Are Overly Sexy Ads Actually Killing Your Brand?

Are Overly Sexy Ads Actually Killing Your Brand?

When brands – particularly fashion ones – go for the overt raunch factor it may actually be doing more harm than good a new study has revealed.

B&T Magazine
Posted by B&T Magazine

That’s the view of a new report published in the Journal Of Global Fashion Marketing that examined customer’s reactions to two brands with overt sexual messages – American Apparel and Dolce & Gabbana.

Instead of being a turn-on, the study found that many consumers thought the American Apparel ads a distinct turn-off. The youth retailer has often gone for campaigns that many complaint drift towards ‘kiddy porn‘.


Facebook users regularly posted negative comments about the ads, using words like ‘cheap’, ‘sleazy’ and ‘objectifying’. They also expressed concern about the effect such images might have on young people. In addition, many potential customers thought American Apparels’s approach to advertising ‘boring’; others stated they were unlikely to buy the company’s clothing because they didn’t want to be associated with a ‘trashy’ brand.


Although, it should be added that American Apparel – who have Australian outlets in most capital cities – have attempted to tone down the sleaze with the arrival of new CEO Paula Schnieder last year.

“It seems that American Apparel’s method is suboptimal in appealing to consumers to ultimately enhance brand loyalty and increase profitability,” the authors concluded.

By way of comparison, consumers did not seem to object in the same way to Dolce & Gabbana’s continued portrayal of women as equally sexually objectified “sexy housewives”.


“American Apparel’s sexual objectification appears to be much more risky and dangerous than D&G’s stereotyped gender roles and objectification of women,” researchers concluded.

So what next for the troubled American youth fashion brand, whose stock price has recently plummeted? The researchers suggest that the time may now have come for American Apparel to change tactics. They recommend that it drop the sexualised ads in favour of promoting their clothes in a non-sexualised way or by focusing on the company’s popular and well-regarded ‘Made in America’ and ‘sweatshop-free’ ethical claims.

“Considering the brand’s financial struggles and media criticism, it would seem to be wise for American Apparel to cease its inappropriate marketing campaigns and focus on ethical marketing claims. It is perhaps time for the company to consider its social responsibility role from both an ideological and a utilitarian ethical viewpoint in order to balance corporate social responsibility and profitability.”

This article is a fascinating insight into what appears to be a clear disconnect between a company’s marketing approach and the views of a large part of its target market. It’s also a reminder of how women’s bodies continue to be objectified in the media in the name of increasing sales – but perhaps not for much longer in the case of American Apparel.

This article was supplied to B&T by the Taylor & Francis Group that supplies research from scholarly societies, universities and libraries globally.