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Sex and Advertising: Super Bowl Edition
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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It is now no longer a guessing game: the New England Patriots and the New York Football Giants will play in the big game on February 5. Now as the days go by, people will shift their focus to ticket sales, pre-game analysis, and of course, the commercials.

USA Today and several other major publications wrote pieces about the increase of "sexy advertising" in this year's Super Bowl. GoDaddy.com, Kia, and H&M, among others, plan on playing up sexual innuendo in order to stand out in front of the crowd of commercials. The USA Today piece focused on GoDaddy, because ever since its first Super Bowl ad in 2005 they have unabashedly used sexual innueundo and sports and fitness bombshells like Danica Patrick and Jillian Michaels to drive young men (and women) to its site to look at G content and register domain names. 

The article asks, does sex really sell?

Bob Parsons, the founder of the company, would say yes. In his interview, he said that after their first ad, in a matter of weeks the site grew its market share from 16% to an impressive 25%. Now, GoDaddy has a market share of 52%. It seems that Parsons has no intention on changing this apparently winning formula.

One could argue that a service like GoDaddy would be set to take off in 2005, with the rise of owned content and the Information Generation. Still, with sticking with "sexy" advertising, GoDaddy has built a name for itself and has grown exponentially.

But back to the question: does sex sell in advertising? The research would say, not as well as you'd think. According to research done at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, ads with sexual imagery have a 10% lower "likability" rating versus ads without sexual imagery. Also, they revealed that, based on studying decades' worth of Super Bowl ads, those with animals or kids fared much better. 

Advertising on such a large scale demands marketers devise commercials that will either leave an impression with the customer or call them to action. It seems that those commercials with sexual imagery stimulate a stronger response than those that are well-liked. Though the research may be correct that people like ads with kids and animals more, the sexy ads create more buzz. Unfortunately, the article didn't bounce to the other side of the spectrum and analyze how E-Trade's business was affected after the baby hit the stage.

The article pointed out that ads with sex are risky. Well, so is buying a 30-second advertisement for $3.5 million; we don't think the companies are worried about being too risky.

Sex in advertising is still shocking because of how our society looks at it. A pretty woman in an ad, like Danica Patrick says in her interview, can't just be a pretty woman. Instead, people call it "sexy" and there has to be a sexual undertone. 

With the rise of "sexy" in advertising in this year's Super Bowl, we'll be excited to revisit this topic and see how dead on, or blown out of proportion, all of this truly is.

As a treat, here is one of the GoDaddy ads that's getting everyone riled up:

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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