Sex Sells, But Who’s Buying?

Sex sells, but who’s buying? Be you young, middle-aged or old, and be it on the television, the internet or on billboards, people more attractive than you want you to buy their stuff. Be it music, perfume, or even ice cream, sex is used as a device to help advertise and promote. But does the use of sex really make us more inclined to want what’s on offer? The answer lies in whether what is being advertised is a product or an experience.

Music is a prime example of what I like to call experience advertising. A musician’s music is only one-half of the equation these days. You can be really talented, but if you have the looks to go with it then you become the complete package for the everyday consumer. One musician I think epitomises this is Nicki Minaj. My music tastes aside, I can’t deny she has some degree of talent that attracts her fans. But what boosts her popularity and as a result boosts her music sales is how she is sexualised. Let’s just say I wasn’t introduced to Nicki Minaj because of her songs. I was introduced to her because in her music videos her ass seems to have more screen time than her face. But in saying this, one only has to look at someone like Adele who is arguably one of the most famous musicians going at the moment to see that you don’t need sex in your music to be successful. In fact, I believe that because she isn’t the type of sexy you see so heavily advertised, especially early on in her career, is what made people like her in the first place. She wasn’t sexualised to help boost her popularity and sales, she succeeded through her talent alone.

So why does the music industry still seem obsessed with over sexualising so many musicians in an attempt to boost sales? One thing I discovered the other week that baffles and appals me at the same time is that of musician MattyB. To those who aren’t aware, MattyB is a 14-year-old musician who became heavily popular on YouTube through covers and remixes of popular songs. The one remix I was introduced to was MattyB’s cover of ‘My Humps’ by the Black Eyed Peas, subtly changed to ‘My Pumps’ to make it ‘suitable’ for children. Yes, they change the lyrics to be about shoes, but the sexual undertones are still there. The original contains the lyric “mix your milk with my coco puff”. Let’s be clear; they are not talking about having breakfast together. Yet at the time of writing, the song has almost 100 million views on YouTube, and MattyB’s account has 7.8 million subscribers. Did the sexualisation help promote his music? Optimistic me hopes he got all his views through his talent. Cynical me believes the sexualisation got people talking and boosted his views, as well as making me feel uncomfortable for having watched it in the first place.

Keeping on the topic of YouTube, one thing that does seem to support the whole ‘sex sells’ ideal is that so many YouTube videos today use sexual imagery in their thumbnails to help promote their videos. By far the worst culprit is the Vine compilation videos that take one sexual frame from one of the Vines and make it the thumbnail in an attempt to boost views.




You get the idea, but the sad thing is it seems to work. But let’s go back to what was said before. Music, as well as YouTube Videos, are experience advertising, they are selling you an experience to watch and listen to. Sometimes, but not always, sex does help promote it, but that is because you do not have to directly pay for the service. You can listen to music and watch YouTube videos for free, the money the artists earn do not come out of the consumer’s pocket. This is where I believe sex can sometimes be beneficial. There is no financial risk to the consumer; so, when given the choice, people are more likely to click on something sexual as it is instant gratification and they don’t lose anything.

But this all changes when money is involved. Take perfume adverts for example. All of them are littered with sexual undertones, but does that honestly make us more inclined to buy the product? It seems almost counterproductive, doesn’t it? If every single perfume advert uses sex to sell, how does any advert stand out to be chosen by the consumer for purchase? I find it hard to believe that anyone has gone to buy perfume and said, “Oh I bought it because Johnny Depp was topless in the advert for it”. Not many people will admit it, but I know I’m not the only one. The real way we pick perfumes is we roll our sleeves up in a shop and spray as many different ones we can without being spotted and pick the one that smells best.

But despite the hundreds of sexualised adverts being thrown at us, the ones we seem to actually remember involve no sex at all, or subvert it. My favourite advert of all time practically contains the opposite of sexual undertones, as it involves a man running away from a giant bouncing stomach (yes you read that right). It was to advertise Reebok trainers and granted It didn’t make me go and buy a pair, it is still memorable despite being from 2000.

Another famous advert is from Money Supermarket and involves two men having a dance off. The reason it is memorable is it subverts these conventional sexual undertones; so instead of having an attractive man or half naked woman dancing, you have an overweight builder and a man dressed in high heels. It pokes fun at adverts that typically use sex in an attempt to sell, and it works.

So maybe this all means that advertisers are slowly realising that maybe sex doesn’t always sell. It may still take a while, but maybe one day I will be able to watch a perfume advert that features a fat middle aged couple’s forbidden love in a downtrodden borough in South West London. Here’s hoping.

With thanks to Ellis Wiggins