed at differing audiences?
    The first question is addressed by the present study by comparing the sexual content of advertisement available in three categories of magazines. Three categories that are selected for this study are men’s magazines, women’s magazines, and neutral magazines (without any inclination towards a particular gender). The present study has been able to fill in the gap by including a third category of magazines that have not been focused upon in the previous studies included in the literature review of this report. The findings clearly indicate that advertisements having sexual content are likely to appear more in women’s magazines. This clearly supports the observations made by Worell (2002) who is of the opinion that with changes in media selection and strategies by marketers the female audience is also increasingly targeted via means of advertisements containing sexual content. Men’s magazines also contained a major proportion of such advertisements whereas, neutral magazines have the minimum. This reflects the changing trends in marketing, where the advertisements having sexual content are becoming popular amongst both men’s and women’s magazines. However, marketers do not use such tactics for neutral magazines.
  • What is the nature of the sexual appeals that sexual advertising tends to target?
    The analysis of the content clearly from the present study supports findings presented in previous studies which suggest that the sexual content in magazines is directed towards bringing up feelings of sexual appeal, sexual gratification, and sensuality amongst readers (Gunter, 2009; Turner, 2003; King, 2002). The study clearly shows that the focus of advertisements having sexual content in men’s magazines is more to stimulate desire for sex, which has been the trend for many years and discussed by various researchers. However, with changing attitudes and behaviors, sexual advertisements are also increasingly being aimed at females too.
  • Are women more likely to be casted in advertisements containing sexual content than men?
    This is the main research question that has been addressed through this study. The present study reviewed the sexual content of advertisements in three categories of magazines and results affirm that women are more likely to appear in such advertisements. Aggregate results are supportive of the findings presented in the study by Reichert & Lambiase (2003), however, examination of each individual category of magazines reflect rather conflicting results. As it could be observed that male models are more likely to appear in men’s magazines and female models appear more in women’s magazines. These findings are supportive of the findings of a study by Gunter (2009), who has suggested that models belonging to the same gender are appearing more frequently in advertisements containing sexual content.

Summary

This chapter provides findings from the study carried out in this report regarding the role of gender in advertisements printed in three different categories of magazines. These findings provide a great deal of insight into how genders are used in advertisement with sexual content. These findings are statistical in nature and therefore, their certainty can be ascertained with higher degree of confidence. The sexual content observed in the advertisements printed in all sixteen magazines seem to reflect similar findings as previous studies of Guntner (2009), King (2002), Worell (2002), and Turner (2003).

Discussion

The present study is aimed at addressing different aspects of the presentation of sexual appeal in advertisements published in three different categories of magazines including men’s magazines, women’s magazines and neutral magazines. The findings presented in this report are supportive of the claim that female models are more likely to appear in advertisements that contain sexual content. For this study, criteria set out Coltrane and Adams (1997) has been used for classifying sexual content found in advertisements. The findings suggests that in men’s magazines male models are used more to depict the sexual content (50.98%) whereas, in women’s magazines female models tend to appear more in such advertisements (85.91%). The study is not comprehensively suggesting that females are more likely to be used for display of the sexual content if each category of magazines is examined separately. However, upon combining the findings of all three types of magazines it is fairly clear that the research hypothesis set out for this study i.e. H: Sex in advertising is prone to cast women in comparison to men, can be validated in the light of the evidence collected. These findings are in line with the literature that forms the basis of the present study. The role of gender in media and advertisements has remained topic of several researches over the years. Women for many decades have remained most popular to be used for sexual advertisements however, with changing attitudes and views on the issues male models are also increasingly being used for display of sex. In the same way, couple models are gaining popularity amongst advertisements.

Limitations of Study

Although the research carried out in this study is as informative as possible however, there are certain restrictions that have limited the scope of the study. Most importantly, the basis used to set out the criteria for assessing the sexual found in advertisements are subjective. Perceptions regarding the sexual display in advertisements tend to vary amongst individuals and therefore, any such study needs to incorporate views of different groups in order to present findings that are more appropriate. The study has a limited scope as it does not involve investigation of the advertisement for the role of both male and female in each particular advertisement. Therefore, unlike previous studies, the present study does not provide any such information that could help in understanding how each gender is portrayed in these advertisements and thus, focus only upon the frequency of advertisements with sexual content and use of both male and female models. Moreover, the study has been limited to a single issue of all sixteen magazines. This could hamper the results as observations may not be reflective of the findings presented in this report as the sample size is increased.

Conclusion

The present study could be further extended to examine and evaluate advertisements and their sexual content in relation to different brands and types of products. Such research will be an interesting one to assess how different famous brands have changed their marketing tactics and whether the use of specific gender in their advertisements has been made by them. This kind of research will investigate advertisements over a period of time and identify the changes that have occurred in advertisements.

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Appendix I: Gender Representation in Magazines

fo Factors
Male Models Female Models Sum
35 243 278
fe Male Models Female Models Sum
139.00 139.00 278
Probabilities:
0.50 0.50 1
Cell Data fo fe fo– fe (fo– fe)2 (fo– fe)2/fe
Male Models 35 139.00 -104 10816 77.81294964
Female Models 243 139.00 104 10816 77.81294964
X2= 155.6258993
Ho: p1=.5, p2=.5
Ha: At least one of these proportions is incorrect.
Level of significance = a =.05
df = (C-1)
df = (2 – 1) = 1
a =.05, df = 1
Critical Region = 3.84145915
[=CHIINV(a, df)]
X2= 155.625899
X2(1,n=278) = 155.625899, p<.05 p-value = 1.02192E-35
Since the X2is > than the critical value (3.84146), we reject the Ho, and support the Ha.

Appendix II: Men’s Magazines

fo Factors
Male Female Couple Sum
26 10 15 51
fe Male Female Couple Sum
17 17 17 51
Probabilities:
0.33 0.33 0.33 1
Cell Data fo fe fo– fe (fo– fe)2 (fo– fe)2/fe
Male 26 17 9 81 4.764705882
Female 10 17 -7 49 2.882352941
Couple 15 17 -2 4 0.235294118
X2= 7.882352941
Ho: p1=0.33,p2=0.33,p3=0.33
Ha: At least one of these proportions is incorrect.
Level of significance = a =.05
df = (C-1)
df = (3 – 1) = 2
a =.05, df = 2
Critical Region = 5.9914645 5.991464547
[=CHIINV(a, df)]
X2= 7.8823529
X2(2,n=35) = 29.885414, p<.05 p-value = 0.019425348
Since the X2is > that the critical value (5.991465), we reject the Ho, and support the Ha.

Appendix III: Women’s Magazines

fo Factors
Male Female Couple Sum
10 232 31 273
fe Male Female Couple Sum
91 91 91 273
Probabilities:
0.33 0.33 0.33 1
Cell Data fo fe fo– fe (fo– fe)2 (fo– fe)2/fe
Male 10 91 -81 6561 72.0989011
Female 232 91 141 19881 218.4725275
Couple 31 91 -60 3600 39.56043956
X2= 330.1318681
Ho: p1=0.33,p2=0.33,p3=0.33
Ha: At least one of these proportions is incorrect.
Level of significance = a =.05
df = (C-1)
df = (3 – 1) = 2
a =.05, df = 2
Critical Region = 5.991465 5.991464547
[=CHIINV(a, df)]
X2= 330.1319
X2(2,n=243) = 422.74074, p<.05 p-value = 2.05483E-72
Since the X2is > that the critical value (5.991465), we reject the Ho, and support the Ha.