Dangers of Suggestive Advertising

Risks of Suggestive Advertising

Advertising is generally viewed as an activity whose purpose is to generate sales and profits.  However, this is a limited view because advertising serves a larger purpose. Not all advertisements are meant to  lure customers, some may be meant to inform and some may even be meant to warn. However, in a business context, it is definitely one of the most visible aspects of business operations. An even notable fact about advertising is that its social implications are just as important as the financial ones. It is why advertising must not be focused at the creation  of financial value only but also social value.

It affects consumers’ perception, shapes it and can leave a long lasting effect on consumers’ mind. It is why so much focus is being placed on the ethical aspects of advertising. Unethical advertising results in a loss of trust between businesses and customers. Deceptive advertising has frequently been criticized for this reason. In this regard, the focal point of criticism has been the deceptive or suggestive nature of ads. These ads have a profound impact on people’s lifestyles, their taste and even their personal and social values. Now, since advertisements can have deeper impact than commonly known, they are bound to generate some controversy and debate. Deceptive or untruthful ads have generated a lot of controversy and  criticism.

Marketers or advertisers may often feel tempted to generate profits by using means that are deceptive and aimed to exploit consumers. Several of such ads have come under legal scrutiny for their deceptive nature and for the attempt to misguide. In this regard, even the use of sexually suggestive ads has been  a source of headache for the authorities. Such ads can be offensive and leave teenagers and adolescents particularly vulnerable. Several times advertisers use them at places where they hardly have any relevance.

Nudity is not fit to be used in every context and must never be used if advertising to children. Still, advertisers have used it and continue to use it for the purpose of catching attention and generating revenue. Even if there might not be a need to do so or even if the context does not allow, since such ads can attract attention easily, they are used to market and sell products that might otherwise not be able to sell successfully. Sex appeal generally proves a cheaper and easier method of generating views and sales. However, it does come at a social cost.

Children are most vulnerable to the effect of suggestive ads.  Such ads can be commonly found in magazines and the chances of children being exposed to sexuality at a tender age also becomes high due to them.  Even in television programs, in some corners of newspapers and on billboards such suggestive ads can be found.  These ads can offend people and families and even if they are related to sexual products or topics, their display in public is bound to leave people feeling irritated and offended.

An important factor that  has led to the use of sexual material in advertising is competition. Increased competition has led to companies and marketers using means of catching attention that are cheap and easy even if not appropriate. There have been several cases in past where apparel or fashion companies have been criticized for using sex appeal overtly to target their consumers. Calvin Klein and Loreal are some examples.

Marketers hold some ethical and moral responsibility towards the society and in the developed nations particularly, the problem is that  businesses focus and invest a lot in marketing and advertising. In fact advertising is a major business in itself. There are laws to control marketing and to ensure adherence to ethics and still these laws cannot completely regulate advertising. They still leave enough scope for the marketers to use such techniques. There is still enough space for the marketers to use unethical methods to influence their  customers. There are negative externalities related to suggestive ads. Their offensiveness is an important externality. Apart from that, in case of the children, there  vulnerability is another big externality. Not all people can bear the display of such images and a large number of people would find such ads offensive. The chances of being exposed to such ads grow in the online environment. Parents may not find it very safe to allow their children to surf online without parental guidance. Such ads are like soft pornography and children’s exposure to them is risky.

The race for sales and profits in the business world has kept growing. The impact of advertising is well known in this context. Mostly the focus of advertising is to generate sales anyhow. In several cases rather than focusing on the products’ importance and benefits, the focus is on alluring customers using sex appeal. A partially clad model using a product is meant to catch eyes and generate easy publicity.  While such ads may work in the short term, in the long term they may end up hurting the image of the product and the business. This was proved in the case of American Apparel that was more than once on the verge of bankruptcy. Still, in the short term such ads can be successful, which has led to increased use of sex appeal or suggestiveness by the marketers to find quick success in the market. These ads are particularly effective at attracting new users. However, the marketers must not overlook the externalities or social costs related to sexually suggestive advertising. Advertising is meant to create product awareness. The use of sexual material in advertising can affect children’s and adolescents’ sexual beliefs and attitudes. It results in a rise in sexual behavior. Repeated exposure to such material can also lead to early sexual activity among the adolescents. Early sexual activity among the adolescents has often been related with exposure to sexual material at a tender age.

Such premature exposure to suggestive material affects sexual beliefs and attitudes negatively. Premature sexual activity is dangerous and if children are exposed to suggestive material even through ads, it leaves them feeling curious and can lead to unsafe sexual activity. Adolescents are not mature enough to understand these problems. Advertisers overlook these factors while marketing to a young audience and end up influencing adolescent psychology in an inappropriate manner. It is why the use of sexually provocative material for the purpose of advertising can be dangerous.

The social costs of advertising are not to be overlooked because advertising  also affects the society. The kind of ads people are served affects how they think of these businesses and the business world overall. Advertisements are not just meant to catch attention. Businesses are catering to people’s needs. Advertising is meant to inform people about how a product serves a specific need or how it fits with the customers’ needs and wants. It is not meant to entice the customer to make a wrong purchase. A wrong purchase means something bought of impulse and which does not really deliver the value it claims to. Marketers however have not ever felt ashamed of trying to push the boundary in this regard. If  a particular strategy even if it is to make a fake claim regarding their products’s quality and can entice the users to buy more, it is worth a try. However, this is where they have frequently crossed the boundary.  Use of suggestiveness and erotic content can also be seen in this light. Advertisers while trying to stay clear of the applicable laws will still try to push the limits to the last extent.

Parents are bound to feel offended and the use of erotic content for promotion is not something that rhymes with cultural or social norms either. Whether it is print media or television, parents would not love their children being exposed to nude or semi nude content. So, while advertising on the one hand has the potential to stimulate demand on the other it also has the potential to generate negative externalities. Advertisers must be creative in their strategy but not in a way that  has the potential to affect child psychology negatively. History has also proved that the brands that have tried to cross the limit and use erotic content to garner easy benefits have in the long term been made to pay the price.  So, the advertisers who believe that suggestiveness is extremely influential and can always help create a fortune by stimulating demand for their product could not be more wrong. Such ads are more than common in the fashion world where they are regularly used to make a particular product appear are appealing in the eyes of the customers.

The use of suggestive materials in ads gives rise to several problems, the biggest one being the rise in cases of early sexual activity. There are other related and major risks too like unsafe sexual activity, teenage pregnancy and STDs. There are laws to regulate advertising. However, law is not always an effective tool unless the marketers decide to remain ethical in what they are doing. Law would not be able to entirely prevent them from doing what they wish to do. The bigger problem is that a complete assessment of the negative impact that suggestive ads can generate has never been made. Its effects may still be underestimated. Law cannot keep everything off the children’s eyes either.  Even the mainstream media has grown full of suggestive ads. Lingerie and swimsuit ads can easily be found in mainstream media. Even the common fashion magazines use cover pictures with semi-nude models. While these ads may not be so offensive, still they are not suitable to be viewed by adolescents.  Even if they are aimed at an adult audience, they leave the adolescents vulnerable. Marketers must think whether it is their job to just entice the customers to buy or if they are here to create a positive impact through marketing and advertising. Sex sells but then it is not to be sold to everyone. The risks might be bigger than our estimation.

Based on these facts, it is important that the marketers act responsibly and particularly so when marketing to the children. They must stick to the ethical standards in advertising so that children and adolescents are not exposed to adult or erotic content. CARU was established by the Better Business Bureau to promote responsible advertising. CARU provides advice in this area to the advertising agencies. It is mandatory for advertisers and marketers to follow the guidelines it has issued. Some of the main guidelines it has issued to protect the children from being exposed to inappropriate content that must be followed by the marketers are as follows:

  • Advertisers must advertise only age appropriate videos including movies and interactive software to the children. If any rating system applies it must be displayed properly on the packaging.
  • Violence or sexual content inappropriate for children or any other material meant to provoke children to buy must not be used to advertise or target them.

CARU reviews the advertisements throughout entire media directed at the children. It requires the advertisers to change the advertisements appropriately to make them consistent with the guidelines of they are inconsistent. Any use of sexually provocative material used in advertisements directed at children is considered illegal. If the advertisers wish to avoid getting into any legal tussle they must follow guidelines issued by CARU. These guidelines are meant to help and guide the marketers with their jobs. It also prevents the negative externalities that would otherwise arise if sexually provocative material is marketed to the children.

Sources: CARU Guidelines