Attitude, the British gay-oriented magazine, recently performed an experiment. On one version of its cover it showed an image of David Cameron, the Tory party leader campaigning to become prime minister. On the other, it showed a near-naked male model. Guess which one sold better… That’s right- the model’s cover was responsible for nearly 70 percent of that issue’s sales.
It’s one of the most discussed and controversial topics in the advertising world: using sex to sell, and in no segment of the population is sex used to push products and services more than in the gay community. The reason why is simple: our sexuality is the one thing that unites us. You didn’t come out for the fabulous brunches – you came out because of your sexual urges. We’re the only consumer segment grouped together based solely on sex. A fundamental law of advertising is finding imagery that will resonate with your target consumer segment. What resonates with gay men more than pictures of other naked men?
Marketers argue that using sex to sell isn’t base or primitive – it’s just savvy advertising. Gay activists contend, however, that racy ads only perpetuate the carnal stereotype of the gay lifestyle (in a previous post, I lamented over the subject matter of gay-targeted ads myself). However, I understand first-hand the at-all-cost pressure marketers face to move products, and nothing improves ROI like showing a little skin.
A second fundamental law of advertising is finding messaging that will break through the clutter. So many companies use sex to sell when targeting the gay community that it presents an opportunity for differentiation for those businesses that want to set themselves apart. The trick is finding the right mix of sex and substance that will draw gay consumers to your ad while injecting enough relevancy to make the messaging memorable.
Yes, sex sells when marketing to the gay community, but that’s the nature of the beast. Gays, like all humans, are sexual creatures, and our sexual orientation is our one common trait. Using sex in advertising (especially within the gay community) is here to stay; the challenge for marketers moving forward is to find clever, responsible ways to do it.