if ‘sex sells’, why should advertisers avoid the sexual objectification of women?

In 2017, this Ultra Tune advertisement was aired Australia-wide. It racked up no less than 357 complaints, one of which described it as a “disgusting portrayal of women pandering to a supposed male sexual fantasy about dumb sexy women having a water fight.”

The advertisement was found by the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) not to contravene the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) code of ethics. This is in spite of its clear violation of section 2.4 of the code which prohibits images which are “highly sexually suggestive and inappropriate for the relevant audience… [and] not relevant to the product or service being advertised.”

The Ultra Tune ad particularly emphasises the women’s jiggling buttocks and wet shirts.

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These elements, amongst others, strip the women of humanising traits until their only defining feature is their sex appeal, conflating them with objects. An act which is both degrading and exploitive. It is the textbook definition of sexual objectification.

In response to backlash about the depictions, Ultra Tune CEO Sean Buckley commented that, “Women can jump up and down all they want but they’re not our target audience”. He notes that, “the ads work brilliantly” for their target market consisting of “95%” men who he claims “make the automotive decisions”.

What key issues need to be considered?

What Buckley fails to realise is that in being so successful with using sex to sell his company’s services, he is fortifying many social and psychological problems now ingrained in our society.


Advertisements such as the one from Ultra Tune, relentlessly propagate and normalise the notion that women are in real life what these images portray—sexual and superficial objects which exist for the pleasure of being seen and not heard; that women’s prime and only purpose is as a tool for male arousal.

Women consequently feel pressured to find validation and respect by trying to fulfil these unrealistic sexual and bodily standards.

Women’s Health West remarks that failing in this pursuit often leads to women having a “negative body image” which “can have serious implications for women and girl’s physical and psychological health status, as it is associated with the development of eating disorders, depression, self-harm and suicide.”

It should be noted that in 2018, one year after the release of the Ultra Tune advertisement, the AANA code was updated to specifically restrict the objectification of people. In essence, the portrayal of “sexual appeal which is exploitive and degrading” in advertisements now comes with greater risk for advertisers.

What are the implications for practitioners?

Its a situation of being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Advertisers need to weigh up their social responsibility with their responsibility to do their job effectively. They must ask themselves if there is a better, more empowering way in which they could sell their product. A way which would benefit both their work and society equally.

It is important for advertisers to consider that empowerment sells quite well. Adweek conducted a study in which it was found that, “Women ages 18 to 34 are twice as likely to think highly of a brand that made an empowering ad…” It is likely that these favourable thoughts were converted into a multitude of profitable purchases as Forbes asserts positive perception gives brands an edge in the market.

Who wouldn’t feel good about a brand after watching something like this? >>

In an ideal world, advertisers would empower as much as they objectify women in real life. Sadly, given the nature of business, the most universally important answer to the question, ‘If ‘sex sells’, why should advertisers avoid the sexual objectification of women?’ is: ‘because of the new risk—resultant from the updated AANA code—now involved in presenting objectified images in advertising… and perhaps because of a little guilt.’

If you’re an advertiser and you want to avoid the depiction of sexual objectification then you should consider this checklist written by Brian Niselin, and consider it carefully…

…because if you’re not a ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’ type of person then hopefully you at least have a ‘try not to f*ck everything up’ kind of philosophy.

A New Reality


Find my .gif on Giphy

Academics like Henry Jenkins tend to highlight the logistical elements of transmedia narratives. Generally, this includes things like “creating different points of entry for different audience segments” and the creation of “complex fictional worlds which can sustain multiple interrelated characters and their stories”. Admittedly, many popular franchises come to mind when I think of this, but the one that stays with me is The Walking Dead. Made up of an unending series of comics, two television series, multiple ‘Tell Tale’ video games, and some more unorthodox media formats, Robert Kirkman’s world of the undead has become a great success.

In considering all these elements, the one thing that strikes me most about transmedia storytelling is its propensity to submerge its audiences into a new reality. By propagating many stories from the one world across multiple channels, a filter bubble is created in which what we perceive to be real is altered. In my remediation I wanted to capture this unnerving side of transmedia narratives whilst enmeshed with the typical aspects I mentioned earlier. I wanted to help people realise how chilling it is to truly see and think about the world in a way that is altered by the unreal.

Thats not to say transmedia narratives are bad, I just think we need to consider how they truly affect us.

The Game of Thrones Experience

Seven seasons, totalling sixty-three and a half hours of screen time, across six days. The numeric summary of my Game of Thrones (GOT) experience. (At least the first time I watched it)

What these numbers do not show, is my emotional investment in the story: how I cheered for my favourite characters, cried when they died, and cheered again when vengeance delivered poison to the cup of those responsible (or a knife to the gut, sword through the neck, or dragon-fire… everywhere).


My experience was one of utter enthral-ment and addiction. And when it was over, I felt like something was missing; like my life was lacking the magic and wonder in which I had been enveloped for the past week.

Though this may sound negative, it is a symptom of a greater positive; being that I got to enjoy feeling a vast range of emotions (from joy to grief to anger, and beyond) unattached to real-world consequence; and that I got to enjoy living in a world where fantasy is reality and the impossible is tangible.

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As a consequence of watching every single episode by myself, I was liberated to experience all these enjoyable things without fear of being judged (for crying or mutely screaming), and without fear of disrupting others. In short, it permitted me an unadulterated cinematic experience.

This was especially useful as it let me better understand the nuances of the plot, thus enriching my overall experience as an audience member.

Though I was just one person, sitting in a bedroom, with a computer on her lap, navigating the pop-up ad minefield that is Putlocker, I was connecting myself to a larger media audience. A media audience that has totalled at least 16 million people. Thats 16 million people who have cheered on the same characters as me; 16 million people who have cried at the same deaths as me; and 16 million people who share one common experience with me; all as active members of the GOT audience.

It’s easy to feel connected to them. The saturation of social media fan writers makes it feel that though the episodes are over, GOT is everywhere. Some may see this as a good thing, but to me, (unpopular opinion alert) when stories are taken by those who aren’t the original creators, and made into something else (like a fanfic), the original character, event or message is distorted. Oftentimes I read them and feel as though I am witnessing imposters, poorly masquerading as a story which I love, leaving me with a bitter aftertaste.

GOT 3 You Know Nothing


There are other aspects to this which I do enjoy. The sense of community which arises from having a passion in common with a newly met stranger is heartwarming. As is the sense of community I find when watching reaction videos on YouTube (my favourite being the Burlington Bar series.

One other great thing about social media is that you, the reader, are able to respond to this blog post. You can comment down below or on Twitter, and expand on both our experiences being an active part of the GOT media audience. Whether you share your favourite GOT moments, or your predictions for what happens next season, I’m keen to read it.