Does sex sell? More importantly, do sexy images of men and/or women increase the likelihood someone will check out (and hopefully) purchase a product? It’s a question advertisers seem to think they know the answer to as they’ve been doing it in one form or another since advertising began.
The idea behind using sex in advertising is the obvious association of a product with one of our strongest biological desires- to have sex. Sure, it’s arguably humanity’s favorite pastime, but it’s also genetically encoded in us where it affects our subconscious mind and conscious mind. Let’s take a complex concept and break it down into simple terms: many scientists believe men are biologically driven to have sex with as many women as possible in order to perpetuate the species (something most men would agree to do) while women are looking for long-term providers (keep in mind that these are biological drives as researched by scientists. Spare me the snowflake male patriarchy litanies).. The end result is that sexy advertisements aimed at men are typically different than sexy ads aimed at women. A report by Business Insider noted:
People also succumb to the “buy this, get this” imagery used in ads, he said. “Some young men actually think Axe body spray will drive women crazy,” Reichert said. “But brand impressions are shaped by images in advertising, too. Arguably, Calvin Klein and Victoria’s Secret are not much different than Hanes or Vassarette, but perception studies show those brands are perceived as ‘sexy,’ and some customers want that.”
The article at Business Insider went on to explain this idea behind sex in ads:
“Advertisers use sex because it can be very effective,” said Tom Reichert, a professor and head of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and one of the study researchers. “Sex sells because it attracts attention. People are hardwired to notice sexually relevant information, so ads with sexual content get noticed.”
Advertisers use a variety of methods to incorporate sex. From Old Spice to Axe, these products supposedly will make men more desirable, according to their commercials. In perfume ads, only the most attractive women use the perfume, insinuating that if you use that type of perfume, you will also be beautiful. Sex is used to sell magazines with only the “sexiest men alive” being featured. Sports Illustrated sells a year subscription to many users who want it only for the swimsuit edition.
Keep in mind that the idea behind this is that ads are often targeted towards men OR women. If an ad is targeting the male biological drive, it will be different than an add targeting the female biological drive. Thus, an ad targeting men that relies on scantily clad women to sell something may be different than one showing a woman, not necessarily because ads are made by predominantly men (although that is a factor), but because the ads are manipulating the unique biological drives discussed (although as science continues to research this area, we may find the biological drives aren’t as different as currently believed).
Is this an idea that really works though? While Professor Reichart (mentioned above) seems to think so, there is not a consensus among academics. According to a report by Psychology Today, the use of sex in advertising is far more complex than it may appear on the surface and it may be far less effective than thought.
Sex was good at getting people to remember ads selling a sex-related product, but not just generally useful. That said, they seemed better at getting people to remember just the ads…While sex might be attention-grabbing, it didn’t seem especially good at getting people to remember the objects being sold.
The article at Psychology Today analyzed a scientific study of men and women’s reactions to advertisements that rely on sexually-charged imagery and related techniques. The findings were summed up as follows:
While it might be useful for getting eyes on your advertisement, sex is by no means guaranteed to ensure that people like what they see once you have their attention. In that regard, sex – like any other advertising tool – needs to be used selectively, targeting the correct audience in the correct context if it’s going to succeed at increasing people’s interest in buying. Sex in general doesn’t sell. However, it might prove more effective for those with more promiscuous attitudes than those with more monogamous ones; it might prove useful if advertising a product related to sex or mating, but not useful for selling domain names (like the old GoDaddy commercials); it might work better if you associate your product with things that lead to sex (like status), rather than sex itself. These are all avenues worth pursuing further to see when, where, and why sex works or fails.
However, what do you, the Pro Sports Extra reader think? Let’s look at some more ads that rely on sex and/or sex appeal:
Regrettably, I was unable to find any sexy ads for light bulbs so I’m providing a stock image for future use.
Does sex sell? Let us know in the comments below.