Sex May Sell, but Some Say Ads Go too Far

Popular clothing manufacturer uses young, scantily clad models in its ads.

ByABC News
February 18, 2009, 1:22 PM

Oct. 26, 2007 — -- If there's one thing that every marketing and advertising pro retained from Business 101 class, it's that sex sells.

Dov Charney, CEO and founder of clothing manufacturer American Apparel, must have been taking notes that day.

Known for his anti-sweatshop, American-made brand, Charney is yet again getting heat for his provocative ad campaigns.

The ads are hard to miss, and even American Apparel makes it hard, dedicating an entire area of its Web site to a gallery of "Provocative Ads."

Most of the images feature scantily dressed young girls even some who are topless posed in positions that one can only assume they wouldn't want their grandmothers to see.

But one ad that has consumers and marketing experts doing double takes depicts a young woman one critic described her as "pre-pubescent" photographed from behind. Bent over, posterior in the air, long hair flowing, the girl is clad in American Apparel tights. Like many of her counterparts, she is young and topless.

The Lower Manhattan version of this ad was vandalized someone scrawled, "Gee, I wonder why women get raped," across the billboard. Eventually, the ad was dismantled and replaced with a more family-friendly company ad.

American Apparel would not speak with, but in past interviews with the media, Charney has stood behind his advertising techniques. He once told The New York Times that it was his way of recognizing "contemporary adult and sexual freedom."

While Charney may interpret his ads and billboards as smart marketing techniques, some say the images border on pedophilia and others even threaten to boycott the store altogether.

"The company has kind of built this reputation for advertising images using girls who look really young and are posing erotically," said Leslie Price, the editor of, one of the blogs that covered the reaction to the Manhattan ad. "People are increasingly becoming outraged at the imagery."