November 22, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Let’s talk about sex, Baby…

Let’s talk about sex, Baby…

“It’s not that [his] movies have gratuitous sex and gratuitous violence, it’s that they suck, they’re terrible.” –President Barlett, The West Wing (Aaron Sorkin)

Sex sells. Right?

Maybe that’s true. But GoDaddy may have shown otherwise.

During this year’s Super Bowl, GoDaddy aired two ads with Indycar hottie Danica Patrick (click here and here to view the ads). But many people found them to be objectionable.

The complaints?

  • Objectifies women
  • Beneath her (i.e. Danica is too good for it)
  • Not clever or tasteful or surprising (I’ve even made this argument here)

The list goes on, but it’s the same story every time. Some company or organization hires women to traipse around in the nude, or nearly naked, for marketing purposes and people cry foul.

This time around @shashib of Network Solutions was monitoring the GoDaddy aftermath. Mack Collier summarizes pretty clearly what happened next with a series of screengrabs (found here). In short, @shashib saw what was going on and made it easy for disgruntled GoDaddy users to transfer their domains to Network Solutions’ hosting. Excellent social media mobilization, but let’s return to the topic at hand.

Sex is:

  • Hot
  • Powerful
  • Fun
  • Personal
  • Private
  • Controversial (some would say it’s inappropriate, others say f%&$ that)

Possibly more than anything else, it’s polarizing. So why is sex such an effective marketing tool? Especially when you consider that you’re ostracizing a good portion of your audience.

Is it really that easy? Flash some tits, make a sale? Are men–err, we–that gullible?

I’m sorry, but I really don’t think so. There’s got to be more to sex and marketing than that.

I’ve had my thinking cap on about this subject for a little while and there are a few questions that keep coming up.

First: why are sexual images totally fine in some contexts and intolerable in others? My best guess tracks back to the fact that some products are innately sexual, while others are sexualized for a purpose (sales). For example, Victoria’s Secret ads are always sexy, and yet there are few complaints because it’s hard to take the sex out of lingerie. On the other hand, GoDaddy uses sex for easy sales and there are plenty of red flags.

Next question: sometimes it’s okay to use sex to turn a profit, but where are the lines? Clearly it’s alright under certain circumstances, but the lines are so damn blurry. Another example, I thought the rejected PETA Super Bowl ad “Veggie Love” was hilarious, but others, including the ladies of The View, didn’t agree. I’m sure there’s someone out there thinking, “You’d feel differently if you had children.” But that’s not really the point. In my mind it wasn’t offensive because it had some additional value (humor). If it didn’t for you, there’s that subjectivity thing.

Isn’t it just completely subjective then?

This I cannot agree with. Yes, there’s a gray area that leads to some subjectivity. However, there’s a baseline on both ends of the spectrum. There are those people that will always feel that sexual imagery is bad and there those people that will never see sexual imagery as a bad thing. Subjectivity is what happens in the middle. In the case of the Danica-GoDaddy ad, there are people that would enjoy seeing her nearly naked and there are people that would have been offended; in the middle, most people agree that the ad just wasn’t that good. It wasn’t clever or funny or surprising or interesting in the slightest.

So what are the guidelines for the use of sex in advertising or marketing?

Entertain us. The problem with the GoDaddy ads isn’t the gratuitous sexual imagery, it’s that they sucked, they were terrible.

Sex is a taboo subject for a reason. Play with it. Make us question cultural norms. Or expose something we don’t usually think about. But please rise above Bevis and Butthead simplicity–“dude, she’s naked” is not enough anymore. And it probably never was.

Sandy Kalik is a social media aficionado with one hand in PR, another in a money management start-up and a foot in retail.  She blogs at Sandying (http://sandying.blogspot.com), tweets @skalik and can be reached by email at sandy.kalik@yahoo.com.

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