Next time you cross paths with a bus shelter, or a TV, or a Goodyear blimp or whatever, you’ll probably see an ad of some kind. It could be an ad for chewing gum, for example. Back in the day, advertisers used to get people excited about chewing gum by showing alpine skiers doing sweet jumps and chewing gum, or by showing hot babes in bikinis popping sticks in their mouths (sic) as waterskiers performed sweet jumps. At a certain point, though, the industry decided that even more than jumping hot babes, what the public really crave is cool breath. Chewing gum companies now focus their efforts on convincing the savvy modern gum consumer that their products will produce a greater degree of breath coolness than the competition. This phenomenon has exploded to the degree that the average adult North American today has been exposed to over 800 thousand hours of advertising that employs shocking, vivid imagery to dramatize the sensation of profound coolness of breath that various chewing gum brands promise to deliver.
To the layperson, the mysterious thing about this trend is that it’s not at all clear that this is what the public really wants. Do we really have such a pathological craving for cool breath that we would merrily chew a liquid helium-infused gum that instantly shatters our teeth, dangerously embrittles our mandibles, irreparably damages the delicate tissues of our pharynxes and gastrointestinal tracts, destroys our careers, and tears our families apart? The answer is of course yes, the advertisers are well aware that this is what we want. It’s their job, after all, to know our deepest, darkest desires and fears, and to use that knowledge to push our buttons, pull our strings, and tenderly, fervently twiddle our knobs until we rise up adamantly and thrust our way forward into the tight, moist, quivering folds of the marketplace to purchase gum or other products.
Sex sells, as they say. It’s long been one of the advertiser’s favourite techniques to use a (metaphorical) turkey baster to coat the wares on display with various glistening erotic juices. At first, in more innocent times, the tone tended to be a bit understated. It was enough to show an elegant woman with sleek Jazz Age proportions on a tasteful Art Deco poster, for example. The imagery might seem subtle and quaint to modern eyes, but for the contemporary viewer, it sent an unmistakable signal that to purchase the product would confer entry to untold realms of sybaritic pleasure. As the decades passed, the public became accustomed to such once-racy images and advertisers had to up the ante. Swimsuit-clad women adorned the hoods of automobiles in magazine ads, with the clear implication that when you proudly drove your new car off the lot, a bikini-clad beauty would be hanging precariously and desperately onto the hood of that very car until you arrived at your destination, at which point the two of you would engage in vigorous coitus. But the modern consumer is savvier and more jaded than ever. Nobody’s going to fall for that kind of thing nowadays, and some attractive person wearing a swimsuit on a billboard isn’t going to garner much more than a yawn anyway. Advertisers have tried to stay ahead of the game, always upping the ante, deploying more risqué imagery, exploiting the previously neglected potential of the male form to seduce consumers. But at a certain point, it seems you can’t push sex in advertising much further. So while advertisers haven’t backed away from using sex to sell, they’ve also aimed for greater heights of sophistication, self-consciously indulging in a bit of light self-mockery here and there since, they assure the viewer, you’re far too astute to be manipulated, even by the advertising industry’s most advanced trickery, so let’s just have a bit of fun with this together.
It might seem that advertisers have played out all their cards, but in fact, they’ve just temporarily lost their way. The naïve consumer of yesteryear might have been hypnotized into thinking that the tasty morsel that accompanied the product in the ad would somehow also accompany their purchase, but bitter experience after bitter experience eventually broke the illusion. As advertisers have now learned, their lies eventually come back to haunt them, and trust, once broken, is hard to repair. But the future will bring healing, in a perhaps unexpected way. Advertisers will no longer pimp out imaginary beauties to gullible buyers, vaguely insinuating that purchasing the product will bestow upon them sexual attractiveness and romantic success. There will be no more such nebulous deceptions. Truth in advertising will reign. For example, in the future an advertiser will explicitly promise, in a binding contract, to personally perform oral sex on you if you purchase an Apple product or a box of Kellogg’s cereal. It will be a win-win situation for advertiser, consumer, and manufacturer.