“Sex sells, but some wonder for how much longer” asked your cover story (MW July 25). The answer is “forever”.
Sex is a fundamental human need. Darwin, with his theory of sexual selection, was the first to recognise that the fundamental human goal (more so than survival) is to leave as many descendants as possible on earth. It is therefore no surprise that sex fascinates us.
The problem is not that we will ever tire of being presented with the prospect of sexual success, but that marketing campaigns always seem to tap into this drive in the same way – either by portraying images of the perfect physical partner (ie. Coke’s “get your hands on a contour” campaign) or by implying the sexual act itself (HÃÂ¤agen-Dazs).
There is surely an opportunity to use images other than physical beauty to portray our ideal partner. Evolutionary psychology has shown not only that our preferences in an ideal mate have been handed down from our prehistoric ancestors but also that the characteristics we seek are diverse. While males do seek youth and beauty in a potential female mate (to our ancestors, they indicated the health and reproductive ability of the female), they also seek chastity and fidelity.
For females, physical attraction is of minor importance behind status, power and money (status indicated the level of resources the male controlled – the greater the resources, the more support the female and her future children would receive, thereby improving their chances of survival). Consumers will never tire of the promise of access to a desirable partner, but they might tire of the same representation being used time and time again.
A second opportunity to use the sex drive in a new way is in the portrayal of the strategies we use in the competition for a desirable mate. Not all the strategies we use are attractive, but we would recognise that we do use them. Both sexes derogate their rivals (“He can never keep a girlfriend”), deceive members of the opposite sex (“My other car’s a Porsche”) and even subvert their own partner(s) (“She means nothing to me”). The opportunity is there for brands to reflect these strategies in campaigns, as a new way of tapping into the sex drive. Currently very few brands do this, although Smirnoff Ice is a notable exception, with its portrayal of the deception strategy in its “as clear as your conscience” campaign.
Sex does sell and always will. The ultimate story for any brand will always be “boy finds beautiful girl finds wonderful boy with lots of potential”. Presenting this story in new ways is the challenge we face.