Why the ad business doesn’t think selling to women is sexy

March 3, 2009 at 1:54 am Leave a comment


Sally Law has written an interesting article in LiveScience called “Sex Sells, But Who’s Buying?” In it she writes:

“…past research has shown the average woman responds negatively to ads with explicit or gratuitous sexual content. But now, it also looks like women are less offended by these ads if sexual imagery is viewed in the context of a committed relationship.”

Of course, almost all the sex in advertising is crafted for the eyes of men. I also think it’s indisputable that your chances of winning in major advertising award shows goes up if you’re doing work that targets young men (Dove’s “Evolution” is the exception that proves the rule). What’s more, hot creative shops almost always build their reputations on testosterone-heavy work. When you target young men, you almost automatically are granted a license to be irreverent, raucous, tasteless, even raunchy. Now I can be as raunchy as the next guy, probably more so. Ask around. Yet the kind of work routinely favored by awards shows raises an interesting question. Should the shows be more responsive to work that targets women, who inarguably control a significant majority of purchase decisions? It’s easy to brush this off with a laddish joke (“Sexual imagery in the context of a committed relationship? Where’s the fun in that, sugar britches?”), but the subject deserves some serious thought. 

The longer I do this for a living, the more respect I have for a brilliant ad for a product that targets moms. It’s damned hard to do well, and most of the guys who are out there doing ads for 1,500-cc motorcycles and 2,000-calorie hamburgers would stare glumly at a blank piece of paper for weeks if they were given the assignment. And in light of Sally Law’s findings, it’s clear that ads targeting women don’t have to be dull. If I may slightly alter David Ogilvy’s old saw: “The consumer isn’t a prude; she’s your wife.”

Entry filed under: Advertising and Marketing. Tags: , .

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