“Sex Sells” is a premise that has been a used by advertisers almost as long as there’s been advertising.
According to the book “Advertising in America,” the rules that govern the use of sex in advertising were pretty much established by Elliott White Springs back in the late 1940s. He owned a textile company called Spring Mills.
Elliott Springs biggest contribution to the effective use of sex in advertising, says “Advertising in America,” was “The Tease.” The idea there, of course, is to show the reader or viewer of an ad something they are not supposed or expected to see. Think Marilyn Monroe’s dress being blown up to her waist by that blast of air in “The Seven Year Itch.”
“The Tease” has been written about a lot, and “Advertising in America” quotes from a 1982 book by Prudence Glynn as saying, “If you accept the Fundamentalist point of view or believe what you read in Freud, it is possible to assume that all dress is erotic in that it conceals something, which by tradition is not acceptable to the public gaze. Inquisitive as he is, and prurient by nature, it follows that man has always been excited by what is concealed. It is always what is underneath which must be discovered…”
The key, here, is that for the ad to be most successful, one should NOT reveal too much.
Author and sociologist Philip Slater once said, controversially, "If we define pornography as any message from any communication medium that is intended to arouse sexual excitement, then it is clear that most advertisements are covertly pornographic."
The key there is the word “covertly,”
So here’s the irony. When we see Tiger Woods advertising a product, we are imaging him to be what we know of him from his golf performances. Competitive. Strong. Virile. Smart. All of those things that also make him, of course, sexually attractive.
But this is also a country steeped in Puritanism. Founded by believers in that movement. So when we actually find out that Woods is also a very sexual Tiger, in the most explicit terms, and outside the bounds of his marriage at that, well, the jig is up.
I have the utmost respect for Nike founder Phil Knight, and the success he’s built, and his reading of the marketplace. He said the other day that when all is said and done with the Tiger Woods story we’ll look back at the current scandal and see that it was just a blip in Woods' career.
I don’t know about that. Yes, Americans are incredibly forgiving, especially with athletes. But I’m not so sure we nor Madison Ave will be when it comes to Woods’ future power as an endorser for most products.
I just don’t think we’ll ever again listen to Woods say how wonderful a product is and think to ourselves, “That’s Grrrrrrrreat!”#