Do you remember those dreadful adverts that used to appear many years ago in newspaper columns and classified listings? They said things like: “SEX: Now that I’ve got your attention here’s our latest set of spanners for your workshop”. Similarly, there used to be adverts of scantily clad young women leaning on a car, in the hope that this would make you interested in a rather ordinary box of metal and plastic. But new research suggests that these adverts were potentially brilliant.
Psychologists at The University of Amsterdam looked at the mental processing that happens in our brains when we are either primed to think about sex or given information that makes us think of love. The research found that when people are given material that makes them think of the concept of love, they tend afterwards to focus on the “big picture”. However, when people were primed to concentrate on sex, they then looked at the fine details in the immediate period afterwards.
What the study suggests is that when we think of love and sex we are using different kinds of brain processing. Thoughts of love makes us consider things in the round, whereas thoughts of sex make us think of things in detail. It implies that marketing which focuses our minds on sex enables us to focus on the details of the advert, whereas advertising which has a more romantic feel helps us consider the overall impact and the big picture.
The theory behind all this is relatively simple. Love is associated with the long term (hopefully…!) and therefore our brain starts processing information with that in mind. However, sex is associated with the short term and consequently our brain goes into detail mode.
It means that – should you wish – you could use love or sex to enhance your marketing messages. For instance, if your advertising, or your web page, or blog post, has a romantic feel – using colours, imagery and the right words in the headlines – you are going to be able to get your visitors to focus on the big picture and the longer term. That would be great for material where you want a long-lasting relationship with your customers – such as in consultancy work, or on membership sites.
However, if you want to sell a product now, right now, without the desire to create any kind of long-term relationship with the customer, then using images or words that have sexual connotations could be more likely to get people thinking of those short-term benefits they’ll get from buying your product or service.
Perhaps that’s why the bikini-clad girls adorning cars never really worked. After all, a car is usually a long-term purchase and so those romantic adverts for cars where you are imagining driving past fields of sunflowers with the wind in your hair are the ones that actually are more likely to work because they suggest love and get the brain into long-term focus. It’s also why those “SEX: Now we’ve got your attention, would you like to buy some spanners” adverts never worked either. Spanners are not short-term purchases either – how many have you bought this month? But sex and washing powder, biscuits, office stationery or pay per click advertising – things you buy for short-term gain – well, there’s an opportunity….!
Of course, there is one significant consideration you need to adopt here; if you do decide to use love or sex in your marketing, you need to consider its appropriateness for your audience. It might achieve the level of brain processing you want, but at what cost? Only you can decide based on your audience – and your morals.
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+