Mar 08, 2012 Written by 
We are all sexual beings. True.

And, advertising executives the world over will tell us that "sex does sell". They have a long history of showcasing scantily clad men and women in advertising with great success.

But, does it still work?
Does sex sell?

With 100 million viewers, the Superbowl is the prime target to for sexy television commercials.  And, they have gotten sexier.  Their aim is to drive viewers into car dealerships, pubs and retail outlets. The commercials aim to drive online commentary and participation through social networks like twitter and facebook so they can talk about the car, beer or smartphone that has been advertised during the game.

An Iowa State University study fround that viewers of programs with sexually explicit or violent conent were less likely to remember the commercials immediately after watching or even 24 hours later.

The reality is that people look for fantasy because reality isn't always what its cracked up to be. Have a look at the success of Victoria's Secret. My 12 and 16 year old nieces favourite fashion label is Victoria Secret. "Please, please buy me stuff from Victoria Secret," they always say when I am travelling to the US. At first, I said "no way!" It's for adults! Until I actually visited a store and realised that they do in fact sell for everyone and I mean everyone. Kids are also very provocative today - a little different to when I was a child I can assure you.

I was sitting in Atlanta watching the Victoria Secret's Annual Parade with a male friend a few months ago, and while he oggled (and rightfully so), I sat there wishing my body looked half as good as the women parading theirs down the runway. It's true, I wanted to be like them. Believing that if I wore a Victoria Secret outfit, I too could look good - is something that I considered right there and then.

Sexy has also worked for Doritos, Pepsi and Calvin Klein over the years very well. Who would ever forget the then 15 year old Brooke Shields saying "You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing."

A client the other week had some costumes designed for a sporting event. They were very provocative. Incredibly so. We suggested a downplay of the 'sexiness', but they were men and they thought it was good. Now whether this works in their favour or not, no one will ever know because its a grey area. They were not directly selling anything, but were trying to gain a wider brand awareness.

Advertisers will always try to associate sexy imagery with products and services hoping that some of the 'sexiness' will attach their clients brands in the consumers subconscious. Afterall, a seductive smile is there in advertising to urge us to buy.
Mellissah Smith is a serial entrepreneur and business leader with more than 20 years' experience in marketing.
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Mellissah Smith

Mellissah Smith is a marketing expert, author, writer, public speaker and technology innovator. Having worked with more than 300 companies across technology, medical device, professional services, manufacturing, logistics, finance and health industries, Mellissah has a well-established reputation as an experienced marketing professional with more than 20 years experience. As the founder and managing director of Marketing Eye, she has taken the company from startup to a multi-million dollar enterprise with offices in Australia and the US. Mellissah is also the Editor in Chief of Marketing Eye Magazine, a quarterly magazine that cover marketing, entrepreneurship, travel, health and wellbeing. #mellissah #marketingeye

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  • Jessica

    I think that in many western countries, for example Australia and in Europe, consumers have become accustomed to seeing ‘sex’ in advertisements thanks to the abundance of increasingly provocative copy, used to sell a huge range of products, not just lingerie and underwear. How well this works however is something that I think will be debated for a long time to come.

    I also believe that many marketers incorporate sex into advertising campaigns as a way of standing out, taking more and more risks as a way of gaining the audience’s attention and trying to shock them in a controversial way. However, whether or not this is the best approach in the long term and with regards to generating an actual purchase is questionable. Perhaps brands need to focus on astonishing rather than shocking their consumers?

  • Anthony Calfapietra
    Anthony Calfapietra

    Like Raihan I have seen and visited culturally conservative countries and couldn't agree more that some of these ads wouldn't see the light of day and if they did the public outcry would be large. However visiting countries on the other side of the spectrum shows you how much sex can sell. Most in particular Amsterdam where they sell the idea that both bad boys and girls go to Amsterdam.

    Sex does sell however not all companies are using this strategy i.e. Dove real women campaign

  • Cedric

    Sex in the ads is like in the real life; everything depends on how you use it!

    It's sure than for some brands like Victoria Secret the models are often a few dressed but is it sex in this case? I don't think so!
    We were talking about Calvin Klein... Them, are more than border line! That's why two years ago (if I'm right) one ad for CK Jeans was banned in Australia... Do we need to set models like in an sex orgy to sell some jeans! I don't think so even if it's related to clothing market! This is only sex in the ads!

    Sex in the ads has been used since long time now but mentality is evolving and there are less taboos and this one reason of the expansion of sex ads.

    But male or not, I'm not against the ads with sex references if it's done with subltility, humour and/or, at least, elegance... So don't try to sell me a screw driver with a naked doll!

    And to finish as I started:
    Sex in the ads is like in the real life; to have a good memory we have to enjoy it!

  • Raihan

    I love this article and couldn't agree more on how provocative some businesses are turning into these days in order to make sales.

    With brands like Victoria's Secret and Calvin Klein, which are categorized as clothing apparels, it comes without saying that they are selling skimpy lingerie and advertisements relating to the brand are showcasing just that with beautiful scantily clad models wearing them. But what I don't get sometimes is how an unrelated business are using these tactics to gain more sales and recognition?

    I have visited culturally conservative countries and some of these ads would not see the light of the day and some would tone it down by just a notch to suit the preference of the country and culture.

    It's pretty obvious that sex does sell. When girls walk around wearing skimpy outfits, it's known to draw attention-whether to them or the brand they are promoting, and at the end of the day, the message does come across, even by just a little.

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