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By Karla R.

Advertisements are a part of daily life. As such, they are designed to change the way you think in order to make you want what they‘re selling.  Using women and sexuality in order to sell everyday products was advertising game-changer. An objectified woman in an advertisement appeals to both sexes: women desire to be like the women in ads, while men seek the real-life equivalent. But the result is that both sexes are ultimately disappointed, and sexism reinforced. The ideas of Sigmund Freud made all such advertising possible, being that they were the first to scientifically look at the “subconscious” mind. Then it was Edward Bernays, a relative of Freud’s, who took the idea of the subconscious and applied it to advertising and propaganda.

Before Freud, the idea of a human "subconscious" was an ambiguous generalization. Freud introduced the idea that the unconscious was universal, and that it universally influenced people's thoughts and actions, with or without their conscious knowledge.  With psychotherapy, Freud wanted to find alternative ways to express the desires of the subconscious, and thereby mitigate or control their often-negative effects.  But Freud’s idea's also opened the door to those in the business of influence, providing propagandists with a new and ultimately effective way to sell ideas and things.  Like an ironic plot, it was a member of Freud’s family who pioneered these selling techniques; his double-nephew Edward Bernays brought the subconscious into advertising.  As this quote from NPR states, "The way this (Freud’s) idea transformed public relations is a lesson in unintended consequences.  Prior to Freud and his nephew, publicity was all about emulating journalism, but after Freud and Bernays, the goal shifted from rational appeals, to the stimulation of visceral impulse." (Spiegel) Bernays was then the first to think to connect a product or idea with an underlying desire in the subconscious.  This opened the door to a consumption-based economy.  "Any community that lives on staples has relatively few wants. The community that can be trained to desire to want new things even before the old have been entirely consumed yields a market to be measured more by desires than by needs. And man's desires can be developed so that they will greatly overshadow his needs. Human nature very conveniently presents a variety of strings upon which an appreciative sales manager can play fortissimo." (Mazur) Of all the underlying desires, an appeal to sex is probably the most potent.  And as media has come to play larger and larger roles in people's lives, the opportunities for catering to underlying sexual desire have grown exponentially.  These ideas are the foundation of how advertisement functions today. Sexuality is used in advertisements to sell a product, and it works so well in that role that the products themselves don’t have to have anything to do with sex.   Sex sells baking soda just as well as it sells underwear.    

Work Cited

Thompson, Derek. "Are TV Ads Getting More Sexist?" The Atlantic. Edge Cast Networks, 31 Oct.2011. Web. 09 June 2013.

Adams, Tim. "How Freud Got under Our Skin." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 09 Mar. 2002. Web. 09 June 2013. <>.

Mazur, Paul. "New Markets a Permanent Need." Challenge (1955): 43-46. Web. 9 June 2013.

Spiegel, Alix. "1950: Science's Miracle Year." Freud's Nephew and the Origins of Public Relations. NPR. 22 Apr. 2005. Radio.

Jacobsen, Michael. "Sexism and Sexuality in Advertising." Westview Press [Boulder, Colorado] 4 Feb. 1995: 74-87. Print.