Let’s Not Talk About Sex

Going along with this week’s theme of sex in the media, I found an article in AdWeek that questions brands use of sex in Super Bowl ads. The article claims that brands seem to have reduced their use of sex in commercials and that Super Bowl 49 would have fewer sexy ads than we’ve seen in previous years. I read this article before the game started yesterday and decided to see for myself.

While I can’t deny that I stopped watching the game after the half time show, from what I saw in the first half, AdWeek seems to be on to something. I did not notice many sexually themed ads, and most focused on comedic appeal or another emotion. Even GoDaddy, a brand known for their sexy commercials, kept it tame and aired an ad about a hard-working man.

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AdWeek’s explanation for the reduced number of sexually themed ads is simple- they don’t sell. Women make the majority of final purchases, and sexual ads do not appeal to them. Men tend to notice only the women in sexually themed commercials, ignoring the brand all together. Finally, the Super Bowl has become a family event, making sexy ads inappropriate for a lot of viewers.

I’m left wondering why it has taken brands so long to figure out that sex doesn’t sell. 2013 was the year of sexually themed Super Bowl ads, but I doubt the audience response to these ads was much different just two years ago. Maybe over the past two years, the ability to capture and analyze consumer response has increased, but I doubt it has in any significant way. I’m sure Super Bowl 49 featured some sexually themed ads, and there are brands that will always use sex to sell (Victoria’s Secret, for example). Either these brands have not caught on or they’re too stubborn to believe that sex doesn’t sell.

Regardless, I find the decrease in sexually themed ads refreshing. My conclusions remind me of something I wrote in a previous post. Advertisers can no longer underestimate their viewers, instead they must get to know their audiences better and find a more creative or emotional way to capture their attention.


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