I was watching "Mad Men" last night (if you're in advertising or marketing and aren't watching, start tuning in) and I came up with a concept that may be prescient: sex doesn't sell.
What? Am I crazy? "Sex sells" is one of the most pervasive memes in advertising. Hike up a women's skirt, show some cleavage, throw in a volleyball and voila, beer commercial. It even seems as though the phrase is used by clients and account people everywhere simply as a way to justify the usage of scantily clad women in advertising. But why do they do this? Because the subtlety of what is happening in that ad is lost on them.
What's the real draw in a campaign that uses sexual imagery? It is the feeling you get from the advertisement that sells the product -- not the sex itself. The subtlety, nuance and innuendo; the allure. Tying the idea of sex in with a product works very well in the good ol' US of A because we are an amazingly sexually repressed nation.
Don’t think so? Well, then, let me venture into territory that is going to make you feel a little uncomfortable, a little dirty, a little naughty... a frank discussion of your sexual desires...
You didn't think I would go there, did you? And yet, you stuck around to read more, just in case. That, my friends, is advertising: the ability to manipulate.
It's ok, though. You're alone. No one is watching you. And that, my new-found frustrated, annoyed friends, is the beauty of the internet (as well as one of its most powerful assets) -- the anonymity of consumption. Our sessions are private -- well at least from the standpoint of the initial consumption (it's all being tracked somewhere, but not having to be with other individuals in-person during consumption somehow opens us up to permissiveness). Online, we will consume, take in and absorb that which would be considered offensive in polite company. It is the duality of our public and private selves.
What is permissible online is not permissible in other media because those media are often consumed communally. Reading the paper on the train or bus or even at breakfast in front of your wife or husband; watching football at a bar, "Dexter" with friends (now that is one sadistic program) or reading a magazine on the subway -- these are all communal environments.
For example, I ran across a banner ad for a hotel; I won't say which one, but let's just say the ad suggested some uses for their hotel rooms as a couple's getaway and what great beds they had... complete with very suggestive imagery. Needless to say, I glanced left and right when it came up, and I was at home alone. I was not on a "sex" site. Just a mundane cooking blog in the "recipes for dates" section.
I thought for a second. Could I imagine that ad on TV for that brand? I think not. The calls from irate mothers "protecting" their children from the smut on TV would be monstrous. The far right machine would move into action.
A little while ago I wrote on why TV is more potent for branding. Now I'll tell you an advantage online advertising has: singular consumption permissiveness to push boundaries.
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