Despite a new study by AdweekMedia/Harris Poll that works hard to prove that "sex sells," there are plenty of case studies that suggest the opposite. The further removed the product is from sex, the less people appreciate the bravado or even innuendo.
In fact, while Americans are known to be more reserved than their European counterparts, many advertisers don't appreciate just how conservative they might be. As a whole, Americans could take it or leave it, with a slight majority hoping to leave it.
• 56 percent are bothered by the amount of sexual imagery in advertising.*
• 37 percent are not bothered by the amount of sexual imagery they see in ads.
• 6 percent say that they do not see any sexual imagery in advertising.
*25 percent say they are very bothered by the amount they see in advertising; 32 percent are somewhat bothered.
Of course, there is a gender gap. Among genders, almost three-quarters of women (73 percent) say they are bothered whereas just slightly over half of men (53 percent) are bothered. Age also plays a factor. Less than half of those 18-34 (46 percent) and half of those 35-44 (50 percent) say they are bothered by the sexual imagery in ads, compared to three in five of those 45-54 (60 percent) and two-thirds of those 55 and older (66 percent) who say the same.
If people are bothered by sex in ads, why do marketers think it sells?
With the exception of sexually-related products, such as lingerie, sex is an easy way to attract attention when otherwise boring products or boring sales propositions just can't cut through the clutter. So, in most cases, sex has nothing to do with selling.
It has to do with getting noticed. After that, marketers are only hoping that people talk about the provocative advertisements and hopefully the product. But sometimes, this backfires in big ways.
For example, the Monte Carlo Las Vegas tried to reposition itself last year with a "can't think of anything clever, let's use sex" approach. It didn't sell Monte Carlo as much as it sold better Las Vegas hotels. (You might also notice that one commenter mentions it was a rip off from an artist.)
So, the question marketers need to ask, at least in the U.S. where people are more uptight — are we selling X or XXX? And, if we are selling XXX and consumers happen to remember X, then what are they saying afterward? In the case of Monte Carlo, they seemed to have said everything except what the resort wanted them to say. You know, like maybe they wanted to stay there.
Personally, I'm not uptight about sex. I am, however, uptight about bad ads because they are such a tremendous waste of money. Worse, they sometimes make all your other marketing efforts work ten times as hard, trying to undo the damage.