Sex and marketing

Sex and marketing: how to use sex in your advertising

If you ever wondered whether using sex in advertising helps to sell, here is the answer: it does.

Actually, it is one of the strongest and most effective selling tools. The relationship between sex and marketing is a winning combination for almost any business. However, if you don’t know how to use it, you’re risking putting off your potential customers.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how humor is used in advertising to sell more.
(you can check it here). Today we will look at another factor that can effectively improve your business’s performance: sex. We will go in detail to understand how to use sex and marketing in synergy to boost the results of your next campaign.

History of sex and marketing

Sex and Marketing: Pearl Tobacco 1871

Pearl Tobacco. 1871: first advertisement with a sexual message

The fact that sex sells is not a recent invention. The earliest known use of sex in advertising dates back to 1871, when Pearl Tobacco featured a naked maiden on the package cover. In fact, the first brands to enter this trend were: saloons, tonics, and tobacco.

In 1885 W. Duke & Sons inserted sexually provocative trading cards of actresses in their packages of Duke’s Cigarettes.

Then in 1970s a hair dye Clairol (by Procter&Gamble) launched its famous campaign under the ambiguous slogan: “Does she… or doesn’t she? Only her hairdresser knows for sure”

When talking about sex and marketing you cannot not mention Calvin Klein and its (in)famous advertising of jeans featuring at that time only 16-year-old Brooke Shields. “Want to know what gets between me and my Calvin’s? Nothing.” slogan was as controversial as effective at driving sales.


How does using sex in advertising work?

We have what is called a lizard brain (or an old brain). In terms of evolution, it is the oldest part of our brain and it’s responsible for survival. It pays attention to 3 things only: food, danger, and.. sex.
On top of your old brain, you have a mid and new brain (I cover the idea of 3 brains in a video), which take control of emotions and logical thinking.
Even though our lizard brain operates on subconscious level (and so we are not aware of its presence), it is continuously working, scanning environment in search of thinks that could endanger you, things that you could eat and things that you could have sex with.

This is why using sex in advertising is so powerful. Whenever a person is exposed to a sexual message, their old brain gets activated. And the second that happens, the old brain takes over. It is very difficult to ignore sexual messages.

We are extremely strongly wired to react to sex. In fact, so strongly, that we will respond to messages that only imply sex. You don’t need to use pictures of fully naked models in your ads. Showing an ankle or a neck will work just as effectively.

A word of advice…

Not every product can be easily linked to erotic elements. The use of sexual messages can still work (you will have more sells), but it can harm your brand in long term, as customers will start noticing the trick.
Also, with the ever more open society, the way that sex is shown in ads is ever more open and direct. For some people that can be off putting. Implied and soft sexual messages are much safer, some claim they’re more artistic, will not turn off any of your customers, and – work just as effectively as a direct message.

Here is an example of an ad using sex without showing female or male body and with no nakedness at all. All that this ad of Beetle is doing is simply driving our imagination by using the right copy (“Topless” which is this case refers to the car not having a roof) and blurring a part of the photo (which is usually used to censor sexual scenes in movies or images).

Sex and marketing - Beetle

This Beetle ad is a great example of using implied sex

Sex and marketing today

With ever lore open society and less taboos, sex has become even more present in advertising. The one change that has been observed is combining sex with humour, which brought to live some of the best ads of all time.

Below you can find a list of some of the most effective uses of sex in marketing for different industries:

Cloting & Lingerie


Famous for its sexual ads and indeed associated with a sexy look, Dolce&Gabbana rolled out this campaign in 2007. But this time not everybody liked it. Many said that the ad looks like a rape scene and so it was soon taken off. Great example of how sexual messages if too strong can harm your brand and irritate people.



This daring ad is a classic. Diesel uses a combination of scenes from porn movies but by using animations, it turns them into everyday scenes. You be the judge:


The brand that’s famous for directing men’s attention to women’s bust (by introducing push-up bras), is one of the most erotic in its advertising. Wonderbra has always had its unique way to show it, just like this ad below. It is one of my all time favorite – maybe because I’m not the best cook myself :)


Victoria’s secret

One of the top lingerie brands, Victoria’s Secret is known for picking the best looking models and a very sexy look.


But even this brand hasn’t gotten away with their strategy without the critic. One of it’s recent campaign targeted at younger women, PINK, got a lot of criticism from Moms all around America. The campaign portrays teenage women on a spring break in a very sexual ways. Many petition have been said that this campaign encourages young women to behave promiscuously during the spring break – something that parents have been advocating against for many years now.



Jim Bean

No brand, no slogan, no call to action – just pure sensual video. Though quite daring, Jim Bean shows another way to approach sex in advertising – an artistic way. Indeed, this ad could be easily put among short videos.



The German brand enjoys experimenting with more daring advertising campaign. You’ve seen the ad for Beetle above. This one promotes new breaks system in its cars. Interestingly, there is no car in the ad – all you can see is a half-naked women in the window.

Cars have been associated with sex for better sales for many years now. It is one of the products that easily link to erotic messages. Producers want their cars to be perceived as sexy, fast, daring, and so most of the advertising using sex, will work perfectly for cars.



Yet another example how automobiles advertise their features by showing sexual messages. Just like in the ad above, a car is not featured here. The only elements giving away the real product behind this ad is a logo and a small image of a car. The ad is designed to get attention, and it surely does




Featuring sexy Megan Fox… in a bath, Motorola takes a more sensual approach to its advertising. Though the focus is taken away from the phone itself, it does a good a job at presenting phone’s feature in a humorous way.

Now back to you.

What do you think of using sex in marketing? What are the ads and commercial using sex you find most outrageous – or, most effective? Share them below.

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  • Abass Ahmady

    Reply Reply July 31, 2013

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  • V.S.Rao

    Reply Reply August 11, 2015

    Advice for new Trevo India in Bengaluru. Wana catch eyeballs and sales, both by horns in wide open markets of traditional n modern society! Networking and direct! Any Samaritan out there?

  • Anup Bawane

    Reply Reply July 16, 2016

    Really it’s new one to think different !

  • Firas Ramo

    Reply Reply June 11, 2017

    Great gob… really contains a great added value for me.
    If you’ll allow me i’d like to share it on my facebook page so my clients & students could benefit from it.

  • Robin

    Reply Reply November 15, 2017

    Thx for your advices. Your site is great site. I hope I am do it. Because I need a job

  • Piper

    Reply Reply December 7, 2017

    Thanks for pulling my asexual trigger.

  • roof marketer

    Reply Reply February 12, 2019

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  • Mahe

    Reply Reply October 18, 2019


  • Portia

    Reply Reply April 17, 2020

    This is so exciting whoever coined this is a genuis

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