The Modelling Effect (or, does sex sell?)

girls

The perception of a brand is affected by numerous factors. Advertising, PR exposure, customer service, retail availability, price and so on. There is one archaic form of marketing that persists, even in our modern advertising landscape:

Promotional girls.

Bubbly, attractive, often blonde, tanned, and usually scantily clad, the promo girl is an interesting marketing tool. At a one-to-one level, the promo girl creates an immediate image for the brand. Playful, friendly, cool, sexy, young and carefree are the kind of buzzwords frequently associated with the promo girl, and by association, the brand.

However, is this the perception actually held by the consumer (normally struggling to keep his eyes above the promo girl’s neckline), or is it just the perception held by the Marketing Director? Is the promo girl helping or hurting the brand?

The goal of using a promo girl is to employ a form of value shorthand. To look young, hot and carefree, hire ‘brand ambassadors’ who embody these traits. It’s a tried and tested strategy, and in many areas (such as car racing) it works extremely well.

Where it goes wrong

In marketing, we talk about targeting. Defining a target audience is an exhaustive process of research and focus groups, product testing and so on. For example: 18-30 year old tech savvy men and women who live in the inner city and earn between $60k-$90k. This is akin to a spotter for a sniper, picking targets based on a variety of factors such as risk assessment, collateral damage, wind speed, exposure and so on. An effective spotter will clearly define the target, the sniper will carefully aim and fire his shot (message) to hit the target.

A promo girl is a sawn-off shotgun from four feet away.

It is a blunt, obvious and imprecise messaging device. They work, but only for a very specific type of target audience.

Does sex actually sell?

Sort of.

Sex (or lust, eroticism, etc) is simply an emotive device, like sadness, joy, humour, anger and disgust. It’s just used to communicate a message. The message can be emotional, rational, or a mixture of both. If the brand’s values are closely tied with this emotion, then sex can absolutely help sell them. Fashion, lingerie, perfume and so on. However, if a brand’s values are not associated with sex, or the connection seems forced (see GoDaddy) then it can actually have a detrimental effect on the perception of the brand with the consumer.

The man on the street (it’s almost never a woman)

The most interesting example of the usage of promo girls is in street charity workers. You know the ones. Attractive, 20-something girls in a too tight T-shirt and oversized straw hat, attempting to get you to stop and hopefully hand over your bank account details for their charity. Is this an effective use of the promo girl communication device?

One one hand, you could argue that it is. The average guy is more likely to stop for a smiling attractive girl than anyone else. It’s simple biology. However, taking a step back, there are other factors to consider.

  • Are they an effective spokesperson for the brand?
  • Are the guys who stop more or less likely to donate?
  • Is the perceived validity of the cause lessened, because of the use of such obvious sales methods?
  • Does a mildly sexist approach to marketing cause women to think less of the brand by association?
  • Is the ‘street pitch’ method of fundraising helping or hurting the brand in the long term?

An ad-savvy market demands more

During the 50s and 60s – the ‘golden age’ of advertising – a sexy girl could be used to sell everything from washing detergent to insurance. But the average consumer is more informed, intelligent and has more choice than ever before. They expect more.

So, let’s do away with the tired, sexist trope of the promo girl, and create real value in our brands.