Sex Sells: Provocative Advertorials Pt 2 – by Almaz Ohene

Sex is considered one of the most powerful tools in advertising.

In contemporary consumer culture sex is present in mainstream promotional messages for a wide range of branded goods.

The use of increasingly explicit sexual imagery in the advertisement of luxury fashion brands has become almost common place. Here’s a look at some o the more outrageous campaigns since the year 2000.



Tom Ford’s advertising campaign for the YvesSaint Laurent fragrance Opium was, at the time, the most complained about advert in the Advertising Standards Agency’s (ASA) history. Sophie Dahl was painted white, wearing nothing but jewellery and stilettos and sprawled in a sexually suggestive post. The notorious Steven Meisel shot the racy campaign and it was featured in magazines and on billboards across the globe. The billboards were taken down after excessive complaints.



Sisley, a Bennetton Group Company always manages to create a hype with their provocative adverts. In 2001 this one encounters a vocal opposition to the suggestive white liquid falling on the model’s face. The window of the Sisley store on Kensington High Street, London, featured an 8ft image of the models and her lactating farmyard friend. The ASA has yet to receive a complaint.




Tom Ford’s Gucci ad (2003), showed model Carmen Kass seductively lowering her underwear revealing her pubic hair, which are shaven into the trademark ‘G’ for Gucci and a man at her feet gazing at her vagina.

This ad did not generate much controversy, since it was placed only in four avant-garde fashion magazines, including Vogue, which itself received four written and three telephone complaints.



In 2007 Tom Ford Beauty escaped censure by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)  over its men’s fragrance ad, which positions a bottle of perfume between a naked woman’s legs. The ad, which appeared in GQ and Wallpaper magazines, received two complaints. Tom Ford Beauty argued that the highly stylised creative treatment gave the ad an artistic quality, not a salacious one.

The ASA did not uphold the complaints because it considered that, although the image could be seen as provocative, it was in keeping with the style and content of the magazines it appeared in, and because of the specific context it was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence to readers of those magazines.



Dolce and Gabbana sparked controversy in 2007 as a print ad showing a woman pinned to the ground by her wrists by a bare-chested man, with other men in the background looking on. The suggestion was gang rape. This was banned from Italian publications. When the ad was also pulled in Spain Dolce and Gabbana labelled the country ‘a bit backward’.




Calvin Klein’s Sping/Summer 09 ad campaign shot by Steven Meisel pushed most people’s buttons and ended up being banned in the United States. The ad featured models seemingly in the middle of group sex. Their commercials and print ads were instantly banned.





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