In a market of cut throat competition, advertising is increasingly becoming a critical tool for gaining competitive advantage and popularizing products a company offers. Due to this increasing emphasis and focus on advertising, marketers have over the years been forced to devise ways through which advertisements can become more effective, with the end result being an increasing focus on sex in advertising. In essence, the use of sex in advertising encompasses the use of erotic imagery, commonly referred to as sex appeal to draw interest to a given product and by extension sell it. A good example would be using the image of a really beautiful woman to advertise a product that is totally unrelated. The sole purpose of the imagery in this case is to solely to attract the attention of the potential customer, with the degree of use varying from subtle to overt. This slight modification to advertising has enjoyed unparalleled success over the years, making it plausible to argue that sex is very effective in advertising (Retail Therapy, n.p).
The concept preys on the natural curiosity humans usually have when it comes to sexuality, and based on experience which shows that sexuality sells products. Depending on the target, a number of aspects of sexuality may be utilized in marketing, ranging from spiritual aspects, emotional and physical aspects to biological aspects. These aspects may be presented in a way that elicits certain values or attitudes within the viewer which are then associated with the product. A majority of such adverts usually have female models in poses, a factor that has resulted in females increasingly being seen as sexual objects, to the displeasure of many. However, this disproportionate depiction of women in sexualized roles has actually been a very effective advertising ploy. Ironically, for most of the products in which sex is used in advertising, women respond the most, with research showing them as the protagonists in most major purchases. Advertisers therefore work on the premise that humans are sexual beings, and in the hope that some of the hotness that comes with sexy imagery will be attached to the product or brand they are advertising within the consumers subconscious.
According to Gallup & Robinson, use of the erotic, is an above average technique for communicating within the marketplace, an assertion the marketing research firm claims it reached after more than 50 years of advertising effectiveness and testing. On the other hand, the debate over the effect or and attitudes people develop towards advertisements that contain sexual messages. Further opponents to the use of sex as a tool for advertisement argue that it grabs the viewers attention for a very short period of time (Maheshwari n.p). Proof of particularly the first criticism is provided by the example of the Dallas Opera which actually witnessed declines in ticket sales decline after becoming more aggressive in marketing the lascivious parts of its performances. Using sex in advertising may at times therefore be an actual handicap. Groza and Cuesta (69), find that indeed the perception of sexual humor in advertising significantly affected the advertisements credibility and effectiveness. In cases where the advertisement was considered offensive, its credibility would be dented significantly, whereas in cases where the sexual humor was found amusing, the advertisement would be considered credible, with the sexual humor simply being dismissed as harmless.
This handicap is however, not universal as the effectiveness of sex as a tool in advertising may essentially depend on the product being advertised as well as the demographic , which means that its use must be with caution. As such, greater success would most probably be realized within a youthful demographic, or when advertising a product that has sexual attractiveness as a product-related benefit. Used within the correct context and at the right amount for the right product, sex is therefore a very effective advertising tool.
Findings in a study by Shanthi and Thiyagarajan (14) reaffirm the belief that sex sells if correctly used. The researchers examine the influence that the youths general perception on the use of sex in advertising had on advertising effectiveness with the varying degrees of intimacy images between couples being utilized as a tool for promotion. Their findings highlight the fact that moderate use of sex appeal in advertisements is usually the most effective, scoring an impressive 53.9% in terms of effectiveness. Further, the researchers also highlight the fact that the use of sex appeal is considered favorably, amongst the youths, with 60.7% approving of the use of sex appeal in advertising. These findings serve to highlight not just the effectiveness of the use of sex in advertising, but also the untapped potential and the best target for such advertisements.
Studies have also found that this effectiveness of sex appeal use in advertising can be attributed to the fact that not only is it attention grabbing, but it is also arousing, likable and memorable. Further, the sex appeal is usually an important tool if correctly used to target the right audience. For instance, women would find adverts that concentrate on their looks valuable, with men finding advertisements that focus more on what they think valuable. Knowing how to utilize sex appeal on such bases would make for very effective advertising.
Sex appeal can therefore, act as a double edged sword which can either be effective or ineffective depending on the degree of usage the demographic within which it is used as well as the product being advertised. In cases where the adverts target an older demographic, sex appeal is not viewed positively, and may therefore, result in a decline in sales, defeating its purpose. On the other hand, If such adverts may have a very positive effect on sales, as the youth may find this use of sexual humor harmless, thus not harming the credibility of the advertisement. As found in the study carried out by Shanthi and Thiyagarajan (14) moderate use of sex appeal in advertising would result in the greatest level of effectiveness, with the use of wild sex appeal ranking significantly lower, and being found offensive in most quarters including the youthful demographic. Finally, sex appeal may fail to be effective if used to advertise completely unrelated products. Because the viewers may feel talked down to and cheated. Overall, sex appeal is a very effective advertising tool if the aspects mentioned above are weighed carefully and the advertisement tailored to play up the needs of the target consumer
Groza, Nicoleta. & Cuesta, Jordi Fernandez. (2011), Sexist Humour in Advertising: Just A Joke or Marketing Strategy?, International Journal of Arts and Technology 4(1), 61-73.
n.a. Retail Therapy How Ernest Dichter, an acolyte of Sigmund Freud, revolutionised marketing. 17th December 2011. Web. 17th November 2012. <http://www.economist.com/node/21541706>
Sapna, Maheshwari. At Abercrombie & Fitch, Sex No Longer Sells. 30th August 2012. Web. 17th November 2012. < http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-08-30/at-abercrombie and-fitch-sex-no-longer-sells>
Shanthi, P., and Thiyagarajan, S. Impact of Viewers Perception on Effectiveness of Couple Image Sex Appeal Advertisements. European Journal of Business and Management 4.1 (2012), 11-21.