The simplest answer as to why advertisers use sex in marketing is: it works. There is something inherently appealing about the human form that attracts us. Sexualized ads and seductive web copy make us curious, grab our attention, and catch our interest.
Smart marketers use that sex appeal to their advantage, especially in this era of instant gratification where most of us have the attention span of a squirrel.
Provocative images for business marketing tend to be used in one of three contexts:
Products and Services That Are Not Sexual
The first is in a teasing, but often confusing, way. Sexuality is used to promote a product that has no actual relation to anything sexual.
- Soft drink companies use supermodels to stand suggestively sipping their soda
- Car manufacturers put an attractive man with a seductive voice behind the wheel
- A web hosting company shows an unlikely pair kissing
These kinds of commercials and ads make us take a second look because we aren’t sure what we are seeing or what it’s related to. They force us to pay attention, to see the brand. When done well, we tend to remember it.
Product or Services Related to the Human Body
The second is in a supporting role, where it makes some sense to tap into sex appeal because the product is related to the body in some way.
- A woman seductively glossing her lips with the latest trendy color shade
- A man spraying his bare torso with a cologne or body spray
- Models showing off lingerie
This type of marketing is usually done in a way that makes us believe we’ll have similar results as the models if we use the products.
Sexual Products and Services
Finally, if you’re advertising a product or service that actually IS sexual, then it would be odd not to use sex in some way to promote the product. Products in this category include:
- Erectile dysfunction medication
- Erotic romance novel
- Birth control products like condoms
And with the “no filter” age we are a part of, we just expect this and it does make sense. But to stand out from the competition the ads can be racy.
Sex Appeal in Marketing Can Go Wrong!
Sex appeal in marketing does have to be used carefully, though. A couple of instances where it goes wrong:
- When an ad is too provocative to the point of making people uncomfortable, we tend to tune out
- If the marketing is so unrelated to the product or so focused on the sex appeal, we miss what the actual product being advertised is
One thing about using sex appeal in marketing, no matter what the category of ad or product, is that it taps into our insecurities, plays on our fantasies, makes us believe that if we drink that particular beer we’ll get the hot girl, or if we wear those jeans heads will turn. And yes, for the most part, we are that susceptible to the tactics!