Sex has been selling for more than a century, even when it's not exactly presented as such. An ad campaign launched in 1911 for Woodbury's soap was both instructive and influential. It's also hilariously coy by today's standards: The illustrated art features a man in a tuxedo tenderly embracing a delicate-looking woman whose gown teasingly falls off her shoulder. Her stare meets the prospective customer's eyes. The slogan: "A skin you love to touch."

The ad caused a scandal. It also worked: Woodbury's became a massive seller, and other campaigns have been taking their cues from the strategy ever since.

From tame to tawdry

That is, when a global crisis isn't getting in the way. The COVID-19 pandemic has made sex-based marketing not just unseemly over the past year, but seemingly harmful to public health. In 2021, Super Bowl ads—long dependable for their erotic undertones and overtones (