It’s summer, and the olfactory palette you’d expect should be inspired either by a tropical or a Mediterranean garden—think Ilio and Citronnelle by Diptyque, the botanical scents of Flamingo Estate, or Tacitus by Aēsop.

Well, not for Boy Smells. The hipper-than-thou home and personal fragrance brand recently released Citrush, a candle redolent of “pomelo, black pepper + musk, and terpenes.” The scent, ‘inspired by poppers,’ raised more than a few eyebrows and turned more than a few heads.

When a comment on TikTok opined “I would’ve done anything to sit in on the first pitch meeting for this,” Boy Smells obliged, publishing a video of a Zoom recording of the marketing team trying poppers. Yes. That… that happened.

OMG, WATCH: Company making Poppers-scented candle has employees try them on  Zoom - OMG.BLOG
Pictured: The Boy Smells marketing team trying poppers (via Boy Smells Instagram).

This is but one of the myriad examples of the re-sexualization of brands—a hornissance—that results in a newfound overt manifestation of “lust for life” that brands are enthusiastically embracing. 

Brands, once Muses, have descended from Mount Parnassus or and have decided to spend the summer amongst the nymphs and satyrs in the woodlands and springs they preside over.

9 1/2 Weeks | Top 10 Memorable Movie Eating Scenes |
Pictured: the 'refrigerator scene' from 9 1/2 Weeks (1986). Courtesy Everett Collection.

Food Porn: When CPG Brands Go Full ‘9 1/2 Weeks’

CPG as a collective category seems to be channeling the infamous scene from 9 1/2 Weeks, where Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger make a feast of each other in front of an open refrigerator.

Los Angeles-based pantry brand Flamingo Estate launched a Summer 2024 campaign titled “Summer of Pleasure,” beginning with IG posts with bees abuzz, nature in bloom, and… intertwined limbs. And also phallic cacti and carrots, and yonic grapefruit. Individual posts aren’t overt unto themselves, but in context, they paint a vivid picture.

Given that their branding is all about a farm, it’s an easy metaphor: come summer, their estate turns into a manifestation of nature’s own life force… at least until the dog days, when languishing and ennui take over.

Beverage brand Human Desire launched an adaptogenic beverage that should ‘promote arousal’ via Horny Goat Weed, Organic Damiana and Panax Ginseng.

Then there’s off-label marketing. Single and Fat shot a campaign that walks so fine a line they end the short video with the tag “It’s olive oil… You know what to do with it.” Do we? A judicious use of oil on writhing bodies brought all the boys to the comments section.

Sweet Cheeks sports an ice cream container that we can call callipygian (it’s actually a close-up of a hazelnut).

Notably, &Walsh helped cottage cheese brand Good Culture appear sexy; which is no small achievement considering cottage cheese has long been a colloquialism for cellulite—something that Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign and collagen-in-everything just couldn’t achieve on their own.

The sundress at the center of so-called "sundressgate". (Instagram/Evie Magazine).

‘Sundressgate’: How Tradwives Went From Chaste to Racy

This goes beyond politics, as horny brands penetrated the stronghold of the Tradwife subculture. It’s summer, and sundresses are one of the bestselling categories in apparel this time of the year (especially when they are used as a proxy for “Europe”).

So, you must have followed, or at least run into #sundressgate, the Evie-Magazine-backed controversy surrounding a cheaply-made sundress, which got ratio-d because of its nondescript length, cut, and cheap materials that went alongside a price tag above $100.

The dress itself isn’t sexual. It was the way that Evie decided to market said dress that pushed it into nymph territory. “Husbands, buy this for your wives,” tweeted Evie founder Brittany Martinez. “Side effects may include an unplanned pregnancy.” 

It was not an isolated occurrence. A couple of weeks later, Evie, a conservative magazine, published an op-ed titled “Rejecting The Value of Sex Appeal Is Only Hurting You.” Given that their readership skews not only conservative but also religious, I am not sure what they hoped to achieve with this. Somewhere else, another trad influencer proudly claimed that she was feeding her boyfriend testes and liver “so he never turns into one of those 50/50 soy boys.” The Dimes-square-coded provocation only worked for a brief time between 2018 and 2020.

Are you unwilling to engage with your senses but still eager to ride the zeitgeist wave? Well, there is Monster Smut; a trending romance subgenre for the entry-level smut-curious. And, of course, Miranda July’s All Fours and I Am Just Here to Enjoy Myself by Glynnis MacNicol.

Whatever your media (and medium) of choice, the hornissance has something to offer just for you.

Lights Camera, No action - graph of the share of top live-actions films with no sexual content by percentage (*250 highest-grossing fiction feature films each year by US box office). The graph shows about 18% of films with no sexual content in 2000 peaks in 2019 with 50% and ends in 2023 with 46%. Source: Stephen Follows
Pictured: percentage of major motion pictures that contain no sexual content, 2000-2023. (chart credit: The Economist).

Sex, The Media, and Your Brands

Earlier this year, The Economist reported that sex scenes in movies declined 40% over a twenty-year period. The report followed the Best Picture win for Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things (2023) at the 2024 Oscar ceremony, which signaled a reversal of the trend. Many have blamed the ‘Disneyficiation’ of Hollywood (Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and their related fandoms), but it could be mere periodicity.

Whatever the cause, the puritanism that has prevailed in pop culture for the last few years coincides with the existence of algorithmic art, beauty, and all those brands that, if you pay enough attention, all share the same SKUs from the same factory. Even graphic media became sexless for a time — remember when Penn Badgley, the oversexed serial killer in You (Netflix, 2018-2024) decided to forego sex scenes for good?

Back in early April, Stargirl podcast host Emma Baker reflected on a “new energy” she had been noticing. “The future is bright, finally,” she began. “I'm seeing a lot of folkloric elements in culture right now… this overall energy of folk, psychedelic, mystic, earthy spirituality— like a muddier, sweatier, fiery, or more sensual side of it as well,” she explains. “This folkloric vibe is functioning as the unexpected—but deeply necessary—cultural underground… or underbelly,” quipped Baker.

As the cultural pendulum swings from sterile algorithms to sweaty mysticism, brands find themselves caught in a peculiar position. Brands are eager to ride the wave of this newfound sensuality, yet are constrained by the very digital platforms that helped sterilize their image in the first place. Ironically, it's these same platforms that have given rise to a new breed of content creators who've mastered the art of titillation within the confines of social media guidelines.

In this new era, brands are no longer merely competing with each other, but with individuals who've turned sensuality into a full-time gig.

Pictured: Diesel S/S 2010 campaign. Image Credit: Diesel.

‘OnlyBrands’: When Marketing Mimics Adult Content Creators

Maybe algorithms are to blame for the hornissance? Algorithmically, brands (and, specifically, brand accounts) are feeding into sexually-coded content. Sexual content is on the rise on user-generated content platforms, and many adult content creators create viral barely-SFW-coded content that serves as “link in bio” marketing. They learned this from brands, after all; but now that the nymphs have perfected it, brands must follow suit.

But compared with prior eras, the brands aren’t delivering. Despite the overarching horniness displayed across consumer-goods categories, there’s something try-hard and juvenile about it. They’re telling us they’re horny, but they fail to show us as much.

Compare the aforementioned efforts with Tom Ford’s 2003 Gucci campaign (NSFW), where the model’s pubic hair was shaved to resemble a “G”. Or the very controversial 1980 Calvin Klein campaign featuring a fifteen-year-old Brooke Shields. Some work by Terry Richardson, including his 2001 campaign for Sisley, where he had a model squirt milk from a cow’s udders in her mouth; or perhaps Diesel’s tagline “Sex Sells: Unfortunately We Sell Jeans.”

To fully portray and convey arousal as the prior era of brands did, you need some darkness and some controversy. In mythological parlance, this types towards Dionysian energy on the brand scale.

More Austin Powers than James Bond: The Campy Nature of Horny Branding

In the same way that a parody song cannot exist without the historical reference that preceded it, the current riding crop of horny brands feels like it could not exist without a much more sexualized era. In the end, the sex-addled branding of Summer 2024 feels more like Showgirls than Body Heat, more 50 Shades of Grey than Delta of Venus. More Austin Powers, less James Bond — that is to say, they inspire a discourse that celebrates it as camp, rather than they do instigate a physiological response.

Remember the Lonely Island parody songs “Jizz in My Pants” (2009) and “I Just Had Sex” (2011)? They’re graphic in a non-smut way.  They exist to elicit a chuckle… more than a frisson. Flamingo Estate’s new campaign and Boy Smell’s ‘internal research’ on poppers accomplish about as much.

A GQ feature described “I Just Had Sex” as the ideal post-pandemic “song of summer.” They were off by three years; if anything, 2021 was still in the trenches of monastic cleanliness and ascetic self-optimization. We still had to go through the trends of Clean Girl, “That Girl” and Tech Bros that were into dopamine fasting. It wasn’t until 2022 that we reached Goblin Mode.

Now the Muses lie with the Nymphs. Brands, once goddesses who gave man creativity and inspiration, have undignified themselves. If not for good, then just for the Summer.


Insights and futurism for executives in eCom and Retail

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