Think Sex Sells? Not Always.
I often come across sexually provocative advertising that makes me chuckle. Some of it is subtle, some is downright raunchy, and if I’m lucky enough to spot it, (almost) cleverly subliminal.
Subliminal advertising: Great for a laugh
Subliminal advertising can get pretty creative since it has to be below the threshhold of concious perception to be effective. You know, the flash of an image on a single frame at 25 frames per second, or the suggestive figure in the ice cube of a dry gin ad.
When I notice an ad with a dirty little secret, I find myself wondering how many others have recognized it, and how many consumers have or will be persuaded to act as a result—unaware of a spell being cast.
I consider subliminal advertising to be in the blackhat category of “sexy” marketing. Blackhat marketing usually refers to deceptive search engine optimization tactics, but from here on in, let’s pretend it also applies to fooling the subconcious search engine in our minds. Something along those lines anyway.
Subliminal advertising doesn’t irritate me at all. In think it can be pretty funny and interestingly clever at times. On the other hand, if I’m aware of a company using it in their marketing efforts, I’d be inclined to wonder what their product lacks, in that this is part of their marketing strategy.
Overtly sexy advertising gets our direct attention
On the other side of the coin, the use of suggestive imagery in mainstream advertising is often far from invisible, let alone subtle.
Crate labels from as early as the 1930s were designed to appeal to a predominantly male target audience with sexy brands such as “Plenty Grand” and “Buxom Melons”, both of which I have originals of, framed and hanging on my livingroom wall (Yes, I’m a fan).
Television and magazine ads run by Godaddy and American apparel are a couple of examples of racy ad campaigns that have generated viral attention in recent years, and, in some cases even public outrage.
Still, I consider this type of marketing pretty “whitehat” (or at least as whitehat as traditional marketing gets, but that’s a whole another issue). There’s no wholesome pretense here, the message is pretty clear: “We are now distracting you with sexy images; imprint our brand into your psyche. Thank you for paying attention”.
Not manipulative or covert, your just typical,
sleazy, sexy, raunchy, push marketing.
The weird, grey areas: Ultra-manipulative anti-social sex appeal
Almost 100 years have gone by since the first suggestive crate-labels for “Buxom Pears” and “Indiana Belle” appeared on boxes of fruit in the US. By now, the sheeple are all be getting pretty desensitized to campaigns built on the “sex sells” advertising model,
because along with other forms of shout-marketing, it’s just getting lost in the noise.
Diesel’s Be Stupid campaign
It seems the next logical step for Diesel’s advertising division was to combine sex-appeal with risky and antisocial behavior. How irreverent and rebellious. Rarr.
The My6Sense video
Here’s another bit of marketing that creeped me out recently. The level of manipulation in the video is a bit much.
An attractive, busty, woman stands before us in a relatively tight t-shirt, describing in the first person, the “Digital Intuition” of my6sense‘s iPhone Application.
Here’s a transcription of the video with some of the more poignant lines in bold:
Hi! I’m your digital intuition.
- I’m insightful.
- I’m flexible.
- I’m NOT demanding.
So you don’t ever have to say anything for me to get to know you–even when your interests change.
I bring content from your RSS and social streams. The results are so tailored and specific to your needs that you’ll never again have to sit through hundreds of messages to find the insights that matter to you. And because I know that your moods and interests are diverse, I present you with your assorted streams in various ways.
- From all of the RSS streams and social networks that you’re subscribed to in your top messages list.
- From collections of streams in topic folders that find the you.
- …and even from a specific stream.
Remember, you don’t have to give me any feedback or give me any preferences at all. I’m your digital intuition! Just read the messages that interest you, and skip over the ones that don’t! Share them in social networks. Email them to your friends. And so on. It’s completely effortless on your part. All you need to do is: act naturally. [Playfully, almost giggling] Now, it may take some time to figure you out, but once I do, I might even bring you stuff you never dreamed would be interesting—but is!
Here’s my interpretation of the video.
Hi, I’m the woman of your dreams.
- I know what’s what.
- I’m “flexible”. (uh huh)
- I’m not demanding.
I’ll always know what you want, and when you want it. This is all about you, so don’t worry about having to pay attention to my never-ending blabbering in order to get to the good stuff.
I know you have all sorts of fetishes, and I have no problem accomodating your every need.
Don’t worry about feeling like you have to hold any conversation with me or even tell me how you like it.
I find this type of marketing much more unnerving than the typically provocative ad. The line is so blurred as to where the overt sexual overtones end and the manipulation begins that the advertiser could coyly infer that I’m imagining things. Am I? Am I just projecting my own desires onto a lil ol’ innocent product vid? Or, am I supposed to believe that if it seems manipulative, it’s just part of some cute, sexy marketing satire?
At least gratuitously sexual advertising is straightforward; the manipulation is much less aggressive. Watching the my6sense video left me feeling creeped out and manipulated almost to the point of feeling violated. Well maybe not that creeped out, but more than any social media application advertisement ought to.
The application itself does look interesting; it addresses segmentation and filtering of contacts over social media networks.
At this point, you might have realized that as annoyed as I say I am with this type of marketing, it is directly responsible for the attention I’m giving the product, and I’m now spreading their idea virus to you. In reality, I discovered this product by looking on Quora for discussion on similar apps and My6sense’s Marketing VP has been spreading the word there. As hungry as I am for these types of applications right now, this ad almost pushed me away.
Here’s the vid:
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