Every time I critique a fashion ad that has nothing going for it except a beautiful model in beautiful clothes, someone in my class blurts out, "sex sells!". And I see a lot of nods.
I ask them what, exactly, does sex sell? Followed by, and who does it sell it to?
The first thing that comes to my mind are those calendars on the wall in the auto repair shop. They're usually the voluptuous-model-of-the-month with some snappy slogan about shock absorbers or ball joints. Do you think the mechanic orders a brand of ball joints simply on the basis of the model for October? I grant you the calendar went up because of the model, but the car parts?
A sort of kissing cousin to those calendars are the ads for Guess. They always seem to feature the last girl in the world you'd introduce your boyfriend to. Do you wear Guess? How come? I thought sex sells? Why don't all ads use sex as the main motivator --- do you know something they don't?
Another question: are Bebe ads as sexy as Guess? Which sells more? Is it in proportion to their sexiness? If sex sells, one might hypothesize that the most sex would sell the most. Why, pornography would empty the whole warehouse!
There have been studies on the subject of sex in ads, and in general, its effectiveness is relative to the product's appropriateness to sexiness. Perfume is often worn to attract a potential mate, so it's relevant when that is the goal. I'm not sure anyone wants sexy windshield wipers.
Here's what I believe marketers should think about:
1. Beautiful people attract attention. No doubt about it; we want to know them and be more like them.
2. Sexiness attracts attention, and provokes a response. The response may be positive or negative for the advertiser depending on the appropriateness of the sexuality in the ad.
3, If people want to buy a product to make them more sexy, advertising and promotions can help them pre-experience that. Victoria's Secret does that very well.
4. We often need a rational basis for buying something in that category. Victoria's Secret tells you about the design, and how it results in more comfort.
In short, sex does help sell some people on some things. But it's not the answer to everything, and in most cases it may be the wrong answer.
Perhaps we should also know who's designing and photographing all these fashion ads. Does their attempt at sexuality appeal to men or women?
Finally, we should keep in mind that we don't want customers to just have a weekend romance with our products, or just take them to a movie now and then. We want our customers to marry them and live happily ever after.