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Sex sells? Research says…

By Leslie Prevish

Leslie Prevish Blog 8-13Liz Keener’s recent article, Are bikini bike washes limiting your customer base, sparked many comments, including this lively discussion on LinkedIn. I decided to dig into a few articles with research on the subject. I’ve also included a few questions for you to ponder at the end.

No, but yes?

In this article, Does Sex Still Sell? Or Does It Do More Harm Than Good?, the author’s first two points cite research about this type of advertising being ineffective with brand recall and many times seen as offensive. The last two points recognize that with certain products it does work, and that men are more likely to be interested than women (not a shocking revelation). Since men are the majority of customers for powersports products, is it okay to use sex to attract them? And will the customers you get be worth as much as the customers — women and men — you may lose?

Some men say they’re actually offended when a brand insults their intelligence by using women to sell their products, instead of real technical features or benefits. Many women agree and say they wouldn’t want to do business with a brand using this type of advertising.

How can you find out what your local customers think? Work with a professional research agency for third-party research. Another option is to engage a local university marketing program (MBA if possible) to do a market research case study on it with both your current and prospective customers. You never know what they may find.

Getting attention

According to this eyebrow-raising and well researched Huffington Post article, Why It's Unfortunate that Sex Sells, the controversy about whether sex sells can be found in nearly any industry. And despite some research that proves sex doesn’t sell, some brands or celebrities can definitely link increased awareness (and magazine sales) to sexually suggestive behavior and imagery.

Although, my favorite line in the article makes an important point, “Other advertisements focus on a woman's physical body rather than her personality, including the following AXE commercial which, as Annie-Rose Strasser says in ThinkProgress, ‘treats women as a series of body parts instead of a whole person with a brain.’”

Which leads me to ask …

Is it right?

Even if you do hold a bikini bike wash and get five times as many people as a bake sale, is it right? And don’t pass the buck and say, “Everybody is doing it” because you have your own brain and conscience.

Can you answer these three questions honestly?

  1. Is your business known as one that respects all women—those on staff, your customers and in the community?
  2. Are you proud to show your mom, young niece, or grandson, your advertisements and feel comfortable inviting them to ALL of your events?
  3. Are you leaving this generation better than the last?

If you need help with ideas for number three, read my previous blog post, 3 Ways to Promote the Positive.

A rider for 26 years, Leslie spent 15 years with Harley-Davidson (3 retail, 12 corporate) and created their marketing to women role in 2007. She spearheaded Women Riders Month and a Garage Party Campaign which drove 25,000 women to dealers. After 2 years at Trek Bicycles, Leslie now helps companies sell more to new audiences.

Email: leslie@previshmarketing.com

Website: www.previshmarketing.com


  1. I strongly believe that sex sells frequently and woman know it. I personally would never use sex to sell purely from a Christian viewpoint. However, it must be said the display of woman in most everything is rampant.

    Why do races have trophy girls? Why is there a Miss Sprint Cup? Why is there a Miss America? A Miss Universe? Other than looking good what on earth are they there for? Why is Victoria's Secret so big? Why do mothers teach their daughters about make-up and getting their nails and toes done. Why are little girls putting lipstick on? Why are there so many low cut tops and long slits appearing at every awards show on TV? Why do I need to listen to my 10-year old granddaughter state she needs to get her "toes" done? Are you kidding me? Blame the mothers of America on that one!

    I think it is all wrong as it is used strictly to display body parts. My looking at the display is not justifiable but in general most guys are going to look. Despite being Christian it is difficult not to look. Because that's the way it is.

    Both men and women are wrong when it comes to these types of displays. In my opinion of course. However, it is obvious so many women love putting themselves on display. Will this ever change? I doubt it. Call it nature of the beast if you will.

    Leslie, women could put an end to this quickly if they chose to do so. My money is betting they won't. Leslie, you need to address these issues with all womankind. I think most guys are at least OK enough with the display of flesh that they will not pull the plug on purchasing. Sure some will... but most will not.

    Sex, primarily the female body, is on display everywhere. Leslie, pick a segment of the world at large. Example, let's take sports. Why don't you actively campaign to get women out of display-your-body mode and get them to participate in the sport itself. Why is that hot looking girl always ready to stand behind the guy getting out of his race car? With a smile that won't quit? If Danica wins are they going to have some hunk of a man standing behind Danica with a smile that just won't stop?

    Let me know how it goes. That might be the beginning of understanding whether sex sells or not. Best of luck!


    • Billy,

      Thanks for your comments! You are right about both men and women needing to address this. Fathers and mothers should teach their daughters AND sons to dress for respect (not attention). They should also teach their kids to boycott brands who sexually exploit women in their ads.

      On my end, I've spent several decades speaking to dealers, groups and having one-on-one conversations to encourage women to participate in sports (motorcycling, bicycling, triathlon) instead of just being eye-candy and dressing like an umbrella girl.

      Sometimes one conversation can change a person's mind. I will continue doing what I can. As Mother Teresa said, "“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”



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