WSJ Video: Sex Sells, but Can It Hurt a Brand?

Here’s a fascinating story.

It’s been obvious since forever that sex in advertising is bad for society’s morale. It hurts women, girls, and–I’d argue–men too. Clearly, however, calls to eliminate sex in ads (namely, objectified women) are repeatedly drowned out by the ringing of cash registers.

Why? Because sex sells. It sells so much that advertisers don’t care if their ads make girls and women insecure, exacerbate depression and eating disorders, or encourage men to objectify women in everyday life.

It sells so well that it isn’t worth it to take the high road.

Or is it?

According to research released earlier this week at Cannes Lions 2016 by Madonna Badger, co-founder of the agency Badger & Winters, sex isn’t all it’s cracked up to be (in advertising).

The Wall Street Journal published this video about Badger’s presentation and the research:

As stated in the video, the study was commissioned by Badger & Winters and the Girl’s Lounge, a group for workplace equality. Researchers surveyed about 5,000 consumers and found that:

“Ads objectifying women can be disastrous to your brand’s reputation and extremely damaging to purchasing intent.”

Well, hey now. That’s a horse of a different color, isn’t it?

Advertisers who use sex to sell might not care about women, but they do care about money. If there’s proof that sex hurts customer loyalty, a/k/a less profit, advertisers might more strongly reconsider those sexy cheeseburger campaigns.

I’m not diminishing the negative social implications of objectifying women in ads. The case that sexist advertising hurts society must be made (if no other reason than to educate girls and women affected). But honestly, it seems no one really cares about that.

Insecure young girls and women with body issues, while heartbreaking, are an abstract concept for most advertisers. But less revenue? That’ll resonate. It’s their skin in the game, if you will.

Now, I haven’t read the study. I searched for it online, but it looks like it hasn’t been released to the public yet. When (and if) it is, I will update this post. Also, if anyone gets a hold of it, please send it my way.

In the meantime, enjoy this powerful video created by Badger & Winters as part of their #WomenNotObjects campaign.

It features ads from many well-known brands such as DirectTV, Tom Ford and Post-It (making a Post-It sexual is a definite low). The ads are ridiculous and infuriating but…sigh…all too common.

That horrible Burger King ad was pulled from publication circulation in 2009 after people said “that ain’t appetizing,” but there’s more work to be done.

Let’s stop this insanity for good by telling advertisers we’re not buying what they’re selling. Join the #WomenNotObjects movement by following @WomenNotObjects on Twitter.


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