Sunday, February 15, 2009

You and me, baby, ain't nothin' but mammals

Sex sells.

I've been hearing it since the days I first started speaking English. I see it on TV, read about it on (as Stephen always says) the World Wide Web, hear about it at school, and learn about it in class (sometimes). Sex appeal is what a large amount of companies shoot for nowadays. They want their products to resonate in a consumer's mind as sexy.

The problem is, sexy advertisement does not translate to sexy product. Now, I don't really know what's sexy nowadays. To me, sexy is a sleek pair of basketball shoes. Or a nice BMW 7-series. Or a really well mixed smoothie at Jamba Juice. As you can see, I've never been your typical consumer - THAT is why the topic of sex appeal... well, appeals so much to me.

Last class period, we watched L'Oreal ads. Then we watched a Dove spot. Dove is a product of Unilever, the same company responsible for Axe male grooming products. Axe, according to Wikipedia, has generated adverse publicity with accusations such as, but not limited to:
  • Sexist and degrading advertising
  • Being seen to encourage sexual promiscuity
  • Targeting adverts at underage children
Axe's advertisements go something like this.

Kind of dumb, yeah? In my opinion, however, Axe had an overall pretty good campaign with their "Axe Effect" gimmick. It was cool, it was sexy. It almost made me want to start using it. It smelled good, it felt fresh (my friends used it so I tried it out a few times), and allegedly drew the ladies right in.

Axe did have some pretty solid commercials - they have probably aired hundreds by now. Regardless of the title of it on YouTube, I am particularly fond of this one. They've also created a website for their shenanigans:

The phenomenon does not end there. There have been countless of "tasteless" (just sexually provocative or implicative) beer commercials. I cannot even begin to think about how many Miller or Bud Light commercials I have seen where there at the very least some sort of sexual innuendo. It doesn't end there... don't believe me? Take a look.

The question that most interests me about the topic is one of segmentation, a topic often discussed in Customer Insights. Who are these companies really looking to target? Is a 16 year-old girl going to buy an iPod because she saw a naked silhouette? Would a 36 year-old mother of two buy a vacuum that looks like one produced for a dominatrix? Men and women are very different when it comes to advertising. Men enjoy seeing healthy, young, good-looking women. Women on the other hand, are not exactly suckers for a muscular anatomy on their products' ads. A sexual connection is much more easier to make with males than with females.

Which drives my question - why sex? Women are a great demographic to target products towards, and although they do not usually have as much spending power, they often times are the primary decision maker when it comes to purchases. With raunchy, sexual-oriented advertisements, you not only alienate women, but at the same time fail to reach all, or even most of, the men. I would never buy a product because it had a hot girl in the commercial. Nike, Vitamin Water, Tropicana, Express, or Sony could put fat, bald, hairy 58 year-old men on their advertisements and I would still be attracted to their products. Beer isn't sexy. Coffee isn't sexy. Sexy isn't the ad, sexy is the product.

Axe smells good. But for how long? The ads were usually "sexy." Fine-lookin' scantily-clad women throwing themselves at the Axe-wearer seemed appealing. It was an appealing commercial (mostly, sometimes they just overdid it). But how was the product?

I never stuck with Axe... I'm more of a Burberry Cologne kind of guy.

I have yet to see one Burberry commercial in my life. Yet, I'm still prone to paying a premium for the product. Does sex really sell? You make the call.


  1. yes, sex sells but definitely to men. don't judge me when i ask this question...but have you ever seen "flavor of love charmed school?" the girls were split into teams to sell a perfume product. you know which team won? THE TEAM THAT DRESSED RAUNCHY AND SCANDALOUS!

    as for women, and i'm speaking for myself, i am not turned on to raunchy ads targeting women. i think i'm more likely to like a product if it is trying to empower women.

    and thank you for telling me that you'd never break up with me. ha ha ha!

  2. Julian - So here is a challenge for you... read this review article and see what this researcher has to say about the matter.
    Of course, this is a very interesting and provocative topic. I really think the differences among men and women are particularly interesting, but I am also curious about the various effects (attracting attention to an ad versus actually moving into a consumer's consideration set). Pretty good post, but a little rambling, I have to say. See if you can organize around a central theme so that your main point is really clear. Yes, the blogs are an opportunity to ramble a little, but just trying to hone your writing skills at the same time. You have a great 'voice' in your writing, so keep that up. Fun to read - thanks!