The meaning might look obvious but I'm asking in a broader sense.

Is it only pertaining to sex in advertising and is it only related to selling products?

What is the origin of this phrase? When did it go beyond advertisement industry?

Did it gain a broader definition and widespread usage with the increasing popularity of internet?

  • Not only products, it can be applied to anything that can be sold. – Ben Voigt Feb 8 '14 at 0:13
  • Advertisements which carry sexual messages are very powerful. They sell goods and services. – WS2 Feb 8 '14 at 0:18
  • I don't know how long ago prostitution was dubbed the oldest profession in the world, but obviously it was a truism even before human beings had words to express concepts like that. By the same token, the basic idea of sex sells would have been familiar long before there was any concept of money (sex would doubtless help "seal the deal" in a bartering economy). – FumbleFingers Feb 8 '14 at 0:55

AFAIK, "sex sells" mostly refers to promotional advertising. The origin goes back to as far as 1870s when a tobacco company used sexual entendres on package cover.

One of the most egregious examples was the National Airlines “Fly Me” campaign, featuring stewardesses saying, “I’m Cheryl... Fly me.” National passengers increased by 23 percent, twice that of any other airline.

Interestingly, there is evidence of this in newscasts as well. Regarding news broadcasting:“There are two sayings that are familiar in every news room across the country: 1) sex sells; 2) if it bleeds it leads.” The first is obvious, as is the second: if it's a tragedy, a terrible accident, etc., it's on the top of the newscast.

Before the actual slogan came out, though, sex sold. When one thinks of the 3rd c. work, the Kama Sutra, how many people think of its philosophies on family life and other advice on living a good life?

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  • Thanks for the answer. Also, what I'm asking is: Did this phrase come up with the first use of sex in advertisement? or is it being used long before? – ermanen Feb 10 '14 at 16:01
  • The phrase wasn't well known until the advent of corporate advertising. The concept must have been articulated before, but as a truism, searching indicates it was born in advertising. – anongoodnurse Feb 10 '14 at 19:00

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