The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

Emotions and Advertising

I'm sure you've seen the Herbal Essences commercials: The spouse walks into the bedroom and hears his or her wife or husband in the bathroom moaning with ecstasy. The sounds are suggestive of sexual activity.

Another commercial, I don't remember what it was for, maybe cologne, has a young, attractive woman standing in the distance against a white background. "I don't want to be this close," she says and takes a few steps forward, "or this close," and she draws closer to the camera, her eyes seductive and sparkling, "or this close," until it's merely a headshot and she's smiling with satisfaction. I only saw it once, and I was smiling right back but feeling enormously uncomfortable at how sexually overtoned her movement and tone were.

Axe Body Spray does similar ads. One in which women are caressing aluminum like they want to have its children. It's awkward and deeply suggestive. It raises the curiosity of the unknowing audience: why are these women so attracted to that metal like that? Then it cuts to a man throwing his used Axe cans into a recycling bin--how environmentally conscious!

Why, I asked myself, does sex sell? Or at least, why do we use sexual overtones to grab people's attention?

Let me back up.

I think emotions are primarily reactionary. The exist almost exclusively in response to other things. Sometimes it's what we're thinking about. Whatever situations are dwelling in our thoughts or whatever ideas are floating around in our heads, our emotions respond and make us feel good or bad about them. Sometimes they're in response to other people, who say or do things that impact us. Sometimes our emotions are simply the result of experience hunger pangs or physical pain or stress, biological effects we often overlook I've learned in recent months.

Emotions are also a primary factor for the decisions we make. What I choose to say, do, see, believe, or buy, where I choose to go, how I choose to spend my time and with whom I do are all, many times, driven by these same passive, reactive emotions. How funny we human creatures are!

So, when it comes to advertising, when it comes to eliciting emotions, the quickest, easiest way to appeal to our decision-making faculty of emotions is to appeal to our sexual drive. It will create the greatest emotional response in the briefest period of time. It's harder, it takes longer to appeal to someone's sense of indignation or altruism; we don't use sexual appeal to advertise the needy kids on TV. Advertisers could appeal to our logical faculty, but that requires more effort on our parts; we actually have to do something, whereas our emotions primarily do the work without our consent.

There are plenty of moral conclusions I could draw. But I prefer to leave it as an observation and allow the reader to draw his or her own evaluation from what I've presented. Of course, your thoughts are welcome.