Does Sex Still Sell?


Recent trends suggest campaign messages laden with sexual images do not resonate with consumers

recent article in Adweek entitled, “The Breast of Advertising,” examined the mixed results for retailers that use sex as a tactic to promote their brands. According to the article, “sexual content is everywhere in advertising” – accounting for nearly 20 percent of magazine and Web ads and 10 percent for television.

And as companies continue to use provocative and titillating advertisements to promote their products, they increasingly push the boundaries beyond what is considered “acceptable” within the wider culture.

Though many marketers disagree on the effectiveness of sex in advertising, the Adweek piece suggests that this marketing approach may be failing.  Here, retailers should consider the following:

  • There is a low “recall of the brand” with sexually explicit advertising because viewers “tend to ogle the breasts, then forget about the product.”
  • Research shows that of those who view ads containing sexual content, 61 percent said they were “less likely to buy.”
  • Super Bowl ads that use sex “were 10 percent less likeable than other spots.”
  • Sexual imagery is “too limited in its appeal and is not reflective of today’s society and today’s consumers.”
  • “Sexual imagery can be a too-risky strategy that alienates consumers, particularly women,” who “account for as much as 85 percent of all consumer spending.”

For retailers that find these observations unconvincing, let’s consider how sex in advertising can negatively impact the spending habits of Faith Driven Consumers – who number more than 41 million Americans, account for 17 percent of American adults, and spend $2 trillion annually.

Specifically, a recent survey conducted by found that 76 percent of those identified as Faith Driven Consumers said that the support of pornography by a brand is a reason they would stop doing business with a company.

Certainly, a case can be made that the types of advertisements highlighted in the Adweek piece would qualify at least as soft-core pornography based on community standards in most American locales.

In fact, the data show that the issue of pornography is the most concerning of all when compared to other hot-button social issues in the culture.

For retailers interested in engaging the Faith Driven Consumer market segment – one out of every seven Americans – the message is clear:  steer clear of sexually provocative messaging that veers into the realm of the pornographic.

Faith Driven Consumers are driven by a biblical worldview anchored in their deeply held faith and values. They see everything they do – including their daily spending decisions – as a matter of stewarding their resources in ways that best bring honor to God. And it is these faith convictions that drive their loyalty toward those brands that behave in ways that they find to be faith-compatible.

Is your company ready, willing and able to integrate with this rapidly emerging niche market, which is increasingly enfranchised and actively seeking to shift their brand preferences to those retailers who respect their needs and values – and make the effort to speak their language with campaign concepts that resonate?

Will your brand gain their preference? Or will your embrace of campaign messages that offend faith-driven values – including sexual imagery – cause this economically powerful market segment to choose another retail brand?

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