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Sex in Advertising: Testosterone-Driven Marketing
By: Jeff Louis
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When you write articles or blogs that cover the advertising and marketing industry, one perk is that CEOs or marketing executives often contact you with information on their latest and greatest campaigns, ideas, or endeavors. Although this can be overwhelming, I welcome the opportunity because I don't always have the time to filter the mass amount of information available for the next post.

While some PR departments simply send their releases to all bloggers hyping "news" that isn't news, the companies that understand social media reach out and offer interviews or views on the industry that prove interesting and worthwhile.

This brings me to the BRAND X Group, a California company that describes themselves as "a brand management firm whose focus lies on a comprehensive approach to the marketing side of business growth." The L.A.-based company began in the gaming industry, monetizing poker and gambling brands, but has branched out to include numerous clients in various industries, including banking, tourism, health care, entertainment, and consumer commerce industries.

The group simply contacted me with their views on "Testosterone-Driven Marketing," or TDM. Their premise is that while men are visually stimulated beings, the use of TDM in re-branding efforts or advertising executions doesn't always make sense and can actually impinge upon future opportunities and audiences. 

BRAND X Group's President, Adam Bierman, sent me the recounting of a new business opportunity they'd had and his thoughts of the meeting after it had ended.  

"I was in a very interesting meeting last month," he began. "Myself, our Creative Director, and COO were in the boardroom of a $100 million-a-year company that has about as strong of a brand identity as a business can have. Their business is helping restore hair growth in men. We were invited by their marketing team to discuss a re-branding.

"We were excited, as we always are, when the potential to work with such a successful brand arises, but this meeting went very weird very fast. The first question I posed was, 'Why are you choosing now to initiate a re-branding?' Their response was that they had not re-branded the company for 10 years and they needed to make it sexier. My follow-up was, 'What is the goal of hiring a company like ours?' The response was that they really loved our creative work. What’s wrong with this scenario?"

The problem, according to Bierman, is when companies that market to men fall back on the idea that sex sells, it often results in "marketing for marketing's sake." I have to agree, and it's a something that's apparent throughout the advertising industry.

In our fast-paced, distracting world, we're bombarded by thousands of messages daily, and the struggle to steal a few moments of a consumer's attention is increasingly difficult due to the flood of available messages. Advertisers and marketers are left with two choices: Come up with a ground-breaking idea, or fall back on the traditional things that have worked in the past.

Bierman refers to the Axe Body Spray print and TV ads that feature an average Joe who gets attacked once a little Axe is applied. While they definitely nailed their campaign, the fact that provocative images and messaging work for Axe doesn't mean they'll work for Speed Stick, or any other company. As we've all seen, once a boundary-breaking idea hits, other companies, eager for a piece of the action, jump on board with similarly-themed ideas that result in discordant messages, confused consumers, and flopped campaigns. 

I can think of several advertising campaigns that have pushed the "sex button" only to fail. Carl's Jr., the fast-food chain, launched their TDM effort featuring Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. The spots depict the two reality stars, scantily clad, eating Carl’s Jr. food. As they bite into the delicious offerings, condiments and bits of food drop seductively onto the exposed areas of their flesh. 

While it's not known if these ads increased sales or restaurant traffic, the media and ad industry harshly criticized the campaign as being nothing more than a trashy example of how not to market. Carl's Jr., for their part, backed their campaign, which is indicative of how companies can become so immersed in the short term that they're not able to see that these efforts are off the mark.

However, marketing departments continue to develop and implement campaigns that sell sex and then go limp. Is this, like Carl's Jr., because the companies are so involved with their day-to-day efforts they're not able to see the long-term results and what's best for their brand name and product lines? Is it due to the fact emerges so they simply fall back on TDM because it's worked before?

It's probably a combination of both. However, you'd think that when a majority of the advertising industry (and organizations that are associated with advertising) gang up to criticize your efforts, you are probably in the wrong.

In the case of the new business opportunity offered to the Brand X Group, the potential client's business was hair restoration, and the company had a strong identity. Rather than taking an objectionable view at the company's marketing goals, researching the market, and determining if sexual-based messages would be good for their brand, the hair restoration client went into the meeting with the idea  they need to spice up their efforts.

Sex may or may not sell hair. If it does, that's fantastic. Run with it. If it doesn't, money was just flushed down the drain.

As our society -- and our industry -- increasingly advances on becoming real-time, this doesn't mean we leap before looking or jump on the bandwagon because it's working for others. Rather than researching less, this should be cause for increased research and insight efforts.

Set the trends; don't follow them.  

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About the Author

Jeff Louis: Media Planner, Brand Project Manager, blogger, and aspiring writer. Please leave a comment or get in touch with Jeff on Twitter. As always, thank you for reading!

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