Small Business Marketing

Using Sex Appeal in Advertising

Written by Amy Bax for Gaebler Ventures

This is a short guide in use of sex appeal in advertising and marketing campaigns. Is it really effective? How should a company use it? What are things to be aware of?

Using sex appeal in advertising is a time-tested technique that will probably be with us forever.

Using Sex Appeal in Advertising

If you are marketing a product or service, you need to be aware of the power of sex appeal in advertising and understand the nuances of using sex to market your wares.

Why Sex Sells

The most obvious reason sex appeal works in advertising is that it grabs attention.

Both males and females are attracted to this type of advertising. It is a powerful instinctive attraction that will take our focus from anything else we may be doing. And advertisers know this. They play off of our curiosity. They know that it will be more likely to be recalled than most other forms of appeals because of the generated interest.

Also, many advertisers have found that overly controversial images, even if they are taken off of the air, will stir up discussions about the ad and the product associated with it. Even if someone does not agree with what is put on an ad, they are still talking about it. By those discussions being had, the name of your product stays in the minds of consumers longer.

What to Be Careful of When Using Sex Appeal in Marketing

Make sure that people are not so distracted by the sexual appeal of the ad that they do not remember what the ad was for in the first place.

It does not do any good to create a sensual or sexual message when all they can remember is the image and not the brand name. So, make sure the sexual/sensual image being used is connected in some way to the product or service being promoted. This will create a link between the two and make the viewer much more likely to remember the product or service being advertised.

Many advertisers appeal to males in this way- buy the product, get the girl. Especially beer advertisements- generally, a group of average looking guys will be in a bar and by purchasing or drinking a certain brand, they will attract interest from an attractive girl across the room.

What is considered acceptable varies from one location to another. In a large metropolitan area with a diverse, less conservative population, you might be more likely to produce more risqué advertising versus a rural and conservative or religious community.

Tailor the message to the people you are targeting, which includes understanding their feelings and beliefs on public sexuality. If you are setting up a business in a smaller community, make sure to note what other businesses do to advertise. Sex appeal may not be an acceptable form of appeal at all.

It is not as attention-grabbing as it once was. There is still an element of surprise, but do not think that people will react or respond quite how they did when it was first being used. As we have become more and more surrounded by sexual images in movies and television, we have become almost desensitized to it, and an ad with half-dressed models does not nearly shock us as much as it would have twenty years ago.

So, instead of just having a group of sexy girls or guys in an ad, try to find more subtle and unexpected ways to use sexuality in your message.

Dove did this by using "real people" in their marketing campaigns that started a few years ago. They used the different kinds of beauty, body shape, and age to promote their products. This unexpected campaign, which premiered during the Super Bowl, was extremely successful because it was something different that they were remembered for doing.

Sex appeal can be used in many ways. In short, make sure that the way you are using it is appropriate for the product that you are selling and the people you are selling it to.

Amy Bax is interested in providing innovative informational resources to entrepreneurs. She is currently an MBA student at the University of Missouri - Columbia.

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What's your opinion on using sex appeal in advertising? Have you ever used sexual attraction in your own marketing? Does sex help sell products? We welcome your comments.

  • Clement Yeung posted on 4/22/2010
    Clement Yeung
    Thanks Amy! Great point about desensitization - I would tend to think that in around 20 years we will all be seeing naked people bouncing around in music videos ;)

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