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Sex Sells: Just Ask Him.

By September 23, 2009July 23rd, 20205 Comments
sexy advertisement

In advertising, it’s the gospel truth: Sex sells.

You’ve heard it a million times. So many times it’s gotta be true, right?

Hell, even the Devil himself says it’s true in our second of seven Responsible Marketing web shorts, here:

View on YouTube in HD

Why not believe it? You just heard it from the Devil himself.

Well, because it’s all a lie.

Sex sells sex.
Sex gets attention.
And sex creates controversy.

But it seldom converts attention to action.
And most people don’t recall the brand the ad was for.

Men respond better than women to sexy ads, as expected. But in Buyology, author Martin Lindstrom shared this interesting tidbit: One study found that even for men, recall for sexually explicit ads was less than 10%, but recall was nearly twice that for the non-sexually charged ads.

Steve Hall of Adrants puts it perfectly when talking about sex in advertising call it:

. . . a lame cop-out used by marketers who lack imagination to create more compelling work that will sustain itself beyond the initial titillation.

I couldn’t agree more, but what do you think?

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Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • Keep banging the drum: it’s good to hear the real beat.

  • To me, some of the most memorable ads are those non-sexed ones. Who can forget “The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup”, and watching a young child making a pot of coffee, and bringing it in to mommy and daddy… or the commercial with the people reaching for handrails in the Subway and thinking, “Aren’t you glad you use Dial? Don’t you wish everyone did?”

    …I think overly-sexed ads create attention, yes. But the advertisements that work are those a person can relate to – I personally am much more likely to pursue a product or service in the ad if it’s relevant to my personal experiences (and generally that doesn’t include a playboy bunny or a spice girl!)

  • Hey Patrick:

    I love the sentiment, and I hate to be the contrarian in Responsible Marketing, but unfortunately, sex sells and it does so extremely well.

    American Apparel has built an entire brand on it (for better or for worse) — seriously, we’re talking low-quality T-shirts that sell at a premium here. GoDaddy came to national attention (and leadership) because of a raunchy Super Bowl ad. Sports Illustrated’s best selling issue every year is the swimsuit one. Others who use sex appeal to sell: Carl’s Jr, Las Vegas, Axe body spray, and most of the music industry. Did Britney Spears become a millionaire because of an incredible voice? Do Guess jeans sell because of their fabric quality?

    I wholeheartedly agree that sex is overused as a marketing tool, and it can look ridiculous when there’s a brand disconnect between product and message. (Women in bikinis selling car tires.) And, yes, it can also be offensive, as with the example in your video. But in other cases, it works tremendously well. And in the hands of the right artistic director, it can be tasteful. The sexy Norwegian Cruise Line ads from a few years back were almost artsy, and they helped differentiate a brand in an industry known mostly for Hawaiian shirts, shuffleboard, and buffet lines.


  • Neal says:

    I think that’s probably true to a point. But isn’t there secondary advertising that goes along with some ads? If they’re controversial–whether because of sex or something else–then it seems as if they’ll get staying power because others will talk about them.

    I don’t agree that merely having a sexual overtone in an ad makes it unimaginative. There are plenty of nonsexual ads that are nonimaginative, too.

  • Great conversation here.


    I love your take. Nicely put. You shared some great examples, especially if you are marketing to young men. When a brand is sexy, using sex to sell is actually responsible marketing. Clothing is supposed to be sexy. So is a body spray. GoDaddy’s ads, as tacky and absurd as they are targeted to a young (often lonely) male demographic, but they’ve also sold the cheapest domains around. Hardees and Carl Jr’s “power-users” are young men, too.


    Sure, sexy ads can be controversial and can raise awareness. For a sexy product, it even makes sense sometimes. But the fact is, while this advertising is memorable, it’s memorable for the sex, not the product. So it’s no surprise product recall is low. Burger King recently took Crispin Porter to task. Why? Their ads became too provocative and sales were dropping — while McDonald’s more family friendly advertising was having the opposite effect.

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