Sex appeal is being increasingly used in Indian advertising to overcome the culture in the print as well as broadcast media and to grab attention. Sex appeals in contraceptive ads have become explicit, and are more visual than verbal.
Does sex really sell? Or is it a negative influence on consumer? The answer is not either affirmative or negative for these questions, and depends upon a number of factors.
Effectiveness of ads is measured in terms of the objectives – creating awareness may be the objective, and then brand recall is a measure of effectiveness. The advertising objective may be to make the consumer buy – here buying intention is a measure of effectiveness. The following summarizes the research studies in this context.
Research shows that non-sexual illustrations are more effective than sexual ones while undergoing brand recall. Men remember the sexy illustration and neglect the brand. Favorably disposed people to the use of sex had a higher brand recall of brand names that used sex appeals in their ads.
Research also shows that nude illustrations of female are least appealing, are associated with lowest quality product and least reputable company. Recently Seven’s research shows that explicit sex appeals do not interfere with the ability to recall brand names.
It has also been observed that visual which is highly sexual interferes with the cognitive processing of the message since readers tend to spend more time on the ad as a whole. Information transmission is definitely adversely affected by sex appeal.
Functional sex appeals have highest recall and so also symbolism. Inappropriate sex appeals have lowest recall. Fantasies are also used as sex appeals. Appeal that are consistent with the product, lead to a higher recall.
There might be gender-related responses to sex appeal. Females may find the sexual ad offensive and so its use for a female-targeted product runs a risk. A lipstick ad showing a female model that is seductive may grab the attention of the male-audience rather than the targeted female audience.
Connotative sexual appeals like symbolism are more acceptable than explicit appeals.
The sexual appeals are justified in case of products like personal products, panties, bras, undergarments, and swimsuits. They may not go well with industrial products. The relevance of the appeal to the product is very important.
The manner of sex portrayal, the sex of the models and the target segment also affect the effectiveness of the ad. Blatant references to sex are suddenly the in-thing in American advertising. Marketers promoting perfumes, jeans, alcohols, gloves, watches and cars are resorting to this route. Media clutter may be one reason that leads to the explosion of sexual imagery in advertising. Ads of perfumes have traditionally focused on the sensuous. For Calvin Klein, sex has always been a favorite selling point.
The late Justice Hidayatullah had ruled “where obscenity and art are mixed, art must be so prepondering as to throw the obscenity into the shadow.” There is a thin line between nudity and crudity. Even an act of kissing has both sexual and non-sexual content. “Of no use to one, yet it is absolute bliss to two. The small boy gets it for nothing, the young man has to steal it and the old man has to buy it. The baby’s right, the lover’s privilege, the hypocrite’s mask. To a young girl, faith; to a married woman, hope and to an old maid; charity.”