Abercrombie & Fitch no longer greets customers with half naked fitness models at its NYC store. Even American Apparel — the brand that successfully fetishized a 1970s Penthouse magazine vibe in its controversial R-rated ads — has dialed it back. Other brands that led with sex are following suit. Is the world getting prudish? Does this marketing shift from barely-safe-for-work to Diane Keaton-style modesty signal a sea change?
Business Insider says no. It’s just that brands need to stand out, and sex no longer does the trick. Even Howard Stern — who has made a career of standing out on the side of raunch — recently applauded Playboy‘s decision to stop publishing nude photos. (He always, apparently, got it for the articles.) Playboy‘s reason for leaving the nudity out was that sex is actually too pervasive — always just a “click away.” So it’s really impossible for a brand to stand out using sex as its message. Straight-up unvarnished half-naked imaging — American Apparel-style — may no longer drive sales, but sexy is always in style. It’s just that the idea of sexy is always in flux. It’s probably worth remembering that back when it was utterly scandalous for a woman to even expose an ankle, babies kept on coming.