Sex sells part 2: why it might be a solution to your marketing problem.

Yesterday I wrote a posting on this blog about comparing regular sites to erotic websites, and why that bird doesn’t fly. I mentioned that erotica hooks into a primal, genetic need that attracts our attention, and how other commercial websites need to create a market. Sex does not, it is there, just like there is always a market for food, health-care and hygiene.

The comparison that a client wanted to make with his own website to an erotic one does not hold up, but, as I pointed out, it is not weird that people, especially web masters or project owners, wantto make that comparison. The sex industry is always considered a ‘I do not know about that’ kind of industry because people find it still uncomfortable to talk about it, but actually it is worth thinking about it if you want to do marketing.

The title of yesterday’s post was ‘Sex sells, cars don’t’, and I am simply stating a fact there. No matter how bad the economy will get, sex will always sell. So from a marketing point of view, or a commercial point of view, there is a huge market there. Still, when mentioning ‘Sex sells’ people immediately think about porn, but it is more than that.

When I was working with a previous employer in Europe, which was a large IT consultancy firm, I had to deal with a lot of Powerpoint presentations. Not because I liked it, but I could not stand the way how managers threw in clip-art, created 70+ page slideshows that would take hours and people would doze off. So, at one moment, I got the green light to take a presentation for a large bid on a project, the manager promised me not to touch it after I had delivered it, and so I went to work. The first thing I put in there were photos, still related to the subject on the slide (after managing to compress the presentation to about 8 slides instead of 70) but always showing a beautiful woman, usually in casual or business attire, with a slight hint of erotica in it. I don’t mean nudity, but the way she looked, that you saw her leg, the clothes that she was wearing, a hand in her neck; subtle elements. It would never offend you, the photos would always be great quality. But it would make you fantasize a bit.

The results were excellent, we won the bid and not only that, the manager who actually held the presentation mentioned that it was the first time people really were focused on what they saw. Even though they might have been attracted by the visual and not 100% with the content, it is still better than falling asleep.

The problem after that presentation is that my life started to become all about presentations. Actually, so much even that I started my own photo studio and actually provided the photos myself. But it is one of the scenario’s where sex also sells. Sex is not all about procreation, porn and nudity, it is a built in remote control for human beings to pay attention.

One of the brands that make excellent use of it, besides the reigning Victoria’s Secret of course, is Axe. In Europe even more so than in America, the message is simple; you use Axe, you get all the female attention you need. No matter what your looks are. Of course, it describes women as being completely mindless just being controlled by smell, but it is not a brand orienting on women. It has to play into the feeling of men.

Nivea actually does it very well too. But by bypassing Axe for younger men that point more towards mature men, mentioning good looks and often showing a woman, gorgeous, paying a lot of attention. Simple, playing into the feeling that a man still has his attractiveness, but it is not about being on the hunt anymore.

Throwing a bit sexiness in a website for marketing purposes can do amazing things. But doing it well is extremely difficult. It does not mean; throw in a photo of a woman in a bikini or lingerie – because it will simply have the opposite effect. You have to sit down with your marketing firm, and mention that you want to add sex. Not ‘make it sexy’ because many marketing firms think adding a glossy shine over images or icons, or imitate apple, means ‘sexy’. Sex is different. Sexy means ‘Looking good’. Sex means ‘it attracts you and grabs your attention’. But, if your marketing firm comes up with the earlier mentioned woman in bikini or lingerie; fire them.

Know what your brand is about and who your target audience is. Diet Coke / Coca-Cola light in Europe did that excellent with their ‘Coca-Cola Light Man’ and was completely targeted at women. A smart move; not only was it introduced mainly for women who were watching their weight and started to get concerned about health issues; women also usually are the person in a household responsible for buying groceries (no stereotype intended here).

Cars, on the other hand, are mostly bought by men. So putting a bit more attention towards how sexy a car could be, might not damage car sales. Right now usually car sites or commercials are about technology, miles per gallon. Who cares! You want to know how people would see you driving in it. Why do you think men in their midlife crisis want another car? Because they want to drive green? Forget it. But also, car commercials should never turn off women, because buying a new car is usually done by man, but never without approval. So it should be sexy, but not offending.

So, always know exactly who your target audience is, and if it is a consolidated audience, you might want to try to start researching of what ‘sex’ might mean to that audience; how it could offend but mostly, how it subtly can grab the attention but still highlight your product. If the market is too broad, it might be a big problem, but as said before, sex does not have to be about nudity or pornography. It is something normal, a natural attraction that we all recognize.

Used well, it might just give your site or product the marketing edge you need.

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