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Sexy adverts - and not all in the best possible taste.

Sexy adverts - and not all in the best possible taste

Sex sells. If it didn't marketers wouldn't relentlessly be offering sexy images - sometimes innovative and downright inspired, sometimes crude and tacky - to sell their wares. Sometimes the advertisements are in extremely poor taste and bordering on the pornographic; sometimes the same advertisement can both shock and be denigrated as "filth" and also be admired for its clever idea and artistic composition.

Some advertisements are banned because of their sexual content, end up with a cult following on the internet and consequently provide the products with far more publicity than the marketing budgets could ever have afforded. Some are so vulgar and tasteless that they probably deserved to be banned and forgotten. Others are merely guilty of portraying a young beautiful woman (well, usually it's a woman), for example the Yves Saint Laurent advertisement for perfume, featuring model Sophie Dahl, which was banned after a thousand or so complaints about her nakedness.

One company which surely has a place in advertising's hall of fame is proud of the longevity of its marketing campaign of portraying beautiful naked young women. And what is sex selling in this instance? Perfume? Fashion? Well, not exactly. The suppliers of the iconic Pirelli calendar are trying to sell us tyres. And if sex works for a product as mundane as tyres don't blame any other company for also using that tried and trusted marketing. To say they're merely trying to sell tyres is perhaps being a little disingenuous. For the company also has its famous PZero clothing brand to rival Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Prada.

But are tyres mundane? Not if you ask the legions of followers of that sexy sport called Formula 1 motor racing. In the July 5th issue of Marketing Week, Michael Barnett says holding the right to supply all Formula 1 tyres puts Pirelli in pole position when it comes to brand profile. New tyres, he says, are far from cheap and usually only bought as a necessity, so the brands have to find ways of communicating their quality and heritage without focusing on the buying process.

According to Pirelli brand and communications director Andrea Imperiali, F1 is "the most effective platform in terms of visibility in the market". It is particularly good at creating interest and awareness because the tyres are responsible for "delivering most of the unpredictability and excitement in the sport".

But back to the sex. The company's erotic calendar has been in production since 1964 with world-famous fashion photographers and some of the world's best-known models. While some people might object to, and others ogle at, pictures of beautiful unclothed women, how are consumers supposed to react to naked farmers frolicking in the fields? That's a question for the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) after 350 complaints about bare bottoms in a television commercial for Kerry Foods' Richmond Ham.

In the same issue of Marketing Week, Lucy Handley says fashion houses have long used sexually provocative adverts to sell clothes, with the likes of American Apparel well known for their risqué images. But a wave of campaigns from some rather more unlikely hell-raisers are using bare flesh and innuendo to sell their products, Richmond Ham being just one.

It can be difficult for brands to predict how consumers are going to react to their campaigns. Lucy Handley says: "The ad for Richmond Ham featuring naked people on a farm, and showing a bare bum, has been edited by owner Kerry Foods to cover up the offending part after complaints were made." But the ad wasn't meant to be edgy, says April Redmond, chief marketing officer at Kerry Foods. "The advert was designed to convey our core message about 100 per cent natural ingredients in a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek manner, using the tagline 'as nature intended'. The decision to use nakedness in the ad was wholeheartedly innocent - after all, Richmond is a family brand."

The ASA says that just because it is investigating doesn't mean there is anything wrong with the advertisement, stressing that the regulator looks at advertising partly in relation to the "prevailing standards in society".

What's the betting that sex, in advertising as elsewhere, will prevail?