Aditya Chatterjee

Global shoppers get weary of sex in advertising

Marketers are increasingly taking notice of how surveys are showing that sexual imageries in advertising have become a turn-off for young consumers

This isn't happening in India yet, where a section of consumers definitely drool over KamaSutra and AC Black Apple Juice campaigns. But international shoppers seem to be getting increasingly weary of companies using slogans that rely on sexual innuendo to sell their products, or by pictures of semi-clad models promoting ranges of clothing. Sex, it appears, isn't selling like it used to.

The days of raunchy marketing are certainly over, and there are clear signals that glamorous blond women and muscle-rippling playboys no longer provide answers to every marketers' prayers.

In the UK, a recent study by HeadlightVision, a WPP group company, has shown the overplay of sexual imagery in advertising has become a turn-off for young consumers. Based on research in 14 cities around the world, including New York and London, the study has concluded that young urban consumers are tired of sexual explicitness in advertising. And last year, UK's Chartered Institute of Marketing found in a survey of 1,000 people, aged 15 and older, that only 6 per cent enjoyed, or were influenced by sexual images in ads.

The weariness in consumers are forcing companies to change their advertising strategies. UK retailer French Connection Group Plc announced during the European summer that it was dropping its 'FCUK' logo (it stands for French Connection United Kingdom) from its next ad campaign. In the past, the company had used the logo to sell perfumes and T-shirts. The decision was likely prompted by the showdown in the company's profit and revenue growth.

Even US retailer Abercrombie & Fitch Co. has decided to stop publishing a quarterly catalogue that featured photos of scantily-clad models. Perhaps, the retailer was worried by the protests that the photos generated. Yet, it was probably more perturbed by the 13 per cent sales decline at its stores.

Clearly, as Bloomberg's Matthew Lynn recently wrote, old ideas like draping a blond woman across the front of a car (or for that matter, any other high-end lifestyle product), or put a picture of a brunette with a pistol on the poster, and watching the warehouse emptying out are no longer working.

So have international consumers lost their collective libido? Not really. It's just that explicit imagery doesn't have the same impact anymore. An entire generation, that has grown up being surrounded by sexual imagery, are just not interested.

And, that is the nub of the story. Through the 1960s to the present times, people in the West have not only become more liberated in their own sexual attitudes, mediums such as books, films, music and television have been continously dealing with sexual themes far more explicitly. Inevitably, that seeped into marketing and has resulted in desensitising people towards sex in advertising.

Clearly, marketers have been unaware of the pitfalls of running unrestrained and explicit campaigns screaming for consumers' attention. Companies seeminly forgot one of the first rules of economics: The law of diminishing returns. The more you do something, the less you get out of it.

In the words of Lynn, sexual imagery is now so ubiquitous in marketing campaigns that it has lost the power to shock. A naked body is about as effective as slapping the words 'New and Improved' on the front of a product. It won't make anyone pick up the box, let alone buy it.

Companies clearly will have to find another way to promote their goods. Maybe they could try just telling what the product is, what it does, and how much it costs. Now, wouldn't that really be shocking?

© 2004 agencyfaqs!

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