Ethical Questions for Marketers – Part 8

Welcome to the newest installment of our weekly blog series, Ethical Questions for Marketers. Each week we plan to introduce a new topic and explore it in detail, preparing marketers for the day when they face such a problem at their organization.

Last week’s topic was Deceptive Advertising.

This week’s topic: Selling with Sex

The cliché has it that “sex sells”. Any serious study of this myth has shown definitively that “sex doesn’t sell”. Instead, sex grabs your attention and makes you remember. But the sad news for marketers and advertisers using sex to sell is that all you remember is the sex, and not the brand or what they’re selling. And there is no correlation between seeing sexually-provocative ads and likelihood of purchasing the product they were selling.

But that doesn’t stop brands from using sex in their marketing. So the question here is whether or not it’s ethical.

In the United States, we live in a more prudish society than many European countries or those of Latin America, which are much more open to sexually-explicit imagery across the board. However, the US has opened up in recent decades, and remains well ahead of the openness of most Middle Eastern and Asian countries.

So as a society, we tend to be more open to brands using sex to sell to us than we used to. However, brands who engage in this type of marketing must be careful not to cross ethical lines.

For example, consumers are more alert to companies’ objectification of women or pushing trite gender stereotypes. Parents still want to protect their young children from exposure to overtly sexual imagery. And so brands would do well not to go for shock. It has the potential to backfire in ways that cause more harm than good, in the end.

Stay tuned next week for another installment of our Ethical Questions for Marketers series. If you have an ethical topic you’d like to see addressed, write us.