Does Sex really sell?

We are constantly bombarded with provocative and sometimes borderline inappropriate advertising. It seems that Brands use sexual visuals for just any product or service thinking it will increase their sales. But does it really?

Using erotic imagery, or sounds or suggestions is not a novel strategy in the advertising world. In fact it’s been around for decades if not a century. In 1885, a manufacturer of soap (W.Duke and Sons) was one of the first ones to apply this strategy by including trading cards with erotic images of women in the soap’s packaging. (Paul Suggett,

The most famous brands known for their cheeky, sexual ads are Abercrombie & Fitch, Tom Ford, American Apparel. Speaking of the latter, this month one of its ads was banned in the UK for being too sexual. This is not the first time that the Advertising Standards Agency has prohibited an American Apparel ad, the company has had several problems in the past two and half years or displaying sexual images that were considered demeaning to women (Mashable, 2014). The reason for banning the ad (shown below) was that the real focus was not on the brand’s skirt but rather on the model’s buttocks.

A big concern in the sexualisation of advertising is that many of the people present in the ads are usually minors aged between 7 and 18 years old. Two things can “justify” this: the fact that children are growing up faster than before and dressing more provocatively and older than their age. They are a thriving market for fashion brands because this age group is easily influenced and follows the latest trends.

According to the Guardian (2013), “Girls ages eight to 12 alone generated $6.24 billion in apparel sales last year and spent $407.8 million in the intimates category, according to the NPD Group Consultancy. Apparel spending among 13 to 18 year old girls last year totalled $25 billion, while intimates generated another $1.2 billion”. The Guardian (2013) also explains that the reason why children are growing up faster is because of technology.

It’s true that children now use technology at a very early stage in their lives, we are even seeing more and more babies with their parents’ smartphone in their hands swiping with their fingers to play a game. Most households today have one if not more computers with access to the Internet, increasing the risk of ad exposure to children with ads of a more erotic nature.

Some people argue that because so many brands use sexual imageries, consumers are not shocked and sometimes do not even acknowledge the ads anymore due to habits.

So does sex actually sell?
If companies are still using this strategy after decades then you can assume that they are seeing results. The pornography industry is a billion dollar market which could explain why sexual messages are increasingly present in advertising strategies.

As Suggett explains, at the end of the day we are humans and as human beings, we respond to our primal urges, sex/ reproduction being one of them. This one of the reasons why people are drawn to sexually implicit or explicit ads.

Also it is known in advertising that triggering emotions and mood states in consumers enhances memory. Therefore agencies use stimuli to attract consumers and ensure that they remember the brand.


The presence of luxury brands online has always stirred debate, especially when it comes to social media! Definitely, the controversy surrounding this topic revolves around the fact that luxury brands aim to communicate an image of exclusivity whereas social media is all about being accessible and open to everyone. Plus, one of the key elements in being a high-end brand is developing unique user experience for the consumer.

One of the main reasons why so many luxury brands have been reluctant towards social media is that the brand image can easily be damaged if social media marketing is not used properly. However, it’s now clear that not being present at all on social media networks can also be dangerous. According to a survey conducted by Luxury Interactive this year, 85% of luxury brand marketers plan to increase their spending on digital channels in 2013 and 72% intend to invest more in social media.

Also, until recently luxury brands have been hesitant to engage with “high net worth individuals” on social media thinking that they are not active users of social media. However, research has shown that among the top 20% of earners in the UK, France and Germany, there are groups that enjoy engaging with brands on social media (The Guardian, June 2013).

There are four key elements that personify luxury brands: design (the aesthetic of the stores), user experience (offer the user a unique experience online), customer service (provide irreproachable and friendly customer service), and in-store experience (provide an experience for the customer reflecting the image of the brand). So how do you convey this online?

Most popular social media platforms for luxury brandsAccording to Luxury Interactive (2013), among the brands that have a strong online marketing strategy, the most effective strategies on social networks, are posting pictures of products (81%) followed by video to engage fans and followers (75%) and 60% found value in generating new ideas for product launches. Today, Facebook is clearly the most popular medium for high-end brands. Indeed, 95% of the marketers who participated in the study claim they actively engage customers on Facebook. Twitter is second, used by 85%, followed by Pinterest (60%). The majority of marketers have been very satisfied with their online campaign results that ran on these networks and plan to invest more in their mobile marketing strategies.

So what is the key for a successful social media strategy for high-end brands? In order to be successful online, it isrecommended that luxury brands develop adaptable communication strategies, meaning that the content of their communications should work well across both traditional and digital platforms. It is also crucial to create social media content that will be relevant to existing fans and followers and at the same time attract desirable new consumers to the brand.

Social media is all about engaging with the fans and consumers and creating /maintaining a long-lasting relationship. Some success stories in the luxury industry include Burberry in 2009. Burberry was one of the first brands to really embrace the “cognitive surplus” of social media. The term “cognitive surplus” was found by a theorist named Clay Shirky. The term refers to social digital media empowering users to produce and share content without seeking personal gain.

According to Prelini Udayan-Chiechi (2013), customers do not care about relationships. What matters to them is the experience, “it’s experiences, and the sharing of those experiences, that are the real drivers of social media”. Also customers are more likely to trust other customers than the brands themselves.

In 2009, Burberry felt the pressure of the economic crisis and decided to stand out and invest in social media. A campaign named “the Art of the Trench” was thus launched. The aim of the campaign was to encourage existing customers to share photos of themselves wearing their Burberry trench coats. This enabled the brand to engage with customers and offer them their 15mins of fame. The pictures could be liked, shared and commented via various social media platforms. The campaign was a great success and enabled the brand to have a younger looking image and reach a fresher clientele.

Porsche also prospered on Facebook last year and reached 5M Facebook likes by allowing fans to partake in the design a special model of the 911 Carrera.

Even though the majority of fans on Facebook are aspirationals, this doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to afford luxury brand products at some point in their lives. By establishing a relationship with these individuals, there are greater chances that these individuals will purchase products in the future from brands that engaged with them. This is why it is important for high-end brands to convey the dream and share their story to these potential future customers.

These examples are proof that social media can increase recognition of luxury brands and reinforce the relationship between consumers and these brands. The “exclusiveness” of the brands remains unharmed as they still convey sophistication, quality and excellence. The key thing to remember is to stay true to the image of the brand and engage with consumers to keep them interested in the brand.

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