No sex please, we’re SingaporeansBY PAUL GAGE
What do topless six-packed hunks, videos of scantily-clad women teaching Mandarin and millions of social media mentions mean about changing attitudes to ‘sexual selling’ in Singapore?
Last year, the hoarding for Singapore’s Abercrombie & Fitch store was ruled by the Advertising Standards Association of Singapore (ASAS) to be ‘breaching the local advertising code of decency’. The store launch in December had hundreds turning up to view the ‘A&F men’ dressed in just sweatpants and sandals showing off their six packs.
The event generated PR coverage and hundreds of thousands of photos, videos and comments on the social media platforms of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
A&F will be happy that Singapore knows they’re here.
More recently, the website ‘SexyMandarin’ launched from Hong Kong. Using scantily clad women to teach Mandarin, it has attracted much controversy here in Singapore. However, the old PR saying ‘all news is good news’ seems to be true.
The videos on YouTube have received over 1.4M views. There’s been a drop-off from lesson one’s 500K views to the 45K for lesson nine, but for no advertising these figures are excellent. Any brand or agency would be shouting about these results.
The question remains - does sex really sell?
The book ‘Spent’ by Geoffrey Miller gives insight as to why sex is used in advertising.
Using psychology, sociology, genetics and neuroscience Miller shows that many product choices are driven by the desire to look good and show off the attractive traits of intelligence, personality and evolutionary fitness.
In other words we buy stuff that demonstrates our mating potential.
Studies show that attractive people in advertising create two types of reaction in the brain. The first is in the anticipation / reward centre associated with gratification.This is the immediate sexual attraction.
However, the second area is called ‘mirror neurons’ – our brains are imagining that we are similar to what we’re seeing. Seeing a well-toned man outside A&F both attracts the ladies, but also makes men feel that they too can look like that man.
So sex gets things noticed. Clever advertising can use this well. The breast cancer awareness campaign in Singapore used body paint on nude models aimed directly at women to encourage them to check their breasts. Yes, there was controversy, but in this case the buzz helped spread the important message.
More importantly, sometimes sex has to be used to get the message across. Action for AIDS created a sexy KTV video with a message to always use a condom, which was distributed in areas where commercial sex is legalized.
However, just because sex and beauty captures our attentions, it doesn’t always mean that it sells. Studies show that people have lower recall of the brand benefits when sexual imagery is used.
A US study by MediaAnalyzer showed that when people were exposed to a range of racy to non-sexual adverts only 9.8% of men could recall the brand from ads with sexual content compared to 20% for the non-
sexual ads. And it’s not just men – 10.9% of women for the sexual ads compared to 22.3% for the non-sexual ones.
Overt sex might be too much, but aspirational lifestyles are still important here in Asia, and this does mean the right casting and story-telling. Some Western brands have found to their cost that the ‘anti-beauty’ message doesn’t work here.
Dove’s ‘Campaign for real beauty’ celebrated the ‘natural woman’ and was hugely successful in the USA and UK. When tested in Asia, consumers didn’t understand why you wouldn’t want to do whatever you could to look your best.
So where does this leave Singapore? Many Singaporean youth look towards Korea and Japan for fashion and trends - countries where overt sexual imagery is commonplace in the media, advertising, comics and computer games.
The recent Cosfest XI in Singapore had over 10,000 fans come to see people dressed up as famous and often sexually charged characters from anime and manga comics.
Selling with sex is as old as advertising, and it looks like it’s here to stay.