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Alcohol advertising has contained sexual imagery for generations. This has primarily been in the form of sexy women converging on men who have just opened a specific alcoholic beverage and suddenly become cool. The sometimes explicit advertising has been prevalent throughout the industry. Advertisers use sexuality and nudity in alcohol ads because it generates brand awareness and gives men a sexual attraction to the advertisements, and thus the brands. However, the effect of the blatant and pervasive sexuality is a negative stereotype about gender roles. Alcohol ads are primarily directed toward men, especially beer commercials. This is because men are the major beer consumers (Reichert, 2003). Janet Rowe, a Coors executive, said that the primary beer market is men aged 21 to 34, and that the 21- to 24-year-olds are a very important part of the market segment (Reichert, 2003). According to Rowe, ³If you¶re trying to interest men in that age bracket, obviously one of the ways is with women. I don¶t think women in beer advertising will ever go away´ (Reichert, 2003). Alcohol advertising containing enticing images has been around for over 100 years. In 1889, Bock¶s beer advertised its product with an image of a woman sitting on a man¶s lap ± or rather, between his legs ± as they share a glass of beer (Reichert, 2003). ³This Bock ad illustrates a theme carried through to contemporary alcohol advertising: that alcohol contributes to fun times, and if you want to be in a position like the one shown in the ad, pick up a few bottles of Bock´ (Reichert, 2003). Sexual situations were shown in other advertisements, some even nonalcoholic, including women with mostly-bare nipples. In fact, such ads ³continued the tradition of using images of women¶s breasts in early forms of promotional material´ (Reichert, 2003).
This tradition continued over the next century. Bock¶s ad was not nearly the most provocative of the advertisements, which often did more than give subtle hints of sexuality and barely-hidden nakedness. Robert Portner Brewing Company published several increasingly sexual images (Reichert, 2003). The most revealing was a poster of a mostly-nude young woman (Reichert, 2003). A cloth covers her lower half, but her breasts are visible, and though her arm covers one nipple, the other is in plain view (Reichert, 2003). However, even then the poster contained mostly sex appeal rather than dwelling on the benefits of the product. In fact, the girl is not holding any alcohol; the only reference to the product was the brand¶s name across the top of the ad (Reichert, 2003). The poster was likely displayed in establishments where Portner¶s beer was served (Reichert, 2003). Alcohol advertisements continued to contain images of sexy women in the 1950s and beyond. The Rheingold company had ³Miss Rheingolds´ who were splashed across print ads for the product, though the ads also contained text that focused on the drink (Reichert, 2003). One ad in 1957 featured six Miss Rheingold contestants, and told people to ³pick their favorite and µvote for her in any Rheingold store or tavern¶´ (Reichert, 2003). Rheingold was not the only company that featured women in alcohol advertising. Schafer, Pabst, and Ballantine Ale also featured pretty women in their advertisements, even though, like Rheingold and unlike the earlier Portner¶s, the ads also featured text describing the products (Reichert, 2003). Budweiser used similar tactics, paired with their slogan, ³Where there¶s life . . . there¶s Bud´ (Reichert, 2003). As time went on, the girls in the advertisement wore less and less clothing, and were often portrayed in bikinis (Reichert, 2003). ³Images were sexualized with shots of their breasts, legs, and behinds´ (Reichert, 2003). The taglines accompanying the ads were also sexually charged. In 1989, Busch ran a campaign featuring men and women on a beach with the words
³Looking for a Busch´ (Reichert, 2003). The advertisements were aimed at attracting men to the alcohol by implying that sexy women liked the brand, and thus liked men who drank the brand (Reichert, 2003). ³These ads served to titillate while reinforcing the association between the brand and the sexual outcomes´ (Reichert, 2003). Men were not the only ones scantily clad women were attracted to in alcohol ads. In one campaign by Bud Light, they were shown fawning over Spuds MacKenzie, Bud Light¶s spokesdog (Reichert, 2003). ³Anheuser-Busch¶s ad agency . . . surrounded Spuds with the Spudettes, a veritable harem of young women who titillated Bud Light¶s target market´ (Reichert, 2003). Spuds was not an extremely attractive dog; in fact, his looks were rather questionable. However, the women giving him attention were sexy and wearing spandex (Reichert, 2003). ³Arthur Kover, professor emeritus at Fordham University, said, µYou¶ve got this animal that¶s sort of ugly and sort of cute. Yet he¶s surrounded by these sexy women. It¶s like every prepubescent male¶s dream¶´ (Reichert, 2003). Sexuality in alcohol advertising has been prominent for a long time, but it has not always been accepted. Following a failed, sexually-charged ad campaign by the Stroh Brewery Company in 1991, alcohol companies were publicly taken to task by the surgeon general, who asked them to stop running ³ads that focus on bikini-clad women´ (Reichert, 2003). The prominent advertising magazine Advertising Age took a similar stance. ³For years, many beer companies have used blatant sexist advertising to titillate male beer drinkers. And leading brewers say they see no reason to change. They are wrong´ (Reichert, 2003). The alcohol companies listened, and for the rest of the decade, much of the sexuality in the advertisements was quelled, often replaced by humor (Reichert, 2003). Despite the views of William Pappano, the general manager of Banko Beverage, who said that sex ³does sell beer. People don¶t
understand that sometimes,´ much of the alcohol advertisement started to shy away from using sex to sell the products (Reichert, 2003). Sex returned to alcohol advertising in 2000. Tarsem Singh directed a Miller Genuine Draft ad campaign that featured nudity and innuendo but no dialogue (Reichert, 2003). It was back to the period of more emphasis on sex than on the product. One ad featured a man walking in on a woman who has stripped down to her underthings as she¶s doing laundry. He lets her put her extra clothes in his load and hands her a Miller beer ± and then watches as her bra joins the other clothing in his machine (Reichert, 2003). Bob Garfield from Advertising Age said that the ads were ³shamelessly and vulgarly pandering to the crudest common denominator´ (Reichert, 2003). However, Singh said the ads were trying not to go into ³bimboland,´ and were more equal than ads of old that just sexualized women (Reichert, 2003). Sex was back in alcohol advertising and continued to get raunchier, though often in print rather than television, thanks to a code of good practice put into place by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (Reichert, 2003). Several advertisers used images of sexy women to sell the products. ³Open a magazine and see Bacardi women showing their underwear, drops of Disaronno moving tantalizingly down the bodies of naked women, and a women giving a man ± and viewers ± a lap dance in a Revelstone whiskey ad´ (Reichert, 2003). These women were also back to being nearly naked. Svedka had an ad with two women who are bare above the waist except hats, gloves, and a sign saying ³Drink Svedka´ covering their breasts (Reichert, 2003). The woman in the Revelstroke lap dance ad is wearing nothing except the lower half of a bikini, and her arm barely manages to cover her nipples (Reichert, 2003). In addition, despite the industry-imposed ban on overly sexual television ads, advertisers continue to place sexual alcohol ads on TV (Reichert, 2003).
Sexual images continue to be prominent in alcohol advertising today. Bacardi¶s ³Bacardi By Day´ campaign includes an ad featuring a women with her blouse unbuttoned who¶s pulling down her pants (Reichert, 2003). A Grey Goose ad has a woman with a very low neckline sitting on her boyfriend¶s lap as he nuzzles and kisses her neck (Reichert, 2003). There are countless other current ads full of sex appeal, from tantalizing ads with barely clothed women, such as those mentioned above, to images of young men being surrounded by beautiful women in a bar just for choosing a certain brand of beer. Why has sexuality been used so often in alcohol advertising, especially since it has little to do with the product (Reichert, 2003), and why was it introduced so early? There are several reasons, one of them being what the women in the images stood for. ³Alcohol advertisers wanted to associate their beverages with virility,´ and semi-nude women were the way to do that (Reichert, 2003). The advertisers of many beverages, including alcohol, wanted to give drinkers a boost ± in essence, the wanted to ³make them feel µrefreshed¶´ (Reichert, 2003). The advertisers¶ aim was a psychological one ± connect the boost men felt when they saw the image to the boost they would feel when they drank the beverage (Reichert, 2003). The consumers did feel a psychological boost when they looked at the images ± a sexual one. The physical sensations from both the sexual response from looking at provocative advertising and the jolt from the drink were similar: sweating, dilated pupils, and increased heartbeat rates (Reichert, 2003). ³Psychological responses to sexual images may have been attributed to the drink, which is not too different from the results of the conditioning process of Pavlov¶s dogs´ (Reichert, 2003). Thus, the encouraging sexual feelings men had upon viewing the ads were connected to the drinks, creating a positive association with the company. Research in psychology has shown that . . . emotion-evoking stimuli attract a person¶s attention. It has the same effect for
advertising. Provocative images and words are more likely to be noticed by a potential customer. Subsequently, the attention directed toward the ad may enhance the probability the ad¶s message is processed (Reichert, 2001).
For men, especially young men for whom sex is still new, sexual images are attractive (Reichert, 2001). ³Few things are better able to attract attention than a nude,´ and the intention was to connect the drink with a pleasing, attractive image (Reichert, 2003). The images of partially nude women were in style even in the 1800s (Reichert, 2003). Many of the earliest images contained women dressed in the Greco-Roman style (Reichert, 2003). Because they were portrayed ancient goddesses and mythological figures, it was considered acceptable (62), and nudes had been portrayed for centuries in fine art (Reichert, 2003). Nudes remain in alcohol advertisements today; they have not fallen out of fashion (Reichert, 2003). According to Jean Kilbourne (as cited in Reichert, 2001), ³When sex is a commodity, there is always a better deal.´ Sex sells, which means it¶s used to sell. ³Given the saturation and proliferation of commercial messages and ads in the media market, any edge an advertiser can use to grab customers¶ attention in the battle for dollars is considered´ (Reichert, 2001). The amount of sexuality in alcohol advertising can have a negative effect on women. Some scholars contend that ³men regard women primarily as sex objects; they are not interested in women as people´ (Wenner, 2009). Many believe the ads of mostly-naked women, many of whom are fawning over men because of the brand of alcohol the men are drinking, are sexist. A negative stereotype reinforced by the ads is that ³a primary trait or purpose of women is sexual attraction and sexual satisfaction (Reichert, 2001). They send the message that men are ³real
men´ if they get an attractive woman (Reichert, 2001). They also send a negative message to women and men about their behavior. The message being sent to women is this: ³You must look like this. You must act like this. You must dress like this. If you want to attract a man or achieve some level of rational µsuccess¶ with a man, you need to follow these rules.´ Similarly, an unspoken set of rules is provided to men: ³You need to look for women who look and behave like this´ (Reichert, 2001). Not many real women give lap dances while wearing nothing but a skimpy bikini bottom, like the woman in the Revelstone ad. The ads have a harmful impact on women, suggesting that their main importance is their bodies. ³As a whole, these ads devalue vital aspects of the female persona such as personality and intellect´ (Reichert, 2001). Many are concerned about the content of the advertising because of its wide-reaching effects. ³Given the power of advertising . . . to create and transmit cultural meaning, the presence of stereotypes which inaccurate, offensive, and confining is particularly troubling´ (Ferguson, 1990). The advertisements reach children at a young age, so as they grow, they are not only exposed to them continually, but influenced by them. ³Public health research has found that youth exposure to alcohol advertising increases awareness of that advertising, which in turn influence¶s young peoples¶ beliefs´ (National Council on Alcohol and Drug Depemdence, 2001). Because younger audiences are being exposed to sexual alcohol advertising at a young age, they form their conceptions of gender, both their own and the opposite, related to alcohol at a very young age. The negative stereotypes portrayed can influence their perceptions of gender relations. Alcohol advertising has contained sexuality for hundreds of years, and it is still prevalent today. Ads show everything from pretty women converging around a man drinking a certain brand of beer to nearly naked women giving sexual favors because of the alcohol. Though
measures have been taken to limit the sexuality in advertising, it continues. The sexuality and gender relations can create negative stereotypes and reinforcements that effect society, especially when younger audiences are exposed to the ads. The amount of alcohol ads containing seminude women and the pervasiveness throughout the past several decades in particular draws a good picture of the quantity of the advertising, making the depth of the social situation evident. However, sex sells, and has always worked well in alcohol advertisements. Because of this, alcohol advertisers are unlikely to stop using nudity and sexuality in the ads, despite the negative stereotypes and effect on society.
Ferguson, J. F., Kreshel, P. J., & Tinkham, S. F. (1990). In the pages of Ms.: sex role portrayals of women in advertising. Journal of Advertising, 19, 40-51. National Coumcil on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. (2001). Alcohol commercials are detrimental to society. In J. Carroll, Television opposing viewpoints (pp. 131-134). New York, NY: Greenhaven Press. Reichert, T. (2001). Advertisements rely on distorted depictions of sexuality. In L. K. Egendorf, Advertising opposing viewpoints (pp. 51-59). New York, NY: Greenhaven Press. Reichert, T. (2003). The erotic history of advertising. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. Wenner, L. A., & Jackson, S. J. (2009). Sport, beer, and gender. New York, NY: Peter Lang.