Does Sex-vertising Really Sell?

Everybody's now talking about the shirtless Abercrombie & Fitch greeters (Courtesy of A&F)

In the last few days, many would have seen the muscular half-naked guys in red pants, flexing their bare wares for all to see. Hired by Abercrombie & Fitch in Singapore for their store opening, they have created a buzz on Facebook, especially amongst the fairer sex.

Of course, this isn't the first time that A&F, renowned for using sex in their selling, has created a sensation. The uber fashion brand also created ruckus in Orchard Road with a huge and "indecent" half naked torso.

Courtesy of Coffee with Amee

Of course, girls have always been the subject of erotic imagery in ads, much more than than guys. A recent example from PETA (well known for using nude celebrities in their cause against animal cruelty) is seen below:

Courtesy of Trends Updates

The question I want to ask, however, is this:

Does sex in advertising sell? More importantly, will it work for your brand?

Well, for a start, using half-naked models or sexual imagery certainly helps in grabbing one's attention in a highly cluttered consumer landscape. Like love, food, and fresh air, sex is one of the instinctive urges wired into our primitive brain. Studies have shown that these effects influence both our physiological and cognitive senses - in other words, both involuntary and voluntary responses.

Having sexual innuendoes, nudity or visual images of physical attraction also generates buzz as seen in the A&F example above. The more sensational the ads, the more publicity they would generate, at least during the short term, and some would even "go viral".

Certain brands were also built on sex (or at least in its portrayal). Calvin Klein, Victoria's Secret, and more recently Abercrombie & Fitch consistently employ highly sexualised images to generate their business. According to this article, sex may work for products with a sex-related brand benefit (eg condoms for instance).

However, there are some dangers inherent in this "bedroom" game.

First, the strong reactions cited above are often negative and mostly by women. For years, feminist groups like AWARE in Singapore have lobbied against the portrayal of women as sex objects. To circumvent this, it is important to portral erotic appeal in the right context (eg in a relationship as opposed to a fling).

The heavy reliance on physical appeal alone may also not work if one's core product isn't up to scratch. I recall that a few years ago, a bubble tea shop employed bikini clad models as a gimmick to generate sales through "oogling" customers. That venture quickly fizzled out as the core product itself wasn't tasty enough to quench the thirst of customers, eye candy notwithstanding.

In a similarly vein, brands that deploy sex in advertising may also lose their message if their product has little relevance to what's being portrayed. While cars and girls have always gone together, vehicle workshops and tire/battery shops may not find it profitable to use the fairer gender in their ads.

Finally, if everybody is doing it, there is a danger of message dilution. Being unique and differentiated sometimes mean going against the flow. If all clothing retailers use a half naked torso, having one yourself isn't going to help you stand out from the "barely there" crowd.

What are your views on sex in advertising?

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