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The Reason Why Amazon Prime Ads Are All So Horny

Retailers know online shopping is a high we can’t stop chasing

A shy-looking man in a checkered Oxford shirt sits in his living room, phone in hand. He’s alone. The lights are low. He scrolls down on his phone until he espies a handsome farmhouse-style dining table. We hear the faint tickling of piano keys in the background. The man’s eyes lift from his phone… and bam! A selfsame man strolls into the frame. This, however, isn’t the same casual dullard from before, no no. This man sports a chestnut crushed-velvet blazer, a fat gold watch and that most sensual of garments, a turtleneck. (In pumpkin, no less.)

In front of him is that table we saw earlier. As the checkered-shirt man’s eyes go wide, the turtlenecked Adonis runs his hands along the table, pushing it apart to reveal room for spare leaves. As those piano keys turn into the powerful chords of Jeffrey Osborne’s smooth R&B jam “On the Wings of Love,” we see turtleneck man lying on his side, rubbing his hands up and down the table, and nodding at his more quotidian self. Yes, come to me, he seems to say.

The ideal self locks eyes with his opposite. The man in the checkered shirt sneaks a grin, and lets out a longing sigh.

This is an actual ad for Amazon Prime. And it is, in a word (or four, depending on how you’re counting), very, very, very horny. I mean, I can’t be the only person who watched it and thought, Are they gonna fuck? (And: Does this mean he’s gonna fuck himself?)

More largely, the ad is part of a recent campaign by Amazon Prime featuring idealized versions of customers attempting to entice themselves into buying the one thing they’re convinced will transform them into a better version of themselves. (Which, of course, isn’t exactly a novel concept.) “We have what we think of ourselves as, and we have an ideal self that we aspire to be,” explains Cathrine Jansson-Boyd, an expert in consumer psychology at Anglia Ruskin University in the U.K. “[The ad is] basically saying: ‘There’s hope for you! You can be that phenomenal person. Just go shopping.’”

But the question remains: Why are these ads so goddamn horny?

Another ad, for example, features a fey young man with his hair pulled back into a bun scrolling through his tablet for a new bed (um, you can probably tell where this is going). He glances over at his dull old box spring. As the strains of Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack’s bedsheets classic “Tonight, I Celebrate My Love” rise, that old box spring is suddenly adorned with a lush new mattress, complete with leather headboard. The room is bathed in purple light. The man looks up: Atop the bed sits a new him, wrapped in a navy-colored silk robe, his curly locks now freed from their scrunchy prison. Robe man locks eyes with his counterpart and proceeds to caress the headboard, sip sinfully from a porcelain mug and bounce up and down on the bed in ecstasy.

JFC, there’s no way these two aren’t going to fuck.

Jansson-Boyd explains that one explanation for the appeal of the ads could be that mustiest of advertising canards: “Sex sells.” Which, in turn, triggers a learning process called “classical conditioning.” “Classical conditioning is when we get a clear association between one item and physiological arousal,” she says. “[Advertisers] use sex to create physiological arousal in their audience by showing them the same ad over and over again. That way, when you ultimately see the item without the ad, you still feel physiologically aroused.”

That said, the traditional usage of classical conditioning in advertising — at least high-end, forward-thinking advertising — is on the decline. “Things that are a little controversial tend to be quite good. But times have definitely changed,” Jansson-Boyd says. “Now nudity is so common that no one thinks anything of it anymore.” Basically, sex doesn’t sell like it used to because sex is everywhere.

Plus, she adds, there’s a subtle moral element to it as well, citing PETA’s numerous ad campaigns with a nearly nude Pamela Anderson. “People actually look at what she’s campaigning for and they often take [the campaign] less seriously,” she explains. “If the company is using someone to expose themselves to sell something, people subconsciously think that the company isn’t effectively moral.”

Neither I nor Jansson-Boyd are sure that classic conditioning or silent moral judge-iness is at play with the Amazon Prime campaign, however. Mainly because while the ads certainly trade in innuendo, they’re not particularly sexy. “I personally didn’t find them sexually arousing,” she confides. (I’m in the same boat.)

And so, there must be something else going on — like brain chemistry. “Across the board, shopping is seen as a treat for people. It’s about rewarding yourself,” Jansson-Boyd explains. “Our serotonin levels increase as we buy something that we feel we’re getting specific pleasure from. We know that happens with instant online shopping. But it also happens when we get a bargain. So when the two are combined, it’s like, ‘Wow! I feel really good.’”

The Unsettling Psychology of an Amazon Prime Addiction

The timing of these online excursions is important as well. “There’s been quite a few studies that indicate that most purchases are done between midnight and six in the morning,” Jansson-Boyd tells me. “Rather than sleeping, [people are] getting online.” She doesn’t hesitate to put it all together: “This is for your pleasure. It’s instant. It’s not a lot of effort. You can make yourself feel good when you’re tired at night.”

Sound familiar?

By equating online shopping with, um, self-love, Amazon is inserting itself directly into our personal lives. (As if it weren’t there already.) Or better put, these ads seem to grok the idea that online shopping isn’t really about a company hawking its product at you. It’s something you do with and for yourself. (Or at least it feels that way.)

In a way, Amazon is riding the wave of sexual liberalization that Jansson-Boyd referred to earlier. Twenty years ago, maybe you could make an ad about shopping as a form of, uh, rhythmic admiration, but you’d have to spin it as something “naughty” or sinful. In 2019, however, we’ve decided there’s nothing wrong with, uh, um, oh screw it: masturbating. And if there’s nothing wrong with a good jerk-off sesh, there’s nothing wrong with buying that slinky red dress either.

Sexually liberated or not, though, Amazon’s “Buy Now” button still shouldn’t be thought of as a shortcut to true happiness (no matter how hard the company tries to convince you of it). After all, Jansson-Boyd says that the serotonin boost we get from buying what we want doesn’t last very long — and always leaves us wanting more. “It’s a bit like drug addiction,” she explains. “You need to get that high again and again and again to get the same feeling as before.”