Does sex still “sell” in media?

In recent years, awareness of how women and men are portrayed in the media has risen. Supposedly media producers have started to market their products in a way that does not sexualize and aim toward women.

Advertisements included in the Dove Beauty Campaign support this claim. Two of the most popular videos, Choose Beautiful and Real Beauty Sketches, showcase women empowerment and a different way of advertising.

(Dove Beauty Campaign)

While this campaign aims to change the way media is produced and looked at, it seems as if some compainies and producers have yet to accept that sex does not sell anymore. And after a recent advertisment aired during the Super Bowl it seems as if they aren’t wrong.

If Carl’s Jr. would spend millions of dollars to air this commercial during the Super Bowl, then there must be some consumer appeal. Even with the beauty campaigns from several companies over the last few years, consumers are still being drawn in by sex appeal. But why?


It might boil down to the idea of hegemonic ideologies. These ideologies are ideas that give meaning to people and things. The hegemonic ideologies are also known as “common sense” ideologies. Many people would claim that these ideas are “just the way things are.”

The culture industry (includes fashion magazines, web, movies and other forms of media) tend to promote hegemonic ideologies to the audience so that the status quo is maintained. Sex appeal (both from women and men) could be considered a hegemonic ideology. It’s an easier attention grabber and makes companies money, therefore they’re willing to spend millions of dollars to reinforce the idea.

The Encoding and Decoding Model can help explain how audience members process the information shown in media. When media producers put information out into the world they are encoding. Media audiences decode (interpret) messages in ways that reflect their own contexts. Everything that a media consumer has experienced effects their interpretation of these different messages. The three types of decoding show how personal contexts play a role in decoding.

  1. Dominant-Hegemonic: Consumer accepts ideologies as natural; “makes sense”
  2. Oppositional: Consumer opposes the ideologies seen in the text
  3. Negotiated: Consumer has a mixed view

All of the companies with different types of beauty campaigns might be labeled as having oppositional or negotiated types of decoding sex appeal in media. So why are some consumers claiming sex appeal is so controversial and degrading, but then buying into it at the same time? The answer is hegemonic ideologies.

If people expect change, they must become aware of certain ideologies that have been around forever and really question how they decode as consumers. If more people have an oppositional or even negotiated view of sex appeal, there will be drastic change instead of just awareness.