Does Sex Sell?

July 18th, 2008 by Bob Bly

New media gurus these days rave about getting tens of thousands — or millions — of page views on MySpace and YouTube.

But any idiot can put up a video that gets a ton of traffic. The easiest way: just use sex.

As Steve Hall writes at www.adgabber.com: “Anytime you stick a stunningly beautiful, hot looking, busty girl in a video, wide viewership is not far behind.”

When I took my first marcom job in the late 1970s at Westinghouse Defense, a product manager told me: “Forget all that marcom crap you guys do; HERE’S how to sell defense systems.”

He opened a thick binder with 8 X 10″ color photos of bikini models straddling missiles and control panels.

What the social media/online video crowd seems to be missing is that getting attention is easy — always has been. Just use sex, violence, or weirdness.

However, getting the kind of attention that draws qualified prospects who are interested in your product — and ultimately buy — is another story.

And relatively few marketers — new media or old — are masters of that skill.

Anyone can post a video of a hard body girl in a bikini doing jumping jacks.

But how do you monetize that if you are not selling relevant, related offers like beauty, health, travel, or fashion?

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19 responses about “Does Sex Sell?”

  1. Philip McLean said:

    I guess I’m kind of frustrated that so many people still don’t understand this. Simply getting attention does not equate to sales. Ideally, you get attention with some combination of text and graphics that creates a sense of curiosity … the viewer wants to know a little more, so they read on. With the bikini model ads, there’s no curiosity, no need to read anything, and no reason to even remember what the product was.

  2. Lou Wasser said:

    Bob:

    You nail the problem when you ask how you “monetize” a sexy ad that’s not making relevant offers.

    Noxzema Shaving Cream took the American TV audience by storm in 1967 when, with the help of the William Esty ad agency, they put Swedish model Gunilla Knutson on a commercial and implored men to “take it off, take it all off.”

    Knutson was of course referring to men’s beards, and the play on words worked very well at the time. Particularly with composer David Rose’s then-familiar bump-and-grind music, “The Stripper,” beckoning in the background. This has all been preserved and made accessible to us at http://youtube.com/watch?v=bpwzDO0gD1s.

    But creating this kind of excitement using sex as a trigger is more difficult in products not related to the sectors you cite: “beauty, health, travel or fashion.”

    Also, ads which use sex some forty years later in national campaigns tend to be less bombastic and more politically correct. A Viagra or Cialis ad, for instance, is very careful to solicit the cooperation of both sexes as well as the approval of a private physician.

  3. Bob Bly said:

    Sex is directly relevant to a small number of product lines (Victoria’s Secret).

    It has some relevance to a larger minority of products; e.g., beer advertised in the summer at the beach with fit male and female models playing vollyball in swim suits.

    It has little or no relevance to the majority of products, or at the very least is not representative of their USP or core selling proposition (e.g., the Wall Street Journal, Dyson vacuum cleaners, Energizer batteries).

  4. Jim Logan said:

    I couldn’t help but think of GoDaddy.com. Apparently, sex sells for them: http://www.grokdotcom.com/2008/02/04/godaddy-super-bowl-marketing/

    I haven’t seen any numbers on revenue increase or profitability, but the link above indicates marketshare and awareness increases following their Super Bowl ads – both should result in a revenue increase.

  5. Dianna Huff said:

    The fallacy of the “sex sells” argument is that the advertising is directed at men, whereas the majority of small businesses in the U.S. are run by women AND women make the buying decisions in the households.

    I use GoDaddy but not because of the hot babes. They have an easy to use dashboard and their prices are low. If the CEO of GoDaddy were *really* smart, and not just a reactionary boob, he’d “get it” that women business owners could make up a prime segment of his audience and would adjust his advertising accordingly.

    Here is an article I wrote on the topic:
    http://www.dhcommunications.com/free/mcn0207.htm

  6. Jodi said:

    Amen to what Diana said.

    When I was looking for a host recently, I specifically rejected GoDaddy – because of the cheesy ads.

  7. Apryl Parcher said:

    I agree with Lou’s comment on “monetizing.” It may seem sexy to brag about a gazillion page views, but what does that really mean at the end of the day?

    When you get down to the brass tacks of seeing how those page views shake out into sales, THAT’s what counts, no matter how “viral” the message.

    How many of those viewers actually bought the product? What’s the ROI? These New Media gurus would do well to get back to marketing basics and actually measure performance, not just throw something cute together and call it “branding.”

  8. Eamon said:

    I just think that sex comes across to me as a bit spammy and desperate. And I would rather good customer loyalty over mass attention.
    I don’t use GoDaddy because it uses sexy images. I use GoDaddy simply because I like the service and because it is regarded by many as number 1 in what it does.

  9. mark allen roberts said:

    “Sexy Ads” and “Creative Jingles” are symptoms of a company that has lost touch, or Tuned Out to their market.

    What they are producing was probably built because they could build it and not to meet a market need.

    If what you provide your market is of value to your buyers, you don’t need to be sexy and your market will quickly realize what your product/service is, what it does, and how it solves a problem I have.

    Sex sells? No, Sex creates an interruption in hopes that while your distracted from the other couple of thousand messages you receive each day, you somehow connect to their product or service. They are expensive and often do not produce ROI.

    I think someone should create a tool that quickly assesses the amount of sexual imagery in ads to help us understand the companies who have built products that do not solve a problem we have and are desperate.

    I envision a web site I can visit and have those companies listed from most sex-least relevant products to least sex- probably a great products.

    Hmmm, so I wonder where this copy paper ad would fall? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zm12c_B7X4w&feature=related

    Mark Allen Roberts
    http://www.tunedinblog.com/blog/pragmatic-marketing.html

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