Stars Deploy Sex Appeal to Get Out the Vote

michael b jordan, diane guerrero, sarah silverman
Aaron J. Thornton/FilmMagic; Getty Images; Jean-Baptis/ Getty Imageste Lacroix / AFP

From thirst trap Instagram posts to political ads featuring nudity and innuendo, celebrities are putting it (almost) all out there to encourage voting this election.

In September, when Chris Evans accidentally shared a NSFW photo on his camera roll of a penis (presumably his own), the actor — in his first social media post after the inadvertent reveal — addressed the incident by making a plea to his followers. “Now That I have your attention … VOTE Nov 3rd!!!” he wrote in a tweet accompanied by facepalm and shoulder shrug emojis. The post got 1.2 million likes.

Evans, of course, was trying to turn lemons into lemonade. But a host of other stars are quite self-consciously using blatantly sexualized appeals to encourage voting and promote candidates and issues this election season. There are the voting-themed thirst traps that Diplo, Michael B. Jordan, Jared Leto, Dave star Lil Dicky and Sterling K. Brown have posted on Instagram and Twitter, showing bared six packs, pecs and backsides, paired with exhortations like “Don’t forget to register to vote” and “Vote Early.”

In his post (which had 3.3 million views), Lil Dicky wore little more than a sock, while Brown’s cheeky tweet read, “Like what you see? There’s more where this came from” followed by a Bitly link. But instead of taking people who clicked to what sounded like it might be OnlyFans content, the link connected to Vote.org’s website. The This is Us actor later joked with Jimmy Fallon that “I had just moisturized. The cocoa butter was in full effect,” adding, “you gotta do what you gotta do. If showing a little bit of flesh means that people will be incentivized to go ahead and register, it’s an important vote. I’ll press a little flesh.”

For many Hollywood names this election season, the stakes are high enough that they are willing to become clickbait for political causes. And it’s not just guy celebs. A group of nine female and male stars — comprised of Chris Rock, Amy Schumer, Josh Gad, Sarah Silverman, Mark Ruffalo, Naomi Campbell, Ryan Bathe, Chelsea Handler and Tiffany Haddish — appeared in a YouTube video titled “These Naked Celebs Have an Important Message For Voters.” The spot was made to inform voters in Pennsylvania that they must put their ballots inside two envelopes for their vote to be counted: both an inside secrecy envelope and then in the mailing envelope. If it’s not, it’s considered a “naked ballot” and won’t be counted under state election rules. While most of the celebs weren’t all that exposed — Haddish, who said, “I’m completely butt-ass naked,” was shot from the shoulders up — Silverman and Handler went the furthest in revealing themselves, with each seen from the waist up topless with just their hands covering their breasts. The spot, put together by nonpartisan anti-corruption group RepresentUs, racked up around 750,000 views on YouTube.

Another PSA, titled “Safe Voting Feels So Good” — featuring Doom Patrol actress Diane Guerrero — forsakes any nudity, but instead goes all in for sexual innuendo to get out the vote. In the spot, Guerrero, who previously starred on Jane the Virgin and Orange is the New Black, sits in a boudoir-looking bedroom, lit with candles and a bed with a red-velvet headboard. “Is this your first time?” she says, in an assertively sexy tone. “Do you feel nervous? It’s normal to have lots of emotions about this big decision. But I’m here to tell you, it’s gonna feel so good. So you should definitely do it. You still gotta be careful though, because there’s a deadly disease out there. Doing it safely during a pandemic — man what a historic time to get it in. So let’s all get down and practice safe, consensual and pleasurable …. voting.” Her talk is punctuated by voiceover of a deep male voice piping in with things like, “Do it,” “Fill that box” and “Mm yeah.”

“Find out what excites you, what gets you going,” she continues. “If it’s universal healthcare and women having control over our own bodies. You might fantasize about being with someone who’s into the Green New Deal and abolishing ICE.” Guerrero, a longtime advocate for immigrant rights, tells The Hollywood Reporter she signed on to do the video (which was co-produced by actress Rosario Dawson), “As soon as I read the script. It was so funny and, you know, different. It really spoke to me, especially since I’ve sort of been thinking about our sexuality, which is at the moment is sort of being silenced, this time when what to do with our bodies is being questioned and how we live our lives is being questioned. So I thought it would be a fun way to deliver a message in a unique way. I think that any serious PSA would have just gone over people’s heads and people wouldn’t have wanted to watch it. We’ve heard all that.”

She adds of the spot — which, at the end, includes footage of two hands batting each other with dueling red and blue dildos, and a pitch to visit Vote.org — “I think what we did was pretty PG, especially compared to what Trump’s government has done to this country.”

Sex, of course, has long been deployed in advertising — with some studies finding men respond more positively to its use in ads than women do — while the use of nudity in issues messaging has long been associated with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal’s “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” campaign, which ran from 1990 until this year. “Everybody is dying to talk about sex and we are all interested in it,” says Cindy Gallop, an advertising consultant who is also the founder of the website MakeLoveNotPorn.tv, a sharing site for adult video content that avoids the cliches of pornography. Gallop though says she finds most of these sexy pitches to encourage voting underwhelming. “Michael B. Jordan biting his bottom lip — that was so staged. It’s superficially sexy,” she says, adding, “Because as a society we are so fucked up about sex, people go, ‘Let’s do something really daring and impactful’ and that’s where their minds go because of the taboos. It’s purporting to do something daring, to bring the messages home, because that will cut through the noise. And precisely because there’s this ridiculous hypocrisy and prudishness around a universal human experience, many of these efforts aren’t that daring.” Indeed, one of the newest PSAs that uses come-ons to encourage voting, produced by Comedy Central, is so on the nose that it is titled simply, “Alex Daddario Thirst Trap."

Gallop further notes that most of the stars in the Naked Ballots PSA didn’t really show much skin. “The lack of full commitment to playing the role, because of prudishness, to me kind of destroyed the effect. I fear that if you want to really change the way somebody is going to vote, you have to go a lot further.” Gallop’s favorite recent PSA that used sexiness to encourage voting actually didn’t include celebrities. Titled “Get Your Booty to the Poll”, it features seven Atlanta strippers, who pole dance, encourage people to vote and talk about issues such as ending cash bail. “I personally thought that was a fantastic way of leveraging what they do professionally to encourage people to do the right thing.”

Rather than making an overtly sexual pitch, a different series of ads, produced by the anti-Trump political action committee Meidas Touch, aims to persuade viewers to vote early — and chip away at support for the incumbent president — by taking a more sensuous approach. Titled "Listen up America", the offbeat group of three spots stars actress Kathryn Hahn (Private Life, the upcoming WandaVision) as an artist specializing in ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response), which refers to a euphoric sensation that some people can get some senses including sound. In the spots, Hahn, in a hushed breathy voice juices a grapefruit, unwraps a hard candy, and snaps her fingers, all while whispering things like “Does Donald J Trump care about running this country or does he care about getting rich” and “Donald Trump is trying to steal our election.” The spots were dreamt up by novelist and screenwriter Gregg Hurwitz, who says “I told [Hahn], your job is to be an incompetent ASMR artist.”

Hurwitz, who partnered with Meidas Touch on the ads, says the concept was not to hit viewers over the head. “We’ve run a lot of testing on ads to see what was effective,” says Hurwitz. What he found, to his surprise, was that anti-Trump ads that criticized the president for his China policy by employing a frightening tone and moody score “moved persuadable voters 10 points toward Trump. What we determined, despite the message, was that the ads were putting people’s nervous system into fight or flight. They then tended to have increased xenophobia. And when people feel increased xenophobia, they tend toward a more authoritarian leader as a source of protection. I was thinking about how we could get around that and I thought of these crazy ASMR videos. Why don’t we have an actor who’s whispering and doing spine-tingling stuff that puts people’s nervous systems into a state of relaxation. It’s a way to Trojan Horse the information so that people are open to it.” Adds Brett Meiselas, one of the co-founders of Meidas Touch, “The landscape is so saturated from seemingly everybody in the world making a political ad, ironically to break through the noise, this piece turned down the noise and is in whispers.”

The first ad released has now been viewed more than 400,000 times on Twitter. “Something else we found interesting in testing is that sometimes the most effective ads for persuasion are when people have a more mixed reaction, they go around and think about stuff. When they aren’t quite sure what they saw, it’s a different internal reaction.”