Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Sex Appeal in Ads and Consumer Behaviour

Fascinating images of drop-dead gorgeous models in scantily claded clothes are ubiquitous in T.V commercials, billboards, brand logos, pamphlets; all in a bid to seduce the average consumer to buy a product. In short, sex in advertizing is not just on T.V commercials, magazines, retail shops and on the internet, but also on the side of the bus you board to work, the wall of the sidewalk, the aisles of your local newspaper and even in the airspace above your head.

This phenomenon is steeped in the long held traditional belief, at least, in the mind of the brand connoisseurs, that sexually suggestive adverts have the propensity of increasing sales in a highly structured and competitive marketplace like ours. It might also tickle your interest to know that it is not just clothing and perfume companies that use the overt suggestion of sex to peddle their respective products. Ever caught the sight of emotion-ridden inscription on Tee-shits with lines such as: Take me home tonight? Your body is calling me? A sex goddess is born? Touch my body? Pump it like it is hot? I am available for you; the list goes on and on. The intention is to use witty but salacious lead-ons to captivate the interest, of prospective consumer.

But, does sex appeal ads necessarily sell? Or, to what extent can you confidently say that half-nude models, sexually appealing packages or over-hyped products actually succeed in cajoling us to buy certain products? It is true that the human attention span is undeniably vulnerable to subliminal messages, codes, sexual images because it satisfies our wishful thinking, dreams and fantasies.

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On a visit, recently to a chain store in Lekki, I saw, in dreamy eyes, male and female mannequins (what you might call dummies) on display. The female mannequin left me drooling with its protruded and unnatural breast on a gown while the male had a well-built Spartacus- like body on a shirt. These trends abound in the marketplace where adverts are woven with compelling brand identities in order to make appreciable sales. Little wonder, top Nigerian celebrities are paid mouth-watering sums to represent the brand image  of perfumes, costumes, alcohol, phones, to mention but a few. The purpose of this is to fulfill the fantasy and boost the ego of customers who see the product as a means to connect to their ‘idol’.

In a 2007 experiment, Ellie Parker and Adrian Furnham of University college town set out to study how well we recall sexually suggestive commercials. They divided sixty young adults into two groups. The first group watched a bizarre film laced with sexual violence while the second viewed a family comedy (soap opera) decidedly un-erotic. Then during the break, the first group watched a series of sexually suggestive adverts for shampoo and beer, while the second group viewed adverts devoid of sexual contents. The question once the session was over: what do you remember? Turns out, the second group had better recall of the advert than the first group who could not remember the advert. Bottom line: Overt sexual advert or commercials are eclipsed by the sexual content itself. This takes the shine off the essence of the product being advertised.

 Today, the supposedly rascally but productive advertising model of deploying sexual innuendoes is dubbed the vampire effect, referring to the fact that the erotic content was diverting attention from what the advert is actually selling to the consumer. Another twist in using sexually appealing advert to get across to consumer is the controversy it creates. X-rated books, music, pictures, movies, depicting pornography all have a way of arresting the attention of even the least of us. In the same way banned books have become the must-read phenomena of the year, viewers will not mind paying huge sums just to be privy to a banned sexual commercial. Controversy is a more potent factor for the astronomic sales experienced from a product advert laced with sexual connotations. Of course, sex which is innately hardwired for our survival as species is powerful. But in many cases, it is the attention that can be more effective than the suggestive content itself.

The outcry and rage witnessed in public places on the issue of ladies wearing skimpy, exotic, seductive, crazy and sexy clothes have not eradicated this trend; instead its notoriety and controversy have been enough motivation for others who have joined the fray in order to curry public attention too. Hence, when it comes to what truly influences our behavior and gets us to buy a product, controversy is often a major reason. Naturally, these provocative ads spark public outrage; however, the implicit content of the embattled advert gives it an alibi and the needed commercial push to sell even higher.
In 1995, Calvin Klein released a series of provocative T.V. commercials whose steady camera work, low lighting, grainy resolution and setting appeared to capture a mild porn video. Upon its release, the American public was incensed. This prompted the US video censuring board to scrutinize the content of the controversial advert. Kalvin denied all the accusation of pornography, claiming they merely depicted glamour. In the end, Kalvin pulled the ads but the controversy created news- and more free publicity.

 Finally, it could be declared as a fact that a brand’s potency is in direct proportion to the number of consumer its product can connect to. Consumers are far likely to identify with a brand image who looks more like them. This is where target audience comes in. They often respond more favorably to “real people” or “ordinary” people in print and T.V commercials. Therefore, ads, or product packages featuring supermodels and superficially attractive celebrities are less effective compared to those featuring “real” people. The average consumer out there needs to be assured that the product is within their financial capacity. Now, imagine an A-rated celebrity like Genevieve Nnaji on the ads of a perfume, cruzing on a yatch in the Bahamas. Does it ever seem that the average Nigerian lady would want to buy? Over-hyped products more often than not do not necessarily result in huge sale. The flamboyant and exaggerated content often betrays the brand promise of the product in question.

Written by: 
Biodun Obisesan

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