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This’s How Brands Are Using Sexism To Get Instant Internet Fame. It Was #LegsIt, Not #Brexit!

How Brands Using Sexism

Published on April 1st, 2017

Sex Sells! Yes, It’s a fact, and you must have heard this phrase if you are in the advertising industry.

Sex in advertising is the use of sexually provocative or erotic imagery (or sounds, suggestions, and subliminal messages) that are specifically designed to arouse interest in a particular product, service or brand.

In this age of Internet trolling, Brands have been using SEXISM as low-hanging fruit to go viral, giving the brands instant fame, exactly what they set out to achieve. On an almost daily basis, sexism in headlines, adverts and newspaper front pages is getting taken to task on Twitter.

For some brands, getting dragged for sexism is a dream-come-true; a chance to go viral; to be the name on everyone’s lips, or tweets, even if it’s for all the wrong reasons.

Recently, the Daily Mail, On eve of Britain triggering Article 50 and officially entering Brexit negotiations, it came out with a headline declaring “Forget about Brexit, who won Legs-it!” alongside a photograph of Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and British Prime Minister Theresa May. And, it was #LegsIt (not #Brexit) that topped the UK’s Twitter trends because of the ire of thousands on social media.

brands using sexism

Similarly, in 2016, a billboard advert for a gym in Derbyshire was accused of being “offensive and fat-shaming”

Brands Using Sexism

Recently, USPAAH, a relatively unknown mobile spa app was called out on Twitter for its sexist ad on the London Underground.

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Throughout History, Sex Has Been Used to Sell.

Back in 1885, W.Duke and Sons, a manufacturer of facial soap, included trading cards in the soap’s packaging that included erotic images of the day’s most popular female stars. The link between soap and sex is slim at best, but it worked. And ever since, brands have purposely linked themselves to suggestive (or downright blatant) sexual imagery in the search for new customers.

Let’s take a dive into the murky waters of sex and advertising.

American Apparel has been pushing boundaries since the late 1990s

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Abercrombie & Fitch catalogs caused such a public outcry the company pulled them from the shelves

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PETA is known for its provocative ads, but it went a step further by rolling out a softcore porn site

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Axe has built an empire around teaching dorky guys how to be sexy

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Sketchers got lucky when it landed Kim Kardashian as a spokesperson

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Carl’s Junior has a habit of using scantily-dressed spokesmodels to promote its alternative to McDonald’s



Dentyne Ice wants you to “practice safe breath”

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Perrier hired a burlesque star to help make water sexy

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Tom Ford’s clothing advertisements are considered “hypersexual”

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Armani gets pro athletes to strip down for its underwear ads



Nissan takes from the old playbook and features bikini-clad women in its ads

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The Old Spice guy is one of our country’s most popular mascots

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Dolce & Gabbana’s ads have been accused of depicting a crime

racist ads


General Electric hits the racism/sexism double-whammy

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Jell-O doesn’t think this woman’s ladybrain can handle office hierarchies

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Kellogg’s thinks this woman would be a major catch, if only she could stop being constipated all the time



Listerine is the only cure for women stealing your husband from under your nose

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Go home, Tampax. You’re drunk

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“Budweiser has delighted more husbands than any other brew ever known.”

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“Bob’s so proud of me again, since I use only Palmolive.”

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Pretty much

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“Everything for the boys.”



Have to love Pillsbury’s use of ellipses here

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Finally, Hoover has found a way for women to “have it all.”

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“There is no need to advertise in a sexist manner and it is bad and indeed lazy advertising that does use sexism,” says Professor Isabelle Szmigin at the University of Birmingham. She says the “tongue-in-cheek response” to criticism is “just too easy” for brands and positions people who complain as “supposedly without a sense of humour”.

This is so true. It is all too easy for brands and their advertising agencies to dismiss casual sexism as a bit of “light-hearted” fun after they’ve achieved viral fame for their brand. But, at what cost?

Women shouldn’t be roadkill in a brand’s race to get viral fame. Brands, it’s time to get your act together and find another way to get internet fame.