The broad term ‘sex sells’ has run its course for younger western millennials. However weird it sounds, we’re entering a post sex-marketing world where brands are now finding alternative and authentic ways to re-engage.
An overtly sexual campaign gets seen through pretty quickly by millennials who’ve matured quicker than previous generations. Brands which inadvertently body-shame feel instantly archaic and get dismissed quickly as we saw in London this year with ‘Protein World’s Beach Body Ready’ campaign. The bottom line is that we’ve seen it all before; it’s difficult to shock us with sex. Some communication in the 90’s and 00’s were almost pornographic so to see hyper-sexualised imagery now just doesn’t seem interesting or authentic.
How has this happened? Feminism 2.0 happened. And it’s not just about women. Young millennials, male and female value equality, human integrity and are empathetic towards race and sexuality. There’s nothing equal or empathetic about a skinny model in a bikini. Sex is shallow and shallow brands get found out instantly and tend to get a vicious backlash. Brands are realising this – Abercrombie & Fitch and American Apparel have changed their tune in recent seasons as they’ve both battled falling sales. In Abercrombie’s case, we’ve seen the end of half-naked models and sexual imagery has been removed from bags and all marketing material. Instead the brand will focus on diversity – interesting given a lawsuit they’re facing, allegedly due to discriminating against a hijab-wearing job candidate. It seems that some brands are rightfully growing up with their audiences.
Similarly to A&F, in an effort to show more “real” women in advertisements, American Eagle’s young women’s lingerie line, Aerie, is showing how the girls are in real life, un-photoshopped and with “flaws.” Even the beauty industry –often critisised for communicating a false or unrealistic image of women – is changing their behaviours. UK-based make-up brand Illamasqua launched a competition called ‘Beauty Before Age’, calling for older women, mothers and daughters to model for its next campaign – exemplifying beauty without age limits.
So what’s powerful to these consumers? Real people, non-models, creative individuals, social media personalities – people who are more interesting than just superficial appearance. We need to stop selling sex and start celebrating sexuality. We’re starting to reinterpret beauty and it feels real, more engaging. Marc Jacobs uses Instagram to recruit real models for his Marc by Marc Jacobs range. That’s the kind of real strategies that will get people talking and buying. No longer are we shocked into looking and pressured into buying.
Superficial and shallow advertising strategies are not dead but they’re dying quickly. To move forward, creators need to focus on originality and authenticity – it’s harder, but way more interesting.