Does Sex Still Sell? How the Idea Has Changed (Or Not)

July 21, 2015
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Written by Jamie Smith 

Do you remember that Quiznos commercial about five years ago that strongly implied a sexual relationship between the oven and an employee named “Scott?” The point was to sell a new sandwich called Toast Torpedos that looked delicious but the innuendo created such a vivid image that I haven’t been able to eat at Quiznos since.

The term “sex sells” has been true for decades but is it still true? I reached out to the Social Fabric blogging community to ask about their thoughts on this subject and got responses that represent a variety of demographics.

“I think it depends on the brand, and I think (more importantly) that it depends on their targeted audience,” blogger Cathy Mini said. “For example, I think it’s safe to argue that, generally speaking, ‘sex sells’ more for men than women in the United States. Is it ‘dead’ though? No, I don’t think so. But I would hope that my generation (Millennials) has developed more in consumerism and needs more from an ad than just sexual imagery.”

Fellow blogger Sarah Bouvier agreed and discussed the issue further when I asked about how body image and using sex to sell products go hand in hand.

“I think it’s the same thing,” she said. “Brands who are using ‘sex’ and selling mostly to men, are still showing ‘sexy’ women. While brands targeting women are showing a different standard of ‘beauty.’”

The recent ads by Dove are a prime example of this where women of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities are portrayed as beautiful. We can’t forget the emotional ads showing women that they are beautiful even when they don’t feel that way about themselves.

“I think emotions are the new sex. More and more ads seem to be playing on strong emotions,” Blogger Darcy Zalewski said. “The ads during the Big Game were a great indication of that.”

I never thought of it this way, but the Dove ads are still using body image and a strong sense of sensuality to sell a product. But unlike ads where the sexuality is overt, I, like others, remember Dove in a positive light instead of being repulsed. And instead of just addressing a small audience that might look like the “hot” models in ads, Dove addressed a broader audience with their message of body image acceptance and beauty. (Ironically, I don’t remember one thing being said about my armpits not stinking if I use the product but I’ll admit to recently switching to Dove deodorant.)

Another blogger named Melissa Ann agreed with initial thoughts on the Dove campaign still using body image to sell.

“A bunch of women standing around in their underwear is still using sex to sell, in my opinion, regardless of the shape/size of the women,” she said. “Deodorant is pretty much the least sexy thing ever so I guess sex helps sell.”

Blogger Mary Juett said she’s worked in direct sales for an intimacy business and that while sex still sells, “people want it to be tasteful, they want it to be relevant, and mostly they don’t want it to be flashy.

“If you really want ‘sex to sell’ for your product you have to be able to show quality and a real connection to the audience, not just throw a sexy image up and expect it to sell the product,” she continued. There needs to be audience connection, knowledge and confidence behind the product first.”

Do you think sex still sells? How have brands adapted to changing opinions in their audience? What kind of messaging do you prefer? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

About the Author: Jamie Smith is an avid content creator both for her personal blog Jamie’s Thots and for her writing business Jamie’s Notebook. A newspaper journalist by training, Jamie has loved the written word since elementary school. She started her personal blog in 2005, but had never considered that platform as a means of making a living until joining Social Fabric in 2013. She still writes some magazine and newspaper articles, but the majority of her work is now in sponsored blogging, corporate blogging and website writing. Happily married to husband John, Jamie works in a home office and loves sharing about her four-legged “children.” Tweet her at @JamiesThots.

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