How long can sex keep it up?

Soft, sexy, sensual images and subtle innuendo have long been used in advertising to sell certain kinds of products. And marketers of chocolate, lingerie and liqueurs have played the game making the most of out of a positive association between sex and the sensual delights of their products.

But now other types of products, which have no sexual pedigree whatsoever, are jumping on the bandwagon in an effort to drive sales. Even Coca-Cola, the family-focused soft drink brand – which forked out millions to be associated with sport, as well as children’s film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – has turned to sex for its latest poster campaign, featuring an image of a naked torso alongside the brand’s famous bottle and the strapline: ‘Get your hands on a contour’.

Perhaps the dark syrupy drink served in a curvy smooth bottle is more suited to soft, sensual, sexual images, rather than the clean-cut, up-beat and in-your-face advertising normally associated with the brand. You can just about imagine what Coca-Cola’s marketing team may have been thinking, but the campaign surely flies in the face of a long-standing strategy for the brand.

Even more incongruous are the associations with sex in the advertising of Abbot Ale, Seriously Strong Cheddar and Pot Noodle. All three brands have used sexual images in their advertising. The campaigns have certainly made the brands stand out from the crowd and, in the cases of Pot Noodle and Abbot Ale, they have secured extra column inches on the back of complaints about the advertising. But consumers are quick to spot a cheap gag and once the laughter has faded the brands may find it difficult to continue their association with sex. Instead they may have to develop more long-term marketing strategies unless, as in the case of French Connection and FCUK, the creative team manages to inject fresh ideas that eventually make the association with sex a permanent feature of the brand.

This is especially so as more brands with no previous association with sex decide to use it to increase sales. Häagen-Dazs, which in conjunction with the film 9 and a half Weeks has done much for the image of ice cream, has recognised that its sexual territory is being overrun by cheap imitations and has abandoned the soft sexual sell.

But as social attitudes change and consumers get used to seeing more explicit and suggestive images in TV dramas, films and music videos, brands will undoubtedly try to push the sexual boundaries in their advertising. But those that have little association with sex run the risk of damaging their brand altogether just for a short-term gain.

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