Put a baby or a babe in the ad and it will sell better.
This has long been propounded as a universal truth in the ad world. And with varying degrees of relevance you’ll see this in ads across every category. From women plonked into ads for rather staid T-shirts and family cars to babies selling Evian water.
And then there’s the whole ‘booth babe’ phenomenon. What’s the relevance of having scantily clad women promoting some totally geeky tech product at shows like CeBit? Though for some it seems to be their life’s work to collect the photos.
Deodorant ads by Wild Stone and Axe were considered so steamy that the government intervened to get them off air
And this is not a new phenomenon.
Take a look at some of these vintage ads and their modern counterparts. They should make their brand managers cringe. (Or are they just too busy laughing all the way to the bank?)
But does it really work? Apparently so. Sometimes.
I stumbled upon the Discovery Channel's Science of Lust, which documents the following:
- When provided with semi-erotic cues, men want to differentiate themselves. This makes them take, say, riskier fashion choices.
- After being in the presence of a pleasant woman, men become more expressive and creative
- It’s almost reflexive for men to slow down to check out an attractive woman
There’s stuff about women’s reactions to these cues too, but it isn’t as direct or instantaneous. And no, I’m not making that up! So basically, putting a hunk into an ad targeting women may not work. (Hence the babies?)
But let’s cut back. Perhaps dropping women into every ad also doesn’t work? Apart from the fact that it puts off women - who (I hope) are a rising purchasing power - the context seems to matter to men too.
So what’s a responsible marketer to do? When should they play the lust card?
- When you are trying to sell a product that will make the user stand out. Or will make him appear unique and macho. For example, fast cars, bold fashion, cutting edge technology. You should not do it to sell products that are not intended to make the user stick out - for example regular cars, clothes, software. Please also note that even a subtle cue appears to be sufficient.
- Women with a pleasing personality when you want to inspire creativity. A muse, as it were. Could the decline in the quality of ad agencies be related to making the cheery front-office receptionist redundant? Will a pleasant briefing by a coach result in better programming that day?
- Use ‘chasers’. Sorry, that’s really the word used in the ad industry - it’s not a pun. This is where your ad or communication follows another that is bigger and in some way connected to your product. For example an ad on educational loans right after an ad for admissions to a big college would be a chaser. In this context, if there was a billboard of an attractive woman right ahead of your billboard, people would still slow down for yours even if yours was utterly devoid of lust cues.
I wrote this piece because it’s starting to seem like all ads have innuendo. And not only does this offend some, embarrass others or provoke government intervention it also does not sell and only creates a blind spot for future ads attempting the same device. The proliferation of ads with an improper subtext is also pushing concerned parents and families towards ad-free formats or unsubscribing from newspapers. It’s in the interest of marketers to research the topic and then figure out tasteful and responsible ways of applying it.