For the longest time, the adage “sex sells” was central to a lot of branding strategies even into the modern age. We’ve all seen the GoDaddy girl that featured at the Super Bowls in the mid 2000’s, and more recently, Carl’s Jr. doing similar things the past few years at the big game.
Do these really work? Of course they generate buzz. People talk about them. Your commercial definitely does get noticed. But does it actually improve your business through brand awareness, perception, or sales? Well, the poster child of this strategy in recent years, GoDaddy, has been around 18 years and still hasn’t turned a profit. So do you think that the “sex sells” strategy works?
If you answered no, you’d be right. A recent study from the American Psychological Association showed that ads that have sexual or violent content have a lower recall rate, and the more of that content it has, the lower the recall rate.
But here’s the biggest problem with the “sex sells” idea. It rarely makes any sense. Victoria’s Secret makes ads that feature women in lingerie because it’s what they sell, and I’m sure their ads perform admirably. However, selling burgers or website hosting like Carl’s Jr. and GoDaddy have nothing to do with sex, so it’s addition actually creates a distraction to what the ad is selling whether that be the brand or a specific product.
Does that mean that all your ads have to sell a product or even the brand? Absolutely not. Sometimes all you’re trying to sell is a mindset like Dr. Pepper. Dr. Pepper 10 did the campaign “It’s Not For Women” because they wanted to push the idea that men drank diet sodas. They sold an idea of manliness. As such, they were able to portray cheesy action movie scenes and the like without it being distracting because it was central to the campaign.
So what’s the point? Look at what you’re trying to sell. It can be an idea, a product or a brand. Next, make that the focus of your ad. Let everything filter through that. If you filter through what you’re selling, you will never have an ad that’s distracting.