Selling Sex

The boys have been hunting and fishing all day. Now they kick back with a bottle of Stroh's beer, and sigh, "It can't get any better than this." The slogan is one that Stroh has used for years. But several months ago, the format changed. Things can get better than this, it turns out: when the Swedish bikini team--a group of scantily clad blonds--parachutes out of the sky and serves the beer. The new ad has raised a furor among feminist groups, who say it presents a demeaning stereotype of women. There's even a court case in the works. Stroh argues that the exaggerated ads were meant as a parody of the typical beer commercial. Beer companies are notorious for using sex to sell their products. But, of course, that's just the point. Advertisers have come to feel that in our sex-saturated culture, the only way to catch an audience's attention is to give them sex, sex, and more sex. I don't know if anyone remembers but the functional purpose of advertising is to convey information about a product. Today's ads don't do much of that. They're geared to arousing emotions--especially sexual ones. Just combine a theme song with some hot footage. A jingle with a jiggle--that's what makes the sale. And in today's equal-opportunity environment, it isn't just women who are used in the body-parts approach to advertising. Men can be turned into sex objects, too. In spots this summer for Coors Light, young women in bikinis were flanked by well-built young men in tight, wet swim trunks. A recent issue of Vanity Fair featured a Calvin Klein ad with a close-up photo of a naked male model, from shoulders to knees, covered only by a tiny scrap of denim. The photo was part of an advertising booklet by Calvin Klein--116 pages of suggestive poses: men caressing women, men caressing men, women caressing women. Advertising turned into soft porn. Supposedly, all this R-rated photography had something to do with selling clothes. But some ads don't even bother to connect the sexual images with their product. A Toyota ad for television flips rapidly back and forth, MTV-style, from a car to a young couple dancing nearby. The dancing grows ever more suggestive--and never relates in any way to the car. Its only purpose is to excite the glands. The sad thing is that, historically, business was seen as a conservative force in society. Even recently, a state Supreme Court Justice from West Virginia remarked that compared to other elite groups in America--like journalists and politicians--businessmen hold the most conservative moral convictions. Well, you'd never know it by the tenor of these ads. It's time for folks in business to realize that they are responsible not just for what they sell but also how they sell it. In the process of selling cars and clothing, they are selling a lifestyle that is not only morally wrong but dangerous. Just ask Magic Johnson. The rest of us have a simple way of letting businesses know how we think: We can stop buying products from companies that use sex in their ads. And if enough of us do that, well, the Swedish bikini team will have to pack their bikinis and go home.


Chuck Colson


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