Sex sells. So they say. Sex has been a part of the advertising landscape for a long time, but in recent years, sex has become even more prominent in the world of advertising. From fashion brands to food to celebrities, many advertisers are pushing the bounds of sexuality in their marketing.
Calvin Klein released their newest racy campaign, featuring several models and actresses posing in photos that have raised controversy. In this campaign, the brand is incorporating the nude selfie generation and the accessibility to Snapchat. In previous years, they have integrated Tinder and playing on Millennial’s comfort and familiarity of sex in their lives.
The current campaign features photos up the dress of a model, another with her hands in her underwear, amongst others. Calvin Klein also released an image of jeans put on backward with the word “belfie”, tapping into slang from the urban dictionary.
The photos for the 2016 campaign can be found on their Instagram page with comments that bash the pictures and designer. However, even with the controversy, sales have been strong. Within the last year, revenue has increased by 20%. The sexual pictures are working for the brand, and have been since the 1980s, regardless of the controversy they generate.
Why does Calvin Klein find success in these sexually charged campaigns? The brand finds success because people talk. Sex may not necessarily translate directly into dollars, but it does translate into conversations and a sexy brand image.
Does this mean that only sexualized campaigns increase revenue for a fashion company? At the opposite end of the spectrum, Ralph Lauren has crafted a brand image that is classy and polished. Their advertising campaigns typically feature models fully covered, in upscale and empowering situations. Ralph Lauren has carved a different path for its brand and products, and they have found success with their approach.
Ralph Lauren’s profits have increased by 4% this past year, and they are exceeding expectations for financial performance.
Fashion may be one of the most obvious, but it is not the only industry to use sex in their advertisements. In 2009, Burger King released a campaign featuring their new 7-inch burger. The image they used showed a woman with her mouth open and the headline “It’ll blow your mind away.”
Burger King is not the only fast food chain to use sex in their advertising. Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s use models in bikinis to sexualize their advertisements to bring in their target market of young, hungry guys. Both fast food chains have found success with their sexual message. Brad Haley, the Chief Marketing Officer, says that the ads bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in free publicity.
Other fast food chains such as McDonald’s and Wendy’s use family-friendly advertising and successfully compete with Burger King and Carl’s Jr. In fact, McDonald’s has seen an increase in revenue using traditional messaging with a new product introduction, all day breakfast, to boost sales.
Celebrities and musicians provide another example of how some have built strong brands and followings through sex, while others have chosen alternate routes. Artists such as Miley Cyrus and Madonna have been criticized for producing shows and appearances that are very sexual in nature and wearing racy outfits. When Miley Cyrus performed at the MTV Video Music Awards, social media was flooded about her dress and her actions, and she was talked about for weeks. After her performance, sales for her album and radio airplay increased substantially.
Madonna faced similar ridicule in the 1980s for her song “Like a Virgin.” There was a public outcry about the lyrics and meaning of the song. Madonna pushed the limits with her performances, songs and especially her music videos creating significant publicity in the media. Both Miley and Madonna reaped large rewards for their brand and their music after using a sexualized stunt or imagery.
Conversely, artists such as Taylor Swift and Adele have also enjoyed immense success without selling themselves sexually. In the November 2015 issue of Forbes, Taylor Swift was named the second highest-paid female artist. She has endorsements with Keds, Diet Coke and Apple Music, most of which would not have been possible if she had sexualized herself.
Likewise, Adele has carved a very successful path for her brand and music, and was named the ninth highest paid musician on Billboard’s Top Money-Maker list. Her typical stage outfit is all black and she is completely covered standing in front of a microphone. She does not do any provocative movements or make sexual innuendos in her music, and she has still found success.
Sex in advertising is a very controversial subject. How much, how far and how bold are questions brands have debated for decades. Brands such as Calvin Klein, Burger King, Hardee’s and Miley Cyrus take more risks in their advertising and marketing, and do so with good success. Ralph Lauren, McDonald’s and Taylor Swift have carved out very different brand imagery, and do not rely on sex and sexual innuendo to advertise and market their products, and also generate business success.
A good marketing and advertising program understands the target market, speaks to consumer needs and creates a sustainable and competitive brand positioning. What works for one brand may not work for another, and in fact, could be very detrimental. (Could you imagine Disney using Calvin Klein’s approach to advertising and marketing their amusement parks?)
Where do you stand on sex in advertising? Do the ends justify the means? If your brand could double sales tomorrow by using sexualized ads, would you? Or, does your brand image require a different approach? Do you know why?
If you have questions about branding and how your business can build and sustain a true competitive advantage, reach out to Glint at www.glintadv.com or give us a call at 817-616-0320. From large scale real estate developments, to hospitals, retail stores and credit unions, Glint has been helping clients define, refine and hone their brand strategy and imagery for over 16 years.