For 'minivan cheesecake' set

By Published on .

Sex has sold for a very long time, but nothing demonstrates just how powerful and pervasive it's become like the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

Take the ads, if you can spot them. Most of the advertisers, so as not to distract from photos of women in swimsuits or less, fight for attention not by standing out but by mimicking the editorial.

A four-page package for Axe body spray, for example, blends in by showing beach scenes where captions tell us models ought to be-and by alternating pages with actual editorial. The ad's final page reveals that the models have stripped on their way into a beach tent with a guy who wears Axe.

Later in the issue, a GMC ad provides removable GMC-branded 3-D glasses for viewing a "Maui in 3-D" editorial spread. Subsequent GMC ads throughout the 3-D pages repeat a theme-woman, beach, truck-plus model-shoot captions such as, "Sierra Crew Cab SLT showing its enviable contours and jeweled headlamps." (One of the opening shots of Marisa Miller, naked but for a strategically placed iPod, made Watercooler think Steve Jobs got a freebie there.)

The editorial, too, has been affected. This cover belongs to Beyonce Knowles, the first non-model to take the spot. The issue's got a music theme, sure, but her appearance reflects changes in the magazine-scape. The Swimsuit Issue is "minivan cheesecake," Bryan Curtis once noted in Slate. "That is, the magazine is just tasteful enough to be enjoyed comfortably by a middle-aged man who operates a minivan."

By now, though, it's gotten a whole lot easier to find "just tasteful enough" stimulation on magazine racks. It's actually more difficult to look over newsstands without spotting barely dressed women on the cover of Maxim, in Esquire's Sexiest Woman Alive packages or in Rolling Stone's Hot Issues. Sports Illustrated can't go any further, so it has to try harder; cue the celebrity appearance-and the iPod.
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