Monday, January 2, 2012

What, exactly, does sex sell?

         Fashion marketing students often tell me that sex sells. They say that's why many fashion ad campaigns are successful. I'm not sure I agree.

         In the first place, how do we know those fashion apparel ad campaigns are successful? I haven't seen the research, or the sales of the items that they show.  They're not published.

         Secondly, I do agree sexy ads may get attention and even contribute to interest, but sell? See above.

         When I see those Pirelli tire commercials with those pin-up girls, I do pay close attention. But sexy tires? To say Pirelli tires will make me sexy is, well, over-inflated.

          Sometimes when an advertisement tries to be sexy but the product isn't, it's impossible to take the ad seriously. Some of the Dolce and Gabbana ads, for instance, communicate almost too overtly, according to some of my students. I will allow that the ads do cast an aura over the brand that their target market probably responds to. But that's my point. Sexy ads do contribute to the success of sexy products --- but not all products.

         There's a new study called "Sex on the Brain" appearing in this month's issue of the Journal of Sex Research. The methodology was interesting. The 283 college students were asked to use golf score counters whenever they thought of life's three basic needs. Here are the median results: Men, 19 thoughts of sex daily; women, 10. Men thought as much about food and sleep as they did about sex. Women thought less about food and sleep.

         So would ads for men's clothes that show people eating pork chops or cupcakes do as well as beautiful female models? I leave that up to you.

         Also worth mentioning is a New York Times Magazine article entitled, "Is Generosity Better Than Sex?" The University of Virginia's National Marriage Project studied the role of generosity in the marriages of 2,870 people. People with generous partners were far more likely to be "very happy."

        A lot to think about before you say "sex sells". Maybe you should define "what" sex sells to "whom".

       Besides, if the research is right, maybe the Dolce and Gabbana ads would be even more successful if the models were all serving pancakes to each other.

1 comment:

  1. Working at Doner was akin to taking a graduate course in psychology. John DeCerchio hammered our creative team to create ads that focused on emotions, threats and sex. Though long gone, Brod Doner was constantly quoted, "Capture their heart, their mind will follow." And finally, the following questions usually came up in creative meetings: Can I eat it? Will it eat me? Can I mate with it? Will it mate with me? So, back to Pirelli sexy woman help sell tires? I believe they do, Harvey. Hell, if I owned a Porsche, I'd buy Pirelli over Goodyear in a heartbeat. Why? Because they're sexy. (Yes, I'm that shallow.) Great article.