Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sex does not sell brands - it just sells sex

Advertisers have increasingly been using sex as a way to get shoppers attention. In the early 90’s one percent of magazine ads contained implicit sexual activity, but a decade later so called “veiled depictions of intercourse” had risen to 17 percent. The percentage of sexily dressed women increased during the same period from 28 to 40 while the number of men in varying states of nudity rose from 11 to 18 percent.
Sex is becoming a popular way to lure and motivate customers. According to a study presented in Martin Lindstrom’s “Buyology”, sex doesn’t help brands sell anyway. When men see ads with sexy women they focus so much on breasts that they bypass the brand name, logo and other information. Only 9.8 percent of those who had viewed ads with sexual content were able to remember the correct brand or product, compared to almost 20 percent of men who had seen the nonsexual ads. This effect was replicated among women too – only 10.85 percent remembered the correct brand or product featured in the sexual ads, whereas 22.3 percent recalled the brand or product in the ones with neutral content.

The more provocative or sexual the women rated the model’s expression and clothes, the more bored or disinterested the women were by the ad. On the other hand, the more wholesome, natural, un-made-up, and clothed the models were, the more positive the women’s reactions.

Of course, we can’t tell if their actions (to buy or not to buy) will be influenced by their opinions rather than, driven by their subconscious thoughts and emotions, so we can’t be sure of the relevance of this survey. Perhaps it´s the case that we say we want the models to look like us, but still buy products promoted by people who look like our dream picture? This may be so, but since this study is supported by a number of others, with similar results, it seems likely that it accurately portrays current reality.

This view is further supported by a 2001 survey by the market research company Market Facts which showed that people were more likely to buy an advertised product if it showed images of “love” (53 percent) than if it showed images that alluded to sex (26 percent).

Studies done by professor Arjun Chaudhuri at Fairfield University showed that appealing to reptilian emotions – impulses from the reptilian brain, like sex, aggression, envy and power – was most effective in moderate amounts. Too much or too little made the ad less effective. Reptilian emotions led to people liking the ad, but had no effect on buying, indicating that people liked the sexy photos but not the brand itself.

Chaudhuri also found that sexual ads became less effective if the viewer had to think and use their cognitive sense – their brain – in relation to the ad. In other words, you could place ads with sexual content in leisure magazines, but if they are shown on a website for world news, they will lose their shine.

This post is taken from my book "Love Branding" that you can get your hands on by going to Enjoy :)

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if these results have less to do with sexual content being bad for brand recognition, and more to do with 'borrowed interest' being bad.

    Borrowed interest, of course, is using topics or characters in ads that have little or no relevance to the brand or its benefits simply because it's likely to get noticed.

    Sexy ads particularly, are guilty of borrowing interest. Advertisers use it to titillate, rather than highlighting product benefits or brand values. Advertisers also often borrow interest from cute kids and animals, celebrities, sports, music and movies. I'd be interested to see whether these ads track just as poorly for brand recognition as the sexy ads in the study. I suspect they would.

    Sexiness in ads is great and even crucial to brands and products that are inherently sexy - Durex, Playboy, Victoria's Secret, some food and beverage brands, tropical holidays and so on.

    Relevant sex really does sell. Irrelevant anything doesn't.


Thank you for your insights :)

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