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Sexual Appeals in TV Commercials

by Jeremy Butler

The two most obvious ways that sexual imagery sells are (1) implying that the product will make the viewer more sexually appealing and (2) associating the product itself with sexuality and thereby stimulating a hormonal rush in order to draw the viewer’s attention to it. The first type of appeal is evident in products such as perfumes and shampoos. The second comes into play in ads for beer and cars designed for heterosexual men which have attractive women posing by the products. Victoria’s Secret manages to incorporate both of these appeals in its commercials. During the 1999 Super Bowl between the Denver Broncos and the Atlanta Falcons, it advertised a Web-based fashion show by addressing itself principally to male viewers: “The Broncos won’t be there. The Falcons won’t be there. You won’t care.” The bulk of the ad consists of images of its minimally dressed models. The “you” in this instance is the male viewer who might be sexually attracted to the women of Victoria’s Secret. Entertainment Weekly attacked the ad as the “Worst Blatant Exploitation of T&A [‘tits-and-ass’]” of the Super Bowl ads: “The plot: Jiggle, jiggle, jiggle, Web address. This embarrassingly unsubtle spot announces an upcoming Internet fashion show for the lingerie catalog—because God knows we need more soft-core cyberporn.”

Evidently, the Super Bowl spot hopes to entice men to purchase lingerie for the women in their lives, but in an ad for its Natural Miracle Bra, Victoria’s Secret mainly speaks to female viewers. The audio consists of various testimonials by women about the bra’s effectiveness: “Makes you feel more natural. Makes you feel more confident as a woman. Very comfortable. Feels just like natural skin. When I wear the Natural I just feel feminine and more sexy. It gave me more cleavage . . . instant cleavage. I felt confident and sexy. You felt good about your body.” The target viewers and the “you” of this ad’s text are certainly women, not men. This water/glycerin-filled bra is thus marketed to women themselves. The heterosexual male viewer is not excluded from the appeal of this ad, however, as it features a large-breasted woman in the Natural Miracle Bra, modeling its cleavage-enlarging effects and presumably inciting his libido. In true polysemic fashion, this commercial has room for several sexual interpretations. 


Sexual Appeals in a Victoria's Secret Commercial

The sexual appeal of a Victoria's Secret commercial is more polysemic than one might think.

from Victoria's Secret commercial (1999)
Creator: Victoria's Secret
Posted by Jeremy Butler