Eroticism in Advertising

By Charles Moffat - 2008.

We all know sex sells, but how far will people go to sell a product? In some cases its more like pornography and I will give you an example.

When I was 18 years old I worked in a welding shop building grain buggies and snowblowers and as typical of such a blue collar workplace the men working there had pinups posted on the walls. One of the pinups was of a rather busty blonde of Playboy proportions, full frontal nude, holding a pair of ball bearings. The caption said "If you think your balls are hard, try our cast-iron ball bearings."

The photo was evidently pornographic and wouldn't be acceptable in a trade magazine and if there were women working in the welding shop in question they likely would have found the image offensive. The point I am making is that there is degrees of acceptability.

Erotica is more acceptable than porn, and thus in advertising erotica is more likely to be used. In the examples on this page I've used shoe polish ads from the 1950s/60s.

The thing is eroticism can be used to promote practically anything, including religion. There are quite a few erotic nudes in the history of Christian Art.


Albrecht Durer - Adam and Eve - 1507
Cima de Condegliano - St. Helena - 1495
Gustave Moreau - Salome - 1876
Karl Brulloff - Bathsheba - 1832
Rubens - Samson and Delilah - 1609
Guido Reni - Susanna and the Elders - 1620-25

Eroticism can also be found in war propaganda,
fantasy and science fiction, romance novels and a variety of other venues. These are typical, but its the unusual choices that spark controversy. The fashion industry, especially brand names, likes to use eroticism in their advertising to shock the public like the Dolce & Gabbana ad below.

Evidently some companies will go very far to get your attention. If the Catholic Church ever starts making advertising campaigns using racy images in hopes of boosting their popularity we will have come full circle.

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