This post is definitely SFW. No worries.
SEX – a loaded subject in the marketing world, and one that carries interesting choices for the graphic designer. The word itself ignites a hint of controversy when used in a headline, title or logo. While more common in song and book titles, the television and motion picture industries have used the word sparingly in project names, cautiously conscious of the line between art and pornography. Designers, when faced with a project using the word ‘sex’ in it’s title must simultaneously gauge how to temper AND excite potential reactions to the word in some way that will accurately reflect the intent of the project. That’s a touchy assignment. Good design will often push at the boundaries of acceptability within evolving cultural norms. Take for instance Showtime’s new series “Masters of Sex.”
This cable series is about the famous researchers Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson who, beginning in the 1950s, did pioneering study on human sexuality. The very name itself is a little double extendre, so it is no surprise that the logo reflects that very creatively. The slightly bawdy typographic logo features the “E” in “Sex” pushed over onto it’s back. Due to some carefully planned serifs, a new shape that just might be the groin area of a female figure appears with the help of the type’s negative space. Now the image is subtle enough that some see it as a martini glass, or a bikini thong. But that confusion in interpretation is just fine with Showtime, as it generates interest in the image and thus the show. The logo lets the viewer feel they are in on a joke, that we “got it.”
In some markets, Showtime has had to stand the “E” up, proper and respectable-like!, for outdoor billboard advertising so as not to run afoul of local decency laws. TV Guide reports that Donald Buckley, executive VP of program marketing and digital services at Showtime, said the point was to “strike a balance between subtle and salacious. ‘It’s intended to be sexy and maybe a little suggestive,’ he says, ‘but also ambiguous.'” (source)
Apparently there is a controversy over who designed the racy logo. In the TV Guide article, Buckley says a “freelancer” designed it, but doesn’t name names. French designer Abdallah Ahizoune had the original concept posted on Behance and other outlets back in 2011 – see it here – but has not been given proper credit by Showtime as of yet. Oddly enough, the Showtime trailer for the series does not show the logo with the sexy “E”, nor does the website itself, though many other print and online ad campaigns do make use of it. LogoThief is following that part of the story.
So historically, using the word SEX in a logo for TV or the movies has been, in and of itself, enough of a risk that few titles go there. Back in 1926, Mae West wrote, produced, directed and starred in a Broadway play named “Sex” – for which she was arrested and spent 10 days incarcerated on Roosevelt Island. Times have changed. Back in the 1960s, Helen Gurley Brown’s bestseller “Sex and the Single Girl” was made into a motion picture. Some of the marketing material made use of the male and female gender symbols that represent Mars and Venus – slightly shifting the focus from “sex” in a salacious sense to one more of gender roles and conflict. It was a comedy after all.
By 1989, the famously successful indie movie sex, lies, and videotape decided the name itself carried enough intrigue: the logo type was set in all lower case in a sans serif font. More recently, the logo for the popular HBO series Sex and the City chose to focus more on the ‘City’ than the ‘Sex,’ displaying the skyline of Manhattan around the words of the title. While the series certainly never shied away from sexual content, the logo design chose to steer clear of overtly advertising it.
I couldn’t find any other successful films or television shows that specifically included the word “sex” in their title. Considering it is so often a central topic, that is a telling fact. So it’s interesting to see how graphic designers have deftly handled these projects by walking a careful line when creating compelling movie posters and advertising. Isn’t it amazing what can be suggested by just the turn of one letter?