This provocative advertisement was created for car manufacturing giant BMW in 2008 as part of their used-car marketing campaign. The image features an attractive, youthful female model with a seductive pout and reads “You know you’re not the first. But do you really care?”. The advert was withdrawn after an outbreak of fury among the public and vast amount of negative media attention surrounding the advertisement.
However, the ingredients that went into the creation of this advert suggest that it should have been a success rather than failure. Research by Smith and Engel (1968) investigated the impact of a physically attractive model in advertising on a person’s perception of automobiles. They found that participants rated the automobiles more highly dependent on the attractiveness of the model; rating the cars as more appealing, faster and of higher quality, among other positive attributes. Interestingly this effect was not just seen among men, but also women. When considering this research alone, it would be of no surprise that BMW chose to use 'sex appeal' to sell their cars.
The advertisement utilises a literary device as its only text content to persuade the viewer by asking a rhetorical question. Ahluwalia and Burnkrant (2004) proposed a model of the effects of rhetorical questions and suggested that they are successful in drawing attention to the source of a message, in this case, BMW’s used cars. This advertisement however assumes that men (the obvious primary target audience) would not refuse this woman’s irresistible sexual advances. The suggestive message behind the ad would undoubtedly be seen as offensive to many members of the general public, therefore it is not surprising that the ad sparked a large amount of controversy.
It could also be debated that the consistency rule is linked to this advertisement, making the audience consider buying a used car by implying that they would not be put off by a ‘used’ woman, as the ad denotes. General social influence research suggests that we strive to act in a consistent way as this is highly desirable in society. This research advocates that perhaps more people would buy BMW’s used cars as they desire their actions to be consistent with their beliefs, effectively attempting to draw a parallel between promiscuity with ‘used’ women and buying used cars. The consistency tool also works to increase familiarity, whereby many people viewing this ad will feel that they can relate to it, producing a more memorable advertisement and influencing people to buy the cars.
So how smart were BMW with producing such a shocking advertisement? Did they consider that this advertisement would effectively eliminate the majority of the female market due to such blatant sexism and degrading objectification of women? Or is this perhaps a clever marketing strategy using shock tactics to gain attention?
Ahluwalia, R. & Burnkrant, R. E. (2004). Persuasion knowledge perspective for understanding the effects of rhetorical questions. Journal of Consumer Research, 31, 26-42.
Smith, G. & Engel, R. (1968). Influence of a female model on perceived characteristics of an automobile. Proceedings of the 76th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, 3, 681-682.