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Sex may be losing its advertising power

News, 16 March 2015

NEW YORK: The idea that sex can sell pretty much anything is looking increasingly outdated, as, in the wake of International Women's Day, a new piece of research suggests that it can even have the opposite effect to that intended.

Ameritest, the copy-testing firm, showed an ad for QSR chain Carl's Jr. to its consumer panel to gauge their reaction. The ad features an apparently naked model striding through a farmer's market before it's finally revealed she's actually wearing a bikini, as she stuffs the product being advertised into her mouth.

Advertising Age reported that as a result of seeing the ad, 27% of the panel said they intended to visit a Carl's Jr. restaurant, or one of its sister chain Hardee's, in the next 30 days.

That compares unfavourably, however, with the 43% which Ameritest suggested is the norm for a restaurant ad.

Other findings that indicate sex is no longer a sure-fire route to success were that just over half of the panel found the ad offensive (52%) or irritating and annoying (51%).

Further, almost one third (32%) said they felt worse about Carl's Jr. after seeing the ad. Once again, Ameritest said that was significantly worse than the norm for a fast-food ad (8%) – and fast-food ads already perform more poorly in this respect than other industries.

On the plus side, however, almost all (94%) remembered that the ad was for Carl's Jr.

Sean Scott, senior brand consultant at Ameritest, reported that sex in advertising did not perform particularly well in stimulating purchase intent, apart from products like Viagra, "where basically they're selling sex".

While CKE Restaurants, the owner of Carl's Jr., maintained that the ad had increased sales, Scott said that was more likely to be down to a $1 coupon offer for the advertised product.

Shenan Reed, president/digital North America at media agency network MEC, recently contrasted the number of YouTube views the Carl's Jr. ad received – 10.3m – with the figures for two ads that empowered women. Always #LikeAGirl has registered 56m views while Dove's Real Beauty Sketches has over 65m, although both have been running for longer.

Speaking at an event running parallel to the 59th Session of the UN's Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), held in New York last week, Reed suggested that "as we see more female CMOs we should see a change in the advertising approved".

Data sourced from Advertising Age, Huffington Post, Twitter; additional content by Warc staff