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Sex in advertising or sex sells is the use of sexual or erotic imagery (also called "sex appeal") in advertising to draw interest to a particular product, for purpose of sale. A feature of sex in advertising is that the imagery used, such as that of a pretty woman, typically has no connection to the product being advertised. The purpose of the imagery is to attract the attention of the potential customer or user. The type of imagery that may be used is very broad, and would include nudity, cheesecake, and beefcake, even if it is often only suggestively sexual.
Over the past two decades, the use of increasingly explicit sexual imagery in consumer-oriented print advertising has become almost commonplace. Sexuality is considered one of the most powerful tools of marketing and particularly advertising[citation. Post-advertising sales response studies have shown it can be very effective for attracting immediate interest, holding that interest, and, in the context of that interest, introducing a product that somehow correlates with that interest.
Gallup & Robinson, an advertising and marketing research firm, has reported that in more than 50 years of testing advertising effectiveness, it has found the use of the erotic to be a significantly above-average technique in communicating with the marketplace, "...although one of the more dangerous for the advertiser. Weighted down with taboos and volatile attitudes, sex is a Code Red advertising technique ... handle with care ... seller beware; all of which makes it even more intriguing." This research has led to the popular idea that "sex sells".
In contemporary mainstream consumer advertising (e.g., magazines, network and cable television), sex is present in promotional messages for a wide range of branded goods. Ads feature provocative images of well-defined women (and men) in revealing outfits and postures selling clothing, alcohol, beauty products, and fragrances. Advertisers such as Calvin Klein, Victoria's Secret, and Pepsi use these images to cultivate a ubiquitous sex-tinged media presence. Also, sexual information is used to promote mainstream products not traditionally associated with sex. For example, the Dallas Opera recent reversal of declining ticket sales has been attributed to the marketing of the more lascivious parts of its performances (Chism, 1999).