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Answering the Question: 'Does Sex Sell Long-Term Brand Success?'

In 2015, I wrote an article in Advertising Week that begged the question, does the long adage of “sex sells” drive long-term brand success? It’s a question that has been asked for ages in the advertising world. In short, in reviewing over one-hundred thousand research responses across multiple brands the concluding answer I found was no. Sex may sell short-term eyeballs and social explosions in media, but it does not sell long-term brand success. I referenced brands such as Carl’s Jr., that has long used women and sex to sell hamburgers ... until recently.

Carl’s Jr., in conjunction with their new ad agency 72andSunny, have launched a new campaign that directly speaks to the company’s decision to no longer objectify women in brand advertising and has switched gears to focus on quality and convenience. I applaud the brand’s change in direction and what this means for and to half of the population.

After the AdWeek article mentioned above was written, Mark Tilghman of the ANA reached out to me to introduce an organization the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) founded called the Alliance for Family Entertainment (AFE). My hypothesis proving the ineffectiveness of using sex to sell was of great interest to AFE, and soon we became mutually focused on promoting women and girls in a positive light within media. AFE has the full support of Merkle and brands like Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, American Express, and IBM among others, all collectively working towards this goal together, and in the Summer of 2016, the partnership unveiled the #SeeHer campaign at the White House.

Leading this new group is Stephen Quinn, the former CMO of Walmart and Frito-Lay, a Marketing Hall of Famer who was voted the Top Global CMO by Forbes in 2012. Stephen left his Chairman’s post with the ANA to Chair the AFE to devote himself to the #SeeHer project. As we recently were preparing for a joint webinar we were discussing the Carl’s Jr. example and he said, "We're seeing brands making these kind of changes because their customers care about this topic. The industry is going through a time of measureable change in this area and #SeeHer is leading the movement.”

He has been a tremendous example in the industry and I’m grateful to be apart of the AFE’s mission ‘to accurately portray all women and girls in media, so that by 2020 (the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote), women and girls will see themselves as they truly are.’

I hope Carl’s Jr. is one of many brands that hears the wakeup call and makes changes in its advertising to join in our endeavor to help accurately portray women and girls in all forms of media. This is not just the right thing to do, but it’s right for brands in the long-term.

Come join Stephen and I for a webinar on May 4, 2017 at 11 am ET to talk about purchase psychology and the truth about gender differences in advertising and what it means to marketers. We’ll walk through a recent study on the sports car purchase process and dive into how buying decisions are made by gender.