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Is there anything that sex doesn't sell?

Sunday, August 15, 1999

By Barbara Cloud, Post-Gazette Columnist

We all know commercials take up a great deal of air time on radio and television.

It's the latter that concerns me because I'm noticing a trend. Maybe if I worked on Madison Avenue and it was my job to sell products, I'd resort to whatever worked best. Of course I would.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out sex sells.

This is not a new observation. It is a truth we recognize, whether we are in the advertising business or a consumer being targeted with sexy ads.

Humor works, too. Cartoon characters like Tony the Tiger work. And the subtle realities of life work, as in the ad for a beer that has a man waiting for his wife in a dress department, and then he's wooed to a rack wherein there are several other guys watching a sports event on TV. That's fun.

Touching commercials work as well. Who can forget the Indian with the tear on his cheek as he observes humanity botching up the environment with its trash in lakes and streams and mountainsides?

When you are selling Victoria's Secret push-up bras and lace panties, erotic teases make some sense.

When you are trying to create a mood that will arouse romance when you wear a particular perfume, yes, the ad copy can be dripping with sexy innuendo, seductive lighting, beautiful people, half dressed or dressed to kill.

Sometimes sexy scenes and dialogue are appropriate for a product; sometimes they aren't.

Here's where I see a trend, finding the ridiculous in the sublime.

The ads for Herbal Essence shampoo and conditioner rival the infamous scene from "When Harry Met Sally," in which Meg Ryan feigns orgasm while in a restaurant with Billy Crystal.

That's where just washing your hair will take you, if you are to believe the ads for that shampoo.

Subsequent ads have women turning down dates because "I have to wash my hair tonight," indicating the experience of washing their hair is even better than a date.

Shampoo is a beauty product more or less, so it has some credibility in pushing the envelope in a sexy way.

Here, finally, is my point. Madison Avenue has decided sex sells everything. Now they've reached into the fridge, and food products are getting the sexy treatment.

Just using Barry White's incredibly deep voice as the voice of a faux bunny selling us Good Seasons salad dressing is a sexy come-on. Do I imagine that?

Isn't the woman's teasing and seductive voice on Country Crock commercials telling you they will be heading for the bedroom right after they butter their rolls?

How about Sara Lee Cheesecake, now pushing the romantically packaged two servings for a couple devouring it while devouring each other with their eyes?

Need more? It gets better. Or maybe worse.

They now sell pizza from a vending machine as the couple exchange come-ons and flirtatious glances while the pizza slices -- and the couple -- heat up.

The looks are the key. They say: Eat this pizza, and you'll score. It will be so delicious, and the rest of the evening will be, too.

But even though I find these images interesting, the most far-fetched is the one for Uncle Ben's latest concoction, called Bowl of Rice, ready in minutes in a microwave.

Obviously, if you are to believe this ad, rice in a bowl will be the aphrodisiac you have always dreamed of, and more.

The couple salivates (for the meal of course) with looks and body language better suited for "Boogie Nights." Uncle Ben winks his eye with "satisfy your appetite."

Ever since the eating scene in "Tom Jones," we have equated food with sexual pleasure. That movie was followed by others in which eating and the pleasure it gives us is equated to the thrill of romance and eroticism.

Yummy takes on a new meaning.

Each is a feast. There seems to be no famine on Madison Avenue.

We're always hungry for more.

Did you ever think "pass the gravy" could become a turn-on?

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