Guest Post: Does Sex Really Sell?

Does Sex Really Sell?

Over and over advertisers play on the fact that we are sexual beings by trying to associate their products and services with images that scream sex. The hope is that consumers attach some of this sensuality to the brand subconsciously, but does this really work? When it comes to advertising, does sex really sell?

Since its conception, the advertising industry has been creatively using sex to sell products and services. In the dark ages, they used wood carvings and illustrations of curvy and attractive women to seduce an adventurous market, but these days they have resorted to more overt measures.

Some of the most successful brands embracing the ‘sex sells’ adage are Coca-Cola, Calvin Klein, Sony and even Target. Using suggestive language and half naked women and men, these brands and their advertising campaigns really capture the attention of their markets. Cool by its association to sex, the products sell like hotcakes. But does this work for every brand and every advertising campaign or is this purely a well-worn cliché?

Numerous universities and research groups have tried to test this theory out and results are always mixed. One thing has been evident though – it really depends on your market. The success of a marketing or advertising campaign really depends on how well it is aligned to the product or service’s key target market.

If your target market is young adults, the ‘sex sells’ approach is probably not a bad one. It builds on the premise that people are curious about sexuality and this is true of this market. It builds on biological, emotional, physical and spiritual desires that inextricably create a connection. This market is more open and adventurous and appeals more to the cool by association model. With a disposable income, they opt to shop on trend and if your product or service is deemed just that, then it will no doubt be a top seller.

If your target market is the middle-aged woman, you may need to tone down your approach. Historically, the ‘sex sells’ approach uses women in erotic roles and poses, more often than men so unless you have the budget to incorporate George Clooney into your campaign, you may be out of luck. This market, while being more conservative and conventional, still responds to subtle messages associated with physical attractiveness, but the balance is more difficult to create. On the flip side you might find that your product or service has a large following of women with feminist values. In this instance, a ‘sex sells’ approach could adversely affect your brand, with its main followers associating it with obscene and objectifying behaviour.

If your advertising campaign doesn’t float within the market, you won’t make sales so it is extremely important to study your market. What may work for one market, won’t necessarily work for another and this is true of the ‘sex sells’ adage, so before you commit to a ‘sex sells’ approach and use imagery in your corporate booklet printing and business card printing, remember to take some time to develop your strategy and key messages.