Sex is turn-off for young in the world of advertising

31 augustus 2004, 04:00

IT would appear that the ubiquity of the naked body is becoming, well, rather pass?.

For the MTV generation, weaned on the the thrusting and gyrating of scantily clad pop divas such as Britney Spears and Christine Aguilera, sexually explicit advertising is becoming boring, according to research published yesterday.

HeadLightVision, a marketing company which counts Coca-Cola, Ford, Diageo and Unilever among its clients, based its study on interviews with young people in London, New York and 14 other cities.

The report said that a television and magazine advertising market saturated with sexual images had deprived sex of the mystery it once had, and that young people can be better reached with more wholesome marketing appeals.

Crawford Hollingworth, chief executive of HeadLightVision, said: “I think there is a boredom with the obvious. You can get a numbness to sexual language and imagery.”

Only recently FCUK, the French Connection brand famous for its controversial and in-your-face slogans, said it was to tone down its risqu? advertising in a move away from aggressive and double-entendre catchphrases.

Slogans such as “Too busy to FCUK” and “Cool as FCUK” were getting more bad press from customers than the company expected.

Another company to backtrack recently was Virgin Mobile, whose television advert featuring Aguilera simulating sex was heavily criticised.

Aguilera, whose hits include Dirrty, was seen in a strapless top bouncing on a leather chair giggling, while two builders, only able to see her top half through a window, think she is having sex and alert reporters.

Ofcom, the television watchdog, received a number of complaints after the Virgin Mobile advert was first shown in May. The company admitted the ad was risqu? and apologised, but said it never set out to shock anyone.

HeadLightVision said advertisers should craft commercials that are seductive rather than explicit.

Matthew Hirst, who wrote a chapter of the report, said young people were trying to recapture the thrill of sex by focusing on flirting and the lead-up to the act.

Even the the phenomenon that he called “strip club chic” fitted into the pattern, he said. “It’s not sex, it’s suggestion,” he insisted.

Mr Hirst said that a less-is-more philosophy would work for advertisers as well, and suggested that some companies should limit access to their brands to give consumers a chance to feel as if they discovered a product themselves.

Another idea, the study says, would be for advertisers to build places for consumers to play games.

“It’s nice to go back to a place where life was simpler,” explained Mr Hollingworth. “The faster your world becomes and the more complicated it becomes, the more you will love things that are uncomplicated, slow and playful.”

Alan McQueen, managing director of Atalanta Advertising in Glasgow, agreed that the advertising industry needed to move away from sexually explicit advertising.

He said: “As the father of an 18-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy I am quite happy to see the industry move on. Sex has been used quite extensively in advertising in the last 10 to 15 years but to an extent this has become boring.”

However, Alan Danskin, director of Ad Infinitum, said that for as long as he could remember the advertising industry had used sex to sell and would continue to do so.

He said: “But what really sells is something different or unusual. French Connection, for example, may be toning down its FCUK adverts but they’ve been on the go for eight years now and if truth be told they could transpose the U and C and no-one would bat an eyelid ? people are simply bored with it. Personally I think humour sells.”

Marco Derksen
Partner bij Upstream

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