Does Sex Really Sell?

In 1885, W.Duke and Sons, who produced soap, supplied trading cards in the packet that included erotic images of the famous women of the era. The link between soap and sex is questionable at best but it was successful. Ever since then; when possible brands have linked themselves to sex where possible.

So what is sex in advertising? Basically, sex in advertising is the use of sexually provocative or erotic images or sounds that are specifically used to increase attention in a product or service; usually with the use of attractive men or women to lure in a viewer; often with a tenuous link to the item the ad is promoting.

Throughout history sex has been used as a tool to sell. It has been suggested that adult humans have reptilian like brains that encourage a strong reaction to certain primal urges such as food, fear and sex.  This fundamental preprogrammed nature to react to sexual images is so compelling that we have used it to market our products and service for over 100 years. Whilst the industry needs to be careful not to abuse this primal instinct, it would be foolish to completely ignore it.

So does sex actually sell? Well, yes. It’s a fact. Men’s publications like FHM have carried out experiments with their covers. 50% have images of half naked attractive females and the other half display a popular male star. The overwhelming majority of magazines sold are of the females, even if the male is someone that the target audience of that publication want to read about.

When adverts are suggestive, it is men in particular that are more drawn to them. It’s simple genetics in that men respond more to visuals than women. So if your advert makes the most of sexual stimulus you will get more of a response.

Don’t forget though sex also turns people off. There is a very fine line and increasingly brands (in my opinion anyway) are overstepping it. Your target market are human so naturally they will respond but agency’s seem to forget that they are also clever; educated adults that will soon recognise that they are being manipulated. It is possible they will buy your item once or twice due to the erotic nature. But it won’t be long before they realise that they are being played, then you loose the customer for good as they feel cheated, talked down to or patronized.

So what is the future in sex and advertising?

We all need to accept that sex is here for the long run and quite frankly; it’s getting more and more blatant as the years roll by. The rise of the internet has a large part to play in this and the rules around sex and consumers seem to be relaxing.
In my mind there is an important rule to adhere to though:

Only use sexual images or sounds if they are appropriate.

If you are selling underwear or fragrance then you can certainly afford to use sex to your advantage. But if you are selling furniture or slippers you would be doing your brand a serious disservice. Yes it will gain you attention but the most important thing – your brand – is at risk.

The bottom line: only use it if you legitimately can, and don’t overdo it.

If you are planning to use sex in your next marketing campaign speak to us first before you make the wrong decision. Your reputation takes years to build and seconds to destroy.

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