Thursday, December 29, 2011

Prediction: Less sex in advertising in 2013

At Cannes Lions this summer, Susanna Kempe, CEO of WGSN, predicted for 2013 that “overt sexualisation” will be out. She should know; WGSN is a leading trend analysis firm servicing the apparel and design industries. This global business spots macro-trends and seeks to keep clients “on trend” or at least ahead of the curve.

Apparel and designer brands have long been at the forefront of sexual explicitness in advertising and marketing. Dolce & Gabbana has faced scrutiny for ads that crossed many lines, as have American Apparel and other designer brands with ad featuring adult themes, homoeroticism, bondage or nudity.

It was once explained to me that designer brands, at least in consumer magazines where there are page-after-page competition, must do something to stand out from the crowd. This can include pushing boundaries and flirting with sexual taboos. Being at the forefront—important for exclusive brands—also means associating your brand with elite fringe social trends.

Research generally shows that sexual content in advertising continues to increase each year. But there are exceptions. In the 1980s, for instance, ads displaying hook-ups and anonymous sexual situations took back seat to stories of ‘sex within committed relationships’ as awareness of HIV increased. Similarly, Sam Shahid has said that advertising reflects the cultural and political barometer: It even reflects who occupies the White House (less under W., more under Clinton).

What other routes may designers take in 2013 other than overt sexuality? Simplicity, letting luxury speak for itself and “deteching”—or moving away from too much social media (read more here), say Kempe and WGSN. It will be interesting to see if their predictions are accurate.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Diesel successfully exploits the link between fragrance and fashion, and sex

Use with extreme caution. That's the advice of marketing researcher and consultant Bob Brecht in a recent post about sex in advertising. Dr. Brecht refers to industry research concluding that sexual appeals are effective at grabbing attention but tend to drain attention away from brand information. Rightly, he also makes the point that product relevance to sex is key to use of this emotional appeal.

I'm reminded of the accompanying ad for Diesel fragrance for men. This adappeared in public posters (at least in France) this summer as well as in magazines. The message is that Diesel cologne is "fuel for life" and, I suppose, an important component of male virility. Fortunately the ad contains a warning, "Use with caution," so that young men will be mindful of the cologne's effects.

Whether effective or not, fragrance does have a legitimate claim to relevance with sexual attraction. The use of sexual appeals is not new for Diesel. In addition to attracting attention to its ads with sex (and judges at Cannes Lions), Diesel continues to successfully employ this appeal to market its products.

Monday, August 15, 2011

What do monkeys and humans have in common when it comes to sex in advertising?

Do monkeys respond to sex in advertising?

That’s what a team of advertising professionals, market researchers and primatologists is seeking to discover.

I attended a seminar at Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity where Elizabeth Kiehner and Keith Orwell did a marvelous job explaining their research project. I also learned that the test subjects, Capuchin monkeys, share up to 98% of human DNA.

The marketers teamed up with Laurie Santos of the Yale primatology lab. Dr. Santos has done some ground breaking work with Capuchins, including teaching them how to use money. Advertising seems like a natural if you want to part monkeys and their money. Sex in advertising is first in a serious of studies designed to see if monkeys can be shown to respond to advertising.

The concept for the sexual ad is built around the monkeys’ natural behavior. We were told that female Capuchins publicly masturbate. The males find this behavior intriguing and copulation naturally follows observation. This sexual behavior sequence happens frequently each day.

So, the creative team designed an ad featuring the female Capuchin in all her glory. They paired this image (and a non-sexual image) with a logo. The hypothesis is that the sexual image will result in a behavioral preference when just the logo is available.

I suspect the researchers will discover a sexual effect. Sex is a powerful motivator that should become associated with through simple conditioning with a brand logo. We know these effects translate in the marketplace with humans. With such a shared heritage, we should expect the same with Capuchins.

It would be really interesting to see if the monkeys vary in their affinity to sexual stimuli. Working with Michael LaTour and John Ford, we just reported in JAR that personality variables as well as moral reasoning influence human responses to nudity in advertising. I want to know if the same is true for monkeys.

We look forward to hearing the results of this intriguing study.

Friday, June 10, 2011

New ads prove sex can be used to protect computers and consumers

A recent Adweek post proves that sex can be used to sell... computer virus protection? Well, the campaign hasn't sold much, yet, but two new ads for Webroot, a security software program, touch on ubiquitous email scans related to "sexy singles" and promises of "male enhancement." Both spots are subtle and humorous but resonate with anyone with an email account. The spots were created by TDA.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sexy ads push Obscene Jeans stock symbol

Fashion brands can justify employing sexy ads. The approach is especially relevant for a new denim brand with the name Obscene Jeans. Instead of selling jeans, however, its sexy online ad is designed to foster investor relations and sell shares.

I noticed the accompanying ad for Obscene Jeans on my Google stock portfolio page. As viewers check the status of stocks in their watch list, they also see a woman pulling up her blouse and the headline, "If you think I'm hot, you should see this stock! Ticker Symbol OBJE."

OBHE is the OTC symbol for Obscene Jeans Corp. The stock has been trading since January 2011, mostly between $2 and $3. The company bills itself as a lifestyle and apparel brand that "produces eye-popping denim fashion for the world's sexiest women." Rachel Stark-Capelli is designing the firm's first line which will be available in Fall 2011. A deal was recently inked so that Obscene Jeans and its product line will be distributed in China and Europe.

Research shows that sex in advertising is most effective when it is relevant to the brand. Sex and designer fashion is no-brainer but, I suppose, sex is expected when promoting a brand named "obscene." The word means to incite lust or to askew standards of decency and morality. As such, the brand compares itself to LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, but its name is more closely aligned with Playboy fashion and Porn Star Clothing.

The online ads have drawn some attention; some good, some not so good. Most of the talk has been speculation about the stock's value instead of its advertising. Though it's likely that much of the brand's initial attention was generated by its name and sexy online ads.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sex appeals increasingly used to sell plastic surgery

Want to look and feel sexier? Consider plastic surgery.

According to a recent study published in 2011, this is the message physicians are increasingly using to promote cosmetic surgery. In fact, some of the most invasive procedures--breast augmentation and liposuction-- are more likely to include sex appeals compared to noninvasive procedures. The lead author and primary contributor was University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill professor Heidi Hennink-Kaminski. The study appeared in the journal Sexuality & Culture. I know this study fairly well because I am a coauthor.

Dr. Hennink-Kaminski trained coders to examine 2,400 cosmetic surgery ads in big-market city magazines published over a 20 year period; from 1986 to 2007. Overall, 20% of the ads contained a sexual appeal but three times as many sexual ads appeared in the second decade (1997-2007).

Sexual appeals are more likely to emphasize the sexual enhancement of one's self-esteem (e.g., "feel sexier"). A little over a third of sexual appeals emphasize enhanced sexual attractiveness, and about 10% of ads make the claim, either implicitly or explicitly, that increased sexual behavior is an outcome of cosmetic surgery (e.g., "more sex/better sex").

It should come as no surprise that women--many of them partially dressed or naked--appear in 97% of the sexual ads. Given the target audience these ads are not designed to promote sexual arousal but are designed to serve as aspirational and instructional, with sexual behavior and feelings used as reasons for considering a cosmetic procedure.

There are plenty of implications. For one, should an emotion-based appeal such as sex be used to sell surgery? Doing so certainly violates norms within the medical community that advertising should be limited to information about the practice, not compelling emotional benefits. Please comment about implications you feel are important.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Consumer Reports determines Dial's "sex appeal" claim comes up short

Will Dial Magnetic” body wash for men enhance their sex lives? Not according to research by Consumer Reports. In its February 2011 issue, CR investigated Dial’s claim that the pheromone-infused wash would attract women. The scientist they interviewed said, “no way.”

Dial joins a long line of male targeted soaps, deodorants and body sprays positioned as sexual enhancers. Think of brands such as Axe, Tag, and Old Spice that employ the sexual benefit trope: “Use our brand, and get the attention of the opposite sex.” In advertising, this strategy was first used in 1911 by JWT to sell Woodbury Facial Soap to women. The appeal was so successful that JWT and hundreds of other agencies have used it to sell almost every personal care product imaginable, and continue to do so today.

CR does neglect to consider that simple bathing, an act some young men find abhorrent, may indeed enhance one’s prospects. But then any deodorant soap will do.