Sex, Sex appeal and Advertising

Marketers face a complex challenge whether to engage right or left brain to build brands.  Hemisphere lateralization theory suggests that human brain is divided into two parts or left and right hemispheres. This implies that each side of the brain does some specialized functions but this does not imply both sides work independently.  Both sides of brain are interconnected by two bridges of neuron technically called corpus callosum and anterior commissure.  The left and right side of the brain is loosely called as house of ‘logic’ and house of ‘creative’ respectively.  There arises a question, whether to make an appeal to left side of brain by rational arguments or engage right brain by use of emotional appeals.

This can be illustrated by two advertisements.  Honda’s recently launched sedan, Amaze has been promoted by a rational claims that its new 1.5 liter diesel engine with 200 Nm torque is the most fuel efficient and it delivers 25.8 kmpl along with other aspects like price, space and interiors. On the other hand consider the communication of Omega Ladymatic commercial starring Nicole Kidman.  The design of Ladymatic is inspired by curves of women’s body and flowing hair in the breeze. Waves are the primary motif. The diamonds, dial, shape, blend of gold and steel, bracelet, bezel of the timepiece make it an artistic creation which is presented by an equally elegant Nicole Kidman.

Managers are often confronted with a decision whether to have ‘thinking’ or ‘feeling’ advertisement. A lot of factors come into play like the nature of product, customer characteristics, competitive scenario, involvement level and type. One of the common forms of emotional appeals used by the marketers is sex.  Sex holds a powerful lure for advertisers because it can be effective in attention capture, engagement and persuasion. Use of sex in communication can ‘cut through the clutter’ and may make a brand seem desirable. Mostly women become delivery vehicle of sexual execution. One of the criticisms against use of explicit sexuality in communication concerns the objectification of women.

What constitutes sexual appeal? Despite widespread use of sex in advertising there appear to be little concurrence on the issue of what it really means.  Fisher (1986) suggests that information that evokes sexual response is sexual in nature. Five things that fall in the domain of sexual presentation are:  

1.      Nudity (revealing and displaying  body- ad of Tuff shoes in which models stood nude coiled by a serpent);

2.      Sexual behavior (sexually provoking behavior display/explicit or implicit sexual encounter- Denvor deo ad, ‘Take control’) and Wildstone ‘wild by nature’ ad;

3.      Physical attractiveness-use of physically attractive models which acts as an  antecedent to mate selection and sexual encounter (Parachute Advanced Body Lotion- jagaye love dobara/ love reborn;

4.      Sexual referents- words and images that  that push someone down the sexual imagination lane or trigger sexual thoughts (Calvin Klein’s Brooke Shield ad ‘You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing“, )

5.      Sexual embeds- these include images, words or forms (referents) which are specifically work at the subconscious level (subliminal) . Often things that are shown in communication appear perfectly devoid of any sexuality but actually are shaped or positioned like sex organs or body parts (phallic shaped bottles, rabbit (promiscuity) for Playboy magazine, FCUK)

 The critical issue is not whether sex works or not rather where and how it works. Studies show that too much of eroticism in advertising can be counterproductive.  An overly sexual imagery can capture attention but simultaneously it can distract the attention away from the core message and hinder its processing. It is most ineffective when sex is used to grab attention.  It is therefore essential use of sex should be compatible with the product and consumer in consideration.  Some of the important findings governing sex in advertising are: women respond well to undressed male but not completely naked; male dislike nude males; women respond well to sexual presentation when it is presented in the context of committed relationship rather than lust; and sexual presentation work well if the product is itself connected to sex like innerwear.


3 thoughts on “Sex, Sex appeal and Advertising

  1. Sir
    It is always a pleasure reading your blog. I remember watching ad from a cement manufacturer in which a girl emerges from ocean like Ursula Andress and blabbing “vishwas hai is mein kuch khas hai”. I have seen a lot of beer companies using sexual imagery in their ads. Has their been any research around which categories is such strategy useful?

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