Marketers to Revisit the Role of Sex in Advertising

Creative teams have long known that a few specific visual techniques —  babies, puppies and sex — are practically guaranteed to command attention and therefore move the sales meter. While babies and puppies might have universal appeal, not all consumers appreciate overt sexual content or innuendo in marketing messages. A new Harris Interactive poll highlights consumer opinion on this topic.

Over half  (56%) of consumers are bothered by sexual imagery in advertising. The percentage of consumers who are somewhat or very bothered by sexual imagery increases in older populations:

  • Ages 18–34 46%
  • Ages 35–44 50%
  • Ages 45–54 60%
  • Ages 55+ 66%

Women are far more likely to disapprove of sexual imagery in advertising. About 73% of all women say that are very or somewhat bothered by these ads. On the other hand, only 39% of men say the same thing and 53% of men say they are not bothered at all.

Harris Interactive analysts point out that while ‘sex does sell’, marketers should be careful about the types of ads they target to specific demographic groups. Clearly, older audiences, and women in particular, may be offended by sexual imagery in advertising. However, 28% of men said they would like to see more of these kinds of ads.

The bottom line may be that marketers should consider the types of products or services they are selling, the demographics of likely purchasers, and develop their ad content accordingly.

[Source: HarrisInteractive poll #152. 10 Dec. 2010. Web. 5 Jan. 2011] 
Kathy Crosett
Kathy is the Vice President of Research for SalesFuel. She holds a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Vermont and oversees a staff of researchers, writers and content providers for SalesFuel. Previously, she was co-​owner of several small businesses in the health care services sector.