In a cigarette ad, a pretty woman in a short dress sits on the lap of the nerdy, slightly dazed-looking man. The caption says, "When I wake up, at least my smokes will be real."

A few pages away in the magazine, two porcelain teacups with cute little faces are winking suggestively. The advertisement, for a liqueur, says: "Just another innocent get-together?"A television ad for a cruise line shows a beautiful woman swimming in an exotic, enticing reef. She ruminates that in the future she'll pay attention to butterflies and "be nude more often."

A host of consumer products, from a car with the scantily clad woman on the hood to a frozen dessert to a skin cleanser all seem to promise intimacy, companionship, personal allure, fun. Try this product and you'll be popular, sexy, noticeable. Take this cruise and the husband who has ignored you for 20 years will become romantic.

Sex sells products. And lots of corporate executives are believers, witnessed by the scores of ads that use sexual themes - or at least innuendo - to promote their products.

"I'm in the ad industry, so I pay attention to how things are being sold," said Susen Sawatzki of Sawatzki Publishing, which produces several magazines including Ad News. "It does work. There's that illusion. It puts us in a place where theoretically we all want to be.

"If I have this frozen pizza, or whatever, I'll have Fabio sitting with me. And it hits at such a basic level that it's almost subliminal. It's not like s-e-x is spelled out in an ice cube. It's much more subconscious and we respond to that stimulus."

Even food products use the promise of intimacy to sell, she said. "There's a beautiful woman eating a prune. She's pretty, he's handsome. I choose this kind of food and it makes me feel this way."

"It gets attention and it's easy," said Brenda Cooper, an associate professor and director of the Women's Studies program at Utah State University. "Advertising is a competitive business. They're selling a product and it's hard to distinguish . Advertisers want to grab attention and the biggest question they ask is what's going to do that, not whether the ad is a good representation of women and men."

Some ads don't even show the product or use it only as a minor part of the background, Cooper said. Like the ad where the woman is wearing "strategically placed snakes." The product is cologne.

Other ads use fear as a tool, Sawatzki said. "If you don't use this deodorant, everyone will look at you."

And you won't be seen as attractive when they do.

Perhaps the most blatantly sexual ad campaign of all time is that of Calvin Klein, Cooper said. Unlike many other companies, the Calvin Klein ads feature both male and female models. Most companies focus on attractive women models.

While a case can be made that you need an attractive female to sell cosmetics, Sawatzki said, the thinking behind a scantily clad female on the hood of a truck eludes her. "Is some guy going to go in and ask for `the truck with the semi-nude woman on the hood?'

"Selling a spa and using a very attractive women in a semi-nude situation might make the woman feel she could be that beautiful if she used that product. It's completely erroneous. It doesn't happen.

"But for men, using sex is a clunk on the head. If you can't get their attention, use an almost-naked girl."

In ethical terms, selling with sex is "demeaning" both ways, she said, but men are much less likely to complain about it than women are. "Women say, `Don't insult my intelligence. I need this truck to haul my kids.' "

Lon LaFlamme, longtime ad executive with EvansGroup Seattle, who retired and now pursues a career as a marketing consultant and novelist, believes that sexual advertising "has and still does apply to national brands. Local and regional businesses don't use it."

And in an era where family values has become a common buzz phrase, most sexual advertising is targeted to specific audiences, according to Sawatzki. You're more apt to see it in GQ or Cosmopolitan than in Reader's Digest or Family Circle.

"It's rare that sex comes up as a ploy to lure customers (with local businesses)," LaFlamme said. "I'm not saying there aren't instances where suggestiveness is inherent to product marketing, whether it's perfume, cologne or fashion design. In those venues, provocative ads may be appropriate. You have to work back from the product.

"I think Calvin Klein has done some things that move out from provocative to bizarre. And sometimes I have to wonder how close brands and advertising are to what the target audience does wants. But I'm looking at it from the perspective of a conservative middle-aged perspective."

Advertising messages are conveyed in two ways, he said. Particularly in the past, the hidden message or "hidden persuader" was common.

"That, I think, is a violation of public trust. That kind of manipulation is never appropriate. If you're going to be literally out there marketing your wares and you're going to target with provocative attire, at least that's honest. Maybe in some places it wouldn't be. Some pockets in the U.S. are different than others, like California vs. everyplace."

Cooper believes that society definitely pays a price when people, particularly women, are objectified - whether it's to sell a product or for other reasons. There's already too much emphasis on being "sexy, thin and pretty," she said.

Teenage girls are particularly susceptible to those messages. "(That kind of advertising) used to be more for adult products, but now the lines are narrower and harder to see."

That societal message, she said, shows up in an unflattering way in various studies. Recently a reputable study showed that 80 percent of fourth-grade girls diet to lose weight. Girls ages 11-17, told they could have three wishes, said first they would lose weight and keep it off.

Harper's magazine reported that the 11 percent of parents said they would abort a fetus found to be predisposed to obesity.

Women who were surveyed nationally said their greatest fear is not death but getting fat. "There's tremendous pressure to be a certain size. Only 5 percent of women fit that standard," said Cooper.

One of her favorite ads shows a heavier doll, with a Barbie face. Put out by Body Shop, the caption reads: "There are 3 billion women who don't look like supermodels and only eight who do."

The thin-and-sexy message crops up everywhere, she said. U.S. News and World Report said that over the course of a few years leading to 1994, cosmetic surgery increased by 69 percent. In 1994, 190,000 women had liposuction, as did 38,000 men. The only cosmetic surgery men had more often than women - or even anywhere near as often - was hair transplants.

While there's no evidence of causal effect, Cooper says objectifying women in advertising and other ways is part of the "cumulative impact" that has lead to the "incredible rate of violence in America against women compared to in the rest of the industrial world.

"Advertisers must think sex sells or they wouldn't keep doing it," Cooper said. "At some point someone needs to do a study on whether it works. There are so many variables, though, that it's hard to quantify.

"I think a lot of it is laziness. Selling sex is easy. Coming up with cleverness that doesn't involve sex takes a lot more creativity. And we're used to it. Nobody bats an eye."

Sawatzki sees signs that things are changing, even in national advertising.

"Humor is being used a lot more. I don't think sex is used as much unless it's in (a targeted magazine like GQ).

"I don't think the general public is responding as much."