Sex is Easy but Doesn’t Build a Brand

February 10, 2009


 What is the purpose of advertising? You would think the answer is clear. But too many company leaders are obviously confused.

In my opinion, the purpose of advertising is to reinforce a brand's position in the mind. That position should be meaningful, memorable and motivating.

Today, advertising isn't an easy. There is too much of it and too many consumers will do almost anything to avoid it. In this inhospitable advertising environment, many advertisers  focus almost exclusively just on getting the attention of consumers by any means possible.

We all know that PR is a very good way to get attention. PR is also very good at brand building. It builds credibility, awareness and word of mouth.

You can see the wheels turning the in boardroom now.

All we need to do "is make our advertising so shocking that consumers will be outraged, the networks will censor us and the media will cover us." Instant PR and brand awareness! And what is more shocking than sex? Nothing. It is perfect formula, right?

Wrong. While this sounds like the current strategy for Paris Hilton, it is also sadly the strategy for an airline, a web registrar, and an animal rights group.


Peta 8secondridead

Sex is indeed very good at getting attention. Sex is also very good at getting you censored and creating controversy. And controversy is very good at getting PR.

But that kind of controversy is not a good strategy for building a brand.

Sexually-provocative advertisements does make sense for some categories. For example: beer, perfume and lingerie. But too many advertisers use sex for its shock value and nothing else.

In these tough economic times with ever-rising advertising costs, it is understandable that companies are looking for ways to cut corners, trim costs and get attention for their brands.

But in the long run these types of stunts simply aren’t worth it. The controversy created risks alienating your customers, your employees and your shareholders alike.



Look at recent ads by Spirit Airlines. They run “Threesome” sales and “Cheap and Easy and Nothing to Hide” sales. They invite customers to enjoy DD’s (deep discounts) and the worst “MILF.” If you have seen American Pie, you know what I mean, it describes a "mother I'd like to f***." Can you believe they are using this acronym to sell seats to the Caribbean?

Not to mention, demeaning flight attendants is a low blow in an industry that has fought for years to remind consumers that the attendants are there for “your safety” and not “your fantasy.” Of course, this is why Spirit Air’s antics have gotten so much attention.


Hooters asset_medium

The idea isn’t new; it was recently tried by Hooters Air. A few guys got excited, but in the end, Hooters couldn’t stay airborne. What works in running a bar selling beer, wings and booze turns out to be different from what works in running an airline.

A company’s brand message is not just a tool to attract consumers, it is also an essential and important internal tool to rally and unite the team. Employees who know their mission do better work. Whether it is safety at Volvo or driving at BMW or change with Obama. Your brand strategy and your advertising messages should be should be clear and central to the brand. Obama girl would not have made a good general theme for the campaign. In fact, she hurt more than helped Obama.

Spirit air off shore

Having an offensive ad strategy might get you attention, might even get you some customers but it also might offend your employees and stockholders. Something not to be taken lightly.

For years flight attendants have had to deal with drunk, obnoxious men hitting on them and worse. Now Spirit Air is practically promoting it.

More than most industries, the airline industry needs the support and service of its female employees and its female customers. Without that support they will crash and burn.

When will management understand this truism? Marketing is not just about getting consumers to watch your ads or generating any kind of PR for your brand.

Marketing is about creating a powerful brand message that resonates with consumers. All consumers, not just a handful of horny men. Marketing is about getting PR not on the shamefulness of your ads but on the power of your ideas.

One part sex, two parts exploitation may get your brand in the news but it won’t build your brand in the mind.

When you get hooked on sex, you tend to forget about your brand message. You become consumed with being racy enough to keep yourself in the news.


This is exactly what has happened at GoDaddy, the web’s largest registrar with nearly three times the number of sites as its closest competitor. But GoDaddy continues to push sex instead of pushing websites. Their advertising is terrible. Where is the message? A leader has the leverage to get a word in the mind. GoDaddy is wasting this chance.

Sooner or later, a competitor will come along with a meaningful message and take GoDaddy’s leadership position away from it.

Marketing should be meaningful; it should build a brand in the mind. Getting people to talk about sex is easy but cheap.

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