Sex and Violence in Advertising – A Mainstream Phenomena

From Dolce & Gabbana to Louis Vuitton, Luciano Carvari and Jimmy Choo, the mainstream media is flooded with images that portray sexual violence against men and women in a way that prompts critical discussion. Fashion companies in particular use a lot of erotic imagery to push their products on the market, but when the erotic is supported by insinuated violence, the ads have a deeper effect then intended. Certainly, none of the companies mentioned above endorse violence publicly in company literature, or press communique, but their ads speak a different language and reveal an unexpected portrait of the market they target. Are these companies targeting their product to rapists and sadists? Is the public that receives these advertisements and purchases these products a violent mass?

Violence against men and women in Dolce & Gabbana ads.

With Dolce & Gabbana’s ads, violence against men and women becomes a luxury element, a glamor feature that unfortunately condones violent attitudes and behavior. Regardless of the artistic value of the images above, both portray rape, gang-banging or perhaps a voluntary act that translates Dolce & Gabbana’s core value as a company that sells fashion for people with unusual sexual preferences. “Sexy” is not enough to sell, apparently, Dolce & Gabbana has to add power to the equation, and a possible innuendo to the victims: you will be raped, but at least you’ll be wearing good looking apparel when that happens.

Jimmy Choo toned down the violence displayed in ads throughout 2007 (left), but the sexual innuendos associated with power and violence are still there: black latex, “domina” outfits, sharp stilettos.

Jimmy Choo ads, condoning violence.

Louis Vuitton exposes a trashy style, somehow vulnerable, a woman “target.” Sensual as they may be, these ads portray sexually objectified women.

Louis Vuitton ads, portraying sexually objectified women.

The most shocking images however come from Luciano Carvari’s Ukraine launch.

Luciano Carvari footwear, racy, violent ads.

Apparently all these companies consider violence and humiliation “sexy.” They transform these into “art” that shocks the public opinion, pushing the brands in front of the media for values that should probably not be promoted:

“When violence is used to sell a product, it does not just sell the product; it condones violent attitudes and behavior and contributes to exaggerated fears of violence among those encouraged to see themselves as its potential victims.” – Dr. C. Kay Weaver

Many of the images featured here are old, their message has already been dissected by the media, but the visual pollution doesn’t seem to stop. How effective are such commercials, and more importantly, do you feel inspired to buy?

Feature photo: Ad by the Tamayo Museum of Contemporary Art, Mexico.


  1. Tommaso Marchi says

    Maybe violence is cool…maybe I will buy your f****ng shoes man ((OOOOH YEAH!!!)…but what about if everybody is starting to be cool…really violent, really fast and furious?
    …what about, if Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana could find on the streets of Milano some neo-fascist showing them what do they think about their sexual habits?
    terror, frustration, danger OOOHHH YES THAT’s THE WORLD THAT I LIKE!!!

    They should be aware that in this period of “no money”, evaluating violence as a cool thing, can be really dangerous… they should be much more aware that the other people ARE REAL and they can behave in a REAL WAY

    They should be aware that there is a huge REAL WORLD watching their stupid vitiated old games.

    We need some new values, we need something clean: we are too many, we cannot be vitiated.
    WE ARE IN THE 21th CENTURY!!!!

  2. Dave Holt says

    If sex and violence are done right then I’m cool with it. The problem is Hollywood and the big ad agencies do it because it sells and they have no creativity. They could learn much from Japan and Europe. Go classy with it or way over the top. I mean, blow job ads for hamburgers. Have these people lost their minds. I’m making a sexy and violent viral video later this year that will demonstrate what I’m talking about.

    Dave Holt Just getting started baby…

    • Phil Butler says

      Send it to us Dave. Like anything else, art can be construed in many ways. I am not sure beheading people on video and such could be condoned as art, but given the trend, maybe.


  3. Sheila says

    With how I see things, The prevalence of sex and violence in the advertising field today is almost unavoidable. There are some commercials/ads that shows violence have turned the rating system into an advertising advantage too.

  4. says

    Oh and there’s this too.
    Emmanuella Plakoyiannaki, Yorgos Zotos writing in The European Journal of Marketing November 2009 Volume:43 Issue:11/12

    Findings – The study indicates that women in UK magazine advertisements are mainly portrayed in decorative roles; and that female role stereotypes vary significantly across magazine types. The findings also suggest that there is an association between product categories and female role stereotypes.

    Practical implications – The study highlights the need for the advertising industry in the UK to adjust its communication practices to the changing role of women in society.

    Female role stereotypes in print advertising: Identifying associations with magazine and product categories<

  5. says

    Isn’t advertising supposed to be about communicating benefits? These creations are the result of a lazy imagination and an over inflated self indulgent creative ego that mistakenly believes that ‘salience’is the main purpose of creative communication. There is also a skewed rationalisation at work here based on the idea that ‘sex sells’. OK so hinting that getting together with a member of the opposite sex will tap into a fundamental human desire to ‘pass our genes on’, but the these adverts clearly convey that process in ‘functional’ and violent terms.

    What are these adverts really communicating about the organisation? Does Jimmy Choo care that it is evidently an organisation that sanctions the denegration of the people who work for it, that lazy thinking is de rigeur, that having no care for the feelings and sensitivities of others is OK,that the type of people who will get on in the organisation are self obsessed narcissists who believe that their tawdry world view is ‘art’, cutting edge, and held by alot of people. And no…I’m not a reactionary middle aged Daily Mail reader just a marketing professional that is puzzled by the commercial relevance of this type of communciation. How does it enhance Brand Equity? How does it perssuade people to buy the product? How does it reinforce or grow market share? How does it develop the Brand Community?

    Does Jimmy Choo care that it altercasting its customers as obsessive socio-paths? Hmmm ‘I’m wearing JCs tonight and YOU are my instant gratification target’

    So…what is the compelling value proposition for buying a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes then? Oh…maybe there isn’t one!

  6. Rev. Foley says

    Sex, violence, humiliation, degradation, interracial relationships?

    These are a few of my favourite things!

  7. Mihaela Lica says

    Right Tonya. I wonder what they were actually hoping to achieve, aside the shocking factor. Obviously Dolce & Gabanna is endorsed by many media entities and also by the entertainment industry (if I remember correctly there was a whole Sex and the City episode revolving around the brand), but none of these endorsements appear to approve of the “sex and violence” approach. So what are these people thinking? There is one thing to create a beautiful, sensual ad, and a completely different story to push on the market a campaign that is better fit for

  8. says

    I agree,the luxury brand always had a “special ” way to advertise, but it seems like it’s more tasteless then considered art. One thing these ads have accomplished is getting the conversation started between consumers…ie us. :)

  9. Mihaela Lica says

    Hi Tonya – some of these are from 2006-2007 – the economy was not so bad back then. I think the luxury brands have always had a “special” way to advertise… Or we just don’t understand art. ;)

  10. says

    I agree with Laura. Because the downward economy, people aren’t spending their money on luxury BRANDS so these shocking ads are a ploy to capture our attention, but unfortunately it doesn’t give us the emotional need to buy it.

  11. Mihaela Lica says

    Uhm, nope, I am not seeing anything for the first time, Shane, I think you didn’t read the article. The question was: do they inspire you to buy? Obviously not, as you already admitted. So what’s the point? Visual poignancy for your personal entertainment? I understand…

    So you think it’s all right to be bombarded with “vulgarity, obscenity, poverty, and agony” – you think we should turn a blind eye and stop caring. We should not discuss about these things, because they are part of life and our children should be exposed to them every day… So my question is: what are your values? What do YOU care about, and what would you consider worthy of a discussion?

  12. Shane Gordon says

    I personally think these look awesome. I particularly liked the one with the heart exploding out of a woman’s chest; it contains a visual poignancy that I’ve never seen before in advertising.

    Will it get me to buy their products? Not really, unless they’re selling something I wanted to buy anyways (video game consoles, electronic consumer gadgets, clothing, food, movies, cars, sexual fetish-wear, etc.)

    But the real meat of the question is this: why do people care so much anymore? We’re bombarded daily in a society drenched in vulgarity, obscenity, poverty, and agony. You act as if it’s something new, but the fact is you’re only seeing it for the first time. If you’d like to live in that padded-cell world where you have to cover your ears every time someone says a naughty-naughty swear word, I’m convinced that it’s possibly best for you to refrain from going outside anymore.

  13. says

    No. These images don’t make me interested in buying.

    I can only imagine that they are put out there for sheer shock value or possibly to make a product seem edgy.

    Sadly, sex and violence do seem to attract a lot of attention whether it is on Madison Avenue or in Hollywood.

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