Advertising: Sex sells? Yes and no

Women like sexy ads featuring committed couples. Guys prefer sex with no strings.

Sexually explicit advertising gets noticed. But marketers should be aware that the context of that advertising matters — at least to the fairer sex. According to a study conducted by the University of British Columbia, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and the University of Minnesota, women reacted more positively to a luxury watch ad featuring a couple having sex when they were led to believe the couple was in a relationship. No such effect was found among men. The researchers theorized that the difference could be men value sex as a recreational activity, while women prefer to see it as an act between committed adults. Men, on the other hand, preferred the ad when it seemed to be a spontaneous romp. Ken Wong, a marketing professor at Queen’s University, says the study’s results seem reasonable, but the scientists’ explanation appears overly simplistic. He cautions against painting males and females with such a broad brush, and points out exceptions to gender stereotypes are not uncommon. Wong cites the popularity of Harlequin romance novels as a counter-argument to the perception women only value sex in the confines of a committed relationship. “These are semi-graphic, soft-porn novels read by mainstream women and found acceptable because it’s not really pornography, it’s romance,” he says, adding that when it comes to marketing to either sex, tried-and-true consumer segmentation is key.