Sex Sells – Sort Of

Let’s talk about sex. Let’s talk about all the ways it gets used.    Let’s do some myth-busting.

Myth 1 : Sex Sells

Sort of.  Like everything in marketing, it’s about your target market, your product and context.  Remember, the medium is the message!

Example 1 – You work for FHM.  You target young heterosexual males.  Your goal is to sell more magazines.  Do you use a picture of a pretty young woman in a provacotive pose?

Answer: Yes – your target audience are teenagers / young adults who are dealing with more testosterone than they ever have.  This is exactly the kind of target market where ‘sex’ sells.

Example 2 – You are a funeral director.  Do you use a picture of a scantily clad, pretty young woman at a grave?

AnswerNo.  Wrong context.  Unless you are purposely going for a contentious advertising campaign, this is the wrong market.

Myth 2: People recall ‘Sexy’ Advertising Better.

Again, sort-of.  Research indicates that recall of the advertisement is higher.  However, recall of the actual brand is significantly lower!

So, your advertisement will do well on the recall level, but it’s much; much less effective on a brand building level.   Add that to the fact that multiple exposures to an advertisement is required before an effect is taken (i.e. recall levels appear; numbers quoted range from a minimum of 3 exposures up to 13!); you are reducing the effectiveness of your overall campaign.

Myth 3:  Sexy Advertising Breaks Through the Clutter

Again, not entirely true.  If everyone in your industry is using sex as their persuasion method, then the clutter is ‘sex’.  You’d do better to choose another form of persuasion and tone – humour, anger / sadness / other emotions, information dumps, etc.

Dove’s use of ‘real women’ in their advertising won them major points and saw a significant increase in their sales for a while (till they got caught out!).  No sex, just taking a different tone and form of persuasion.

Myth 4: People Who Don’t Like Your Sexy Advertisements Aren’t Your Customers Anyway

Again, sort of.  Context and format makes a big difference.  Would advertising ‘Save Your Ta-Ta’s’ sound good to you for breast cancer fundraising? If it did, you just angered breast cancer survivors and older women – part of your target market.

Sure, specific targetting can reduce the affect by a significant margin – especially if your target market is narrow.  However, with a broader target market; you risk alienating a portion of your market.  Depending on the target market, you might be alienating a significant portion.

Myth 5: Sexy Advertising Brings Revenue

Four words. Old Spice Body Spray.  On a pure recall perspective, it had everything – a memorable jingle, a hot sexy man, humour and great production values.  It was shared the world over, was parodied and copied by the masses.  What it didn’t do? Make a dent in their sales growth.

There are more factors than just advertising or sexy advertising that generates revenue.  A memorable ‘sexy’ advertisement that can be talked the world over still might not bring revenue.


I am not saying don’t use sexy advertising.  It obviously works sometimes, and companies have generated large amounts of money through the use of that form of advertising.  However, be careful.  Always remember and check:

  • Target market
  • Product
  • Context (Tone & Medium)

Sex is an obvious tool.  It’s often the most obvious.  Don’t just reach for it for blindly, add to your toolbox.

All in the eyes of the beholder

More and more, personalisation in web search has made tracking rankings an interesting journey.  The fact is, due to personalisation by Google and other search engines, what shows up for individuals in different locations / search histories can be vastly different.

Want to test it out? Pick a search term.  Run it while logged in.  Now go Private / Incognito and make sure you are logged out.  See how the search rankings and terms change?

What Does it Mean?

Personalisation is great for searchers in theory.  They can find the websites and information that they most want, in the fastest time possible.

However, as a website owner, personalisation can cause problems.  Depending on search history, IP location, heck even the e-mails you have opened; searches might direct potential customers to the same-old same-old websites.

Which means you need to be concerned about more than just your search placement. What you see might not be what your customer sees, so the idea of ‘generic’ placement is less important.

Filling in the Gaps

How do you fill in the gaps and move yourself upwards? Well, firstly make sure you are targetted correctly.  Let Google know if you are targetting a specific country (like Canada) via Google Webmaster Tools.  It’ll increase your placements for Canadians automatically, even if they aren’t logged in.

Secondly, watch total traffic movement from search engines – not just rankings.  If you see your traffic from search engines increase, you can be relatively certain rankings have gone up – even if to you your rankings might not have moved.

Thirdly, start looking at ways of being ‘outside’ of your sphere of influence – your website.  You’ll need more than just links but advertisements, e-mails, pins, such that viewers encounter you in more places.  That way you generate traffic from more than just search.  In addition, (pure speculation on this) Google might even start taking into account the amount of times / views that they see of you outside of your location, slowly pushing your rank up.  And no, I don’t mean just plain links; but pins and FB fans and the like.