'Gossip Girl' and Others Branding Sex in Ads

While he does not believe the American Apparel advertisements are "groundbreaking," Advertising Age magazine editor-at large Matthew Creamer said Charney's team develops consistent ads that "telegraph the brand." American Apparel now does all of its advertising development in-house.

"They've created a really consistent campaign that you can sort of see from a mile away," he said. "You always know when you're looking at an American Apparel ad, aside from the kind of homage to pornography that's going on."

Klein attributed the success of Charney's sexually explicit ads to the climate of the youth market. "All the rules are being broken," he said.

"The market segment to which his ads appeal has lost all sense," Klein said. "All morality, all the good taste, all the propriety is gone."

Klein called the ads a reflection of American Apparel's target audience.

"I don't think we can really blame Dov -- he's an opportunist," he said.

Despite the overall trend of hyper-sexuality in advertising, Perle said adults and children alike should question American Apparel's lewd campaigns.

"What's one to do when they see an ad for American Apparel who would make Lolita look like she could apply for Social Security?" Perle said.

American Apparel did not return numerous calls for comment.

Cutting Through the Advertising Noise

Though BMW's target market -- older, affluent and conservative -- might skew differently than that of a brand like American Apparel, Creamer said, brazen sexuality serves to draw younger customers into the fold and stimulate older customers.

Creamer attributed the BMW ad's racy message to the character of the company's international market.

"The standards are sort of different," he said. "Definitely in London and in the UK the standards are more lenient, and sort of risky advertising is expected, I think. You wouldn't see something like that from BMW in the U.S."

Even established companies have to make a name for themselves in a crowded marketplace, where consumers can be overwhelmed by the volume of advertising they encounter every day.

"A lot of times the controversy at work is kind of needed to cut through all the noise that's out there and get people to pay attention to the brand," Creamer said. "It's a tradeoff that's worth making."

BMW representatives could not be reached for comment.

'Promoting a Lifestyle'

John Chapin, an associate professor of communications at Penn State University, said he has witnessed how shows like "Gossip Girl" shape youth behavior. The show's inherent "cool factor" makes teens want to mimic the behavior of the show's characters, from the clothing they wear to the purses they carry, he said.

"I think the biggest concern from my perspective isn't necessarily the products, it's more the lifestyle," Chapin said. "It's promoting a lifestyle and making something more glamorous."

Chapin, who has researched teenagers and their responses to public health messages, said ads for "Gossip Girl" have blurred the lines of what teenagers believe to be appropriate behaviors.

A statement from the CW, which broadcasts the show, asserted the network's commitment to connecting with young viewers through a noticeable campaign.

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