Sex in Advertising: Effective or ridiculous?

As years go by, the boundaries of what is considered culturally and socially acceptable in America are being continually stretched. The conservative attitudes that dictated what was proper for our parents and grandparents have faded to a general acceptance of risqué behaviors in the media. While ad agencies are constantly looking for creative new ways to market a product or idea, one truth that has more or less held steady in advertising since its emergence is the following: sex sells. But nowadays, we as consumers are largely desensitized to the provocative images we see in advertisements. What would have been considered pornography some fifty years ago is commonplace in many commercials that Americans see every single day. Look at Go Daddy commercials; if one of those aired in the 1950’s, there probably would have been riots in the streets. But with sexual content becoming less restricted over the years, such advertisements have become hugely popular and effective among consumers. Go Daddy and AXE are two brands that come to mind when thinking of such types of advertising seeing as both have had long-lasting and successful ad campaigns based off of sexually themed content. But more recently, it seems like companies are using sex as a cop out when they can’t come up with anything new or innovative. A great example would be the string of advertisements that Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. have been running to promote their new menu items.

Here, a gorgeous young lady in a bikini decides its time for her to wash her dirty pickup truck. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t also have time to seductively lather her body is soapy water, seductively lay on the hood of the truck, and of course, seductively eat a massive barbecue brisket burger from Hardee’s that she conveniently had lying around in the shed. Oh yeah, and then Paris Hilton (also in a bikini) finds her way into the shed to join her.

This one starts out in a similar fashion, but this time we are on a beach. Upon first glance, you would think this is a commercial for a vacation destination, or a swimsuit line, but you would be wrong. After lathering herself in tanning oil, the blonde bombshell lays out on her towel and reaches into her handy dandy Hardee’s bag for a fish sandwich. Now my eyesight isn’t the most keen, but I don’t think I saw a Hardee’s anywhere on that island during the initial aerial shot. After eating the first half of her sandwich, and seeming to enjoy it way too much, she decides she had better take her top off before continuing…

Now I’m not one to normally complain about women in swimwear, but these commercials are ri-goddam-diculous. Not to shame the clientele of Hardee’s, but I can’t imagine someone who eats there regularly having the physique of the women in these videos. While I suppose there may be some men out there who sincerely believe eating highly caloric sandwiches will increase their chances of meeting a Victoria’s Secret model, I think I speak for most men when I say I have no motivation to eat at Hardee’s after seeing these ads. After my inner fifth grader is done “Ooooh-ing” and “Ahhhh-ing,” I am left with the impression that the commercial I just watched was incredibly stupid. And I sure as hell can’t think of any way that these commercials would appeal to women. If anything, I could see it turning them off from the product due to what could be perceived as sexist and misogynist overtones.

I think these ads show how the “sexy girl in bikini holding (insert product name here)” strategy just doesn’t cut it like it used to. If sex is going to continue to sell in advertising, I sure hope they at least get a little more creative with it, because with sex being a not so taboo topic in America today, commercials like this are just boring.

Bradfield, C. (2014, September 1). The truth about advertising: Sex sells. Retrieved from

7 thoughts on “Sex in Advertising: Effective or ridiculous?

  1. I think these ads are more funny than sexy. The interesting thing is, most people can remember these ads over your typical BudLight commercial because they are SO out there they’re memorable.


  2. If this is what it takes for the company to sell then I am not judging, although it does raise questions of the appropriate time to show them. I think its uncomfortable to be sitting watching the super bowl with your family and have a verging-on-porn ad come up.


  3. I don’t like the Hardee’s commercials at all. I think it is ridiculous – obviously those models or actresses aren’t eating Hardee’s burgers to retain that physique. It also raises the ethical question not just about sex selling, but how our culture perceives women. They’re being compared to meat, in this commercial, and it’s a psychological bond that reinforces the idea that women are just delicious-looking possessions (or should be). While it’s funny, a sexy woman and a hamburger, there’s lasting psychological affects with these commercials that we may not realize right away.


  4. I completely agree with you Tim. Over the years sex in all aspects has become something that is much easier to be openly discussed or played upon. I remember seeing the Paris Hilton clip and thinking how ridiculous she looked. Nonetheless companies continue to use these provocative images, gestures, and innuendoes as ways to catch the audiences attention. I think now a day with this topic becoming a typical trend in advertisements, companies need to come up with something else that will grab the customers attention rather than putting a half naked girl eating a cheeseburger or running on a beach to promote their products.


  5. I think the best part about these ads is they take the focus off the burger. Last time I checked, Hardees and Carl’s Jr. weren’t doing that well. This approach can work, but only if the product actually follows through. The best example of a sexualized ad linking to a decent product is the series of ads ran during past Super Bowls-they have a great user interface for web domains. They used sex to get you interested, then finished the job with a great product. Hardees and Carl’s Jr., not so much.


  6. I feel that the whole concept of “sex sells” has become cliche at this point. If you don’t have an excellent product that sells for itself you may have to rely on being provocative or shocking (i.e. sexual) in order to get customer’s attention.


  7. It doesn’t shock me anymore so I think that interactive ads or having the customer do something like tweet them, use a hashtag is more effective in getting people involved with your brand. Obviously they are marketing their beef/hamburgers towards men (pigs-how ironic…) ahem anyways I think that the ads shouldn’t be on when families are watching t.v. or maybe just have a print ad in maxim/playboy magazine.


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