Marketing Idea No. 256 – Sex Sells. Period.

Many board meetings, strategic sessions and brainstorming before, some wise marketer has thought of a simple strategy – take a beautiful, scantily dressed woman out it in the same frame as the product you are trying sell. And voila! You have the attention of every testosterone driven males who are looking for eye candy and every women who are looking for glamour to imitate. There is no denying – sex and glamour sells. It sold millions of cars in the 60s and it continues to sell millions of face wash in the 21st century.  

If selling sex, beauty and glamour is the industry standard – at least some people are making it a lot interesting. Let’s consider some of the coolest cats in the business – Abercrombie & Fitch, Calvin Klein and Victoria’s Secret and their prime driver: sex.

But, is it really that simple? Does the beautiful people + sex combo routine really sell? Isn’t it kind of lame?

Sad but true. Outrageous behavior, gorgeous look seasoned with sex, seems to be an ever-effective formula. Seventy years after the first scantily clad woman was featured in advertising (for an automobile advertising) sexual suggestiveness still seems to do the trick every time, regardless of the category. It’s like the Pied Piper. All we can do is follow.

There’s another essential item that goes together with sex. And that’s controversy – the drug that fuels word of mouth.

In December 2003, Abercrombie & Fitch’s Christmas catalogue was withdrawn from the market, only days after its release, because of more than 100 photos ostensibly promoting group sex.

Prices for the catalogue soared on eBay, hitting a high of $150. The forbidden-fruit notoriety seemed to be paying off. Queues in the stores grew, and the cash registers kept buzzing in sync with the Christmas tunes.

Abercrombie & Fitch is not alone in this joy ride. Remember when Calvin Klein’s billboard was banned in Times Square (and made Brook Shields a global icon); when theVatican railed against the United Colors of Benetton’s advertising (and made everyone worried what’s wrong with Benetton); and when Madonna’s “Like a prayer” music video was removed from MTV? What all these had in common was sex and controversy.

As old fashioned as it may sound, the world’s longest-running advertising gimmick is still running strong like the magician’s old hat trick. Sex plus controversy may well equal the world’s most powerful marketing cocktail. The mix guarantees to create a handful of enemies and an army of fans.

The conclusion may be confusing for some and disturbing for many, but we need to face it: Sex sells—even in 2011. And there is nothing out of the box about it. It’s just plain old vanilla.

Marketing Idea No. 255 – How every marketer wants to think outside of the box but always end up doing whats inside of it

In a supernatural film released in 2009 called “The Box”, main character of the film played by actress Cameron Diaz was stuck with a major dilemma. In the film she received a mysterious box which had a button. Every-time she presses the button, she will receive lots of material riches but as a severe consequence, someone unknown and unrelated to her will die. Hence, the dilemma.

In marketing we are handed down a box which is not unlike the box that I have just described in the film. What is this box? Well no one really knows. What every marketer does know is thinking something outside and beyond this box usually sounds good. It is considered innovative and unconventional. It’s the challenge that keeps marketers awake at night – how to think something and do something out of the box. 

But herein lies the biggest contradiction of them all. Because no matter how much we regard ourselves as out of the box thinker; we actually implement the solution that is never out of the box. To us out of the box is the fantasy of a seductive mistress, whom we often think about but pretty much always ditch in reality.

Let’s look at a few examples. It has long been considered that differentiation is the key to brand survival. But increasingly all products within a category are looking more or less the same and they are doing more or less good business. The success of these increasingly similar looking line extensions are re-enforcing the fact that in an increasingly insecure world, people don’t want to stand out. They want to fit in. That’s why everything and everyone is looking the same, not different. This is definitely not out of the box. We thought facebook and social media revolution will kill TVC which is so predictable. We thought advertising is dead, along with 30 second TVC. But has advertising spending in TVC gone down? Not by any means. This again is not out of the box. We were told uninhibited line extension dilutes a brand. We were told to think out of the box to launch new brands with new opportunities, not just extend a popular brand name into everything like Donald Trump. But Donald Trump makes a lot of money and if thinking inside the box makes people rich as Donald Trump, then everyone would love to think act like Donald Trump. Innovation and new ideas make us look good. But in practice, it’s the sequels and line extensions in the world that makes all the money. X-Men 2 will always make more money than X-Men.

Now, if you make money not thinking out of the box, why would anyone do it? That’s why out of the box thinking is often limited to increasing number of blades in a razor from 2 to 3. That again is hardly out of the box thinking.

So it’s pretty clear. There is excitement and romanticism in thinking out of the box. But there is absolutely no incentive for marketers to do things out of the box. Predictability is safe. Similarity is what people want at times. That’s why out of the box is often out of fashion.

Marketing Idea No. 254 – The unrealized potential of trade marketing

There is an enormous amount of talk and research that is going into trade marketing these days. Trade has been hailed as the new battleground of brands where brands are injected with a new spirit or die a fast, short death. But despite the importance and the obnoxious amount of time that is spent in trade marketing discussions, very little is being done to understand the full potential of the concept and how to realize it.

Trade marketing is often seen as marketing to trade. In that sense, its very similar to the concept of  “Internal Marketing”, which believes companies should market themselves to their employees first and then to customers. From that angle: loyal, empowered and satisfied retailers are key to trade marketing. But this particular “key” is often the most difficult part of trade marketing. I mean how can you turn people whose sole job is to handle mutilpe brands (including your competition) every day into an ambassador for you, just like an employee is an ambassador for your brand!! Thats why organizations look for the easy, short cut in trade marketing which is decorating the shop to increase brand visibility. Trade marketing is often limited to one kind of outdoor advertising, POS merchandising and short term trade discount or entertainment program. Unfortunately, these are only the tip of the trade marketing iceberg.

The sooner brands understand that its not about the shop, but the shop keeper, the quicker they can turn every retailer into a hidden brand ambassador for their brand. Here is someone who has the power to sell your product directly and influence behavior directly. Not many people in your value chain has that ability.