Thursday, October 28, 2004

:: adgruntie :: Economist on sex in advertising

+ Sex doesn't sell an article from The Economist. They are slow to catch up with this story, which I mentioned at least a few weeks ago. (Yah, I could go look it up but I'm feeling lazy). Here's some from the article:
But though life may be increasingly exciting for the sex-obsessed, in the wider population advertisers are finding that sex no longer sells the way it used to. “There's a lot less flesh flashed around in advertising,” says Claire Beale, editor of the trade paper, Campaign. “We're in a much more subtle era,” says Nicola Mendelsohn of Grey London, an agency owned by WPP, a communications conglomerate. “People are looking for things that are more real, more wholesome, more pure.” “Using sex to sell has been overdone and has reached saturation point,” says Paul Gostick of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM).

Even agencies that specialise in striking sexual themes, such as TBWA, which invented the controversial FCUK logo for French Connection, a clothing brand, agree. “There has been a shift. We went through an era where sex was a means of shocking consumers, and that doesn't work any longer,” says Andrew McGuinness, the agency's chief executive.

Commercial and academic research supports the thesis. Only 6% of consumers surveyed by the CIM said they were positively influenced by sexual images in advertising. D_Code, a study of young consumers by HeadlightVision, another bit of WPP, concluded that they found sexually explicit advertising boring and repellent. Allison O'Keefe Wright, the report's editor, blames desensitisation. “In the past a brand could use sexual imagery to grab a young person's attention, now it's just part of the background. Subtle cues and suggestions are much more powerful.” Nostalgia, too is growing, stoked by fears of terrorism and war: “Playful, child-like imagery is having a lot of impact,” she says.

Women consumers are the most likely to be turned off by the cheesy and the explicit. Ms Mendelsohn's ad for a specialist shaving device for the female groin used a neutral silhouette rather than overt sexual imagery, which would have been “the last thing they wanted”. That made the shaver the best-selling electrical product of the past 12 months, she says. The same campaign is now planned for America.

Peter Frost, whose company, Proficiency2020, ran a conference last month (“Rethinking Pink”) on selling to women consumers, argues that crude sexual images are both distasteful and increasingly irrelevant. “When you see an office copier with a girl draped over it, it titillates 10% of the customers and alienates the rest.” Moreover, he says, many male consumers also like their advertising humorous and informative. He plans similar conferences in America next year.

Advertisers used to the sex-soaked style of continental Europe are struggling to make the shift. So are some home-grown ones. EasyJet, a British budget airline, attracted ridicule for a poster it produced earlier this year featuring a bulging bikini top and the slogan “Discover weapons of mass distraction.” Even Mr McGuinness of TBWA, no stranger to controversy on questions of taste, terms it “crass”. It was also muddled, he says, as the airline was simultaneously marketing itself as a cheap alternative for business travellers.

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