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Sex Sells to Some, But You Should Sell To All

I read an interesting article on Harvard Business Review recently. It pointed to research that women tolerate sexually explicit ads — when the goods advertised are sufficiently expensive. The results boiled down this way:

Heterosexual men responded better to advertisements that featured sexually explicit images to sell a watch whether or not the watch was expensive. Heterosexual women, on the other hand, responded negatively to a sexually explicit scene when associated with a cheap $10 watch, but responded more neutrally to the ad when the watch was expensive ($1,250). While when a natural landscape image was used, heterosexual women had the same reaction whether it was an expensive watch or an inexpensive watch.

The HBR article, Women Will Tolerate Sexually Explicit Ads – at the Right Priceconnected this with the desire of women to associate sex with high value. It was a great insight. Knowing this, luxury brands have been successfully using sex to sell their products to men without offending women.

Luxury Marketers Are Missing Out

Read that headline again women only TOLERATE the sexual advertisements. Why would you bother to present an advertisement that elicits only a neutral reaction? The clear choice is to show the sexual images only to men, and a different type of imagery for women, one that has a greater effect as the sexual tone does with men.

This seemed like an obvious choice but traditional media segmentation isn’t capable of doing that with any real certainty in non-gendered media contexts. Things are better in digital media — but what happens when they get to your ecommerce experience? Do you drop the sexuality and lose the male uplift? Or do you keep it and numb the female interest? 

The Right Tone for the Right Prospect

After the click, we can use big data to solve this ecommerce conundrum. Using first- and third-party data, we serve different experiences to men and women, in real time, when they land on the site. By using segmentation and personalization, we not only serve the personalized experience for greater lift  but we can also optimize the messaging and tone by segment (and even sub-segments within them). Now, you are getting the most out of all your audience segments.

Ultimately, your website should be maximizing the effect marketing messaging has on ALL your audiences. Doing anything less is selling yourself and your brand short.


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