This week’s Chron column: Sex sells?

Image via Cate.

Signs of an economic downturn were already everywhere until the shizznet really hit the fan within the past couple of weeks, and one sector that was showing it was sex (and especially sex writing/blogging — sex entertainment). So what does that mean to everyone who’s uttered the blanket statement “sex sells” and thought it was a truism? In this week’s SF Chronicle column Sex Doesn’t Sell: Violet Blue says that if you think “sex sells” then you’re not paying attention, I asked Adrants’ Steve Hall what he thinks about whether sex really sells. Snip:

Any sex writer who’s had a bit of success has heard it enough times to make them choke on their gummi boobs: “Well, of course your book/movie/blog/podcast is a hit, ‘sex sells’.” Right?


In January 2007, the Village Voice fired one of their beloved sex writers, Rachel Kramer Bussel. In August Wired dropped their Sex Drive column, and the Voice terminated Audacia Ray’s Naked City blog. Then, in a move that shocked many of us, two weeks ago the Voice let go of universally loved sex columnist Tristan Taormino — who had written for them for nearly a decade. Make all the “laid off” jokes you like, but many readers expressed that their reasons for reading the Voice, or even visiting the site, were now gone. And just last week Gawker Media stripped their famous porn blog down to its barest bones — a virtual skeleton crew working the porn mines, now minus the site’s oldest writers (including myself) — citing financial hardship.

So if “sex sells” anything, then why can’t these seasoned media companies make a sale? If it’s not a question of morality, then it’s a business question. Take a look at the top Fortune 500 companies, and you’ll see some shrinkage. How arousing is banking? Does insurance make you squirm in all the right ways? They’re not hot, nor have they used sex to sell their brands. I mean, can you really sex up Microsoft?

OK, maybe some of us can — a little. And on that list you’ll find companies that have embraced sex in advertising (with some really fun, successful, sexy and/or annoying results). But they’re not depending on their sexy ads to pay the bills, and while a nice rack might get a spike in traffic or sales, they’re not the most reliable meal ticket. Unless, of course, you’re an infant.

I may write about sex, but my knowledge of advertising is limited to work-unsafe ogling of banned Orangina ads and kinky Mini campaigns. So I brought in an expert to give me the jiggly details on sex and advertising trends. Steve Hall is the publisher and editor of high-profile ad blog Adrants. He’s managed ad budgets for biggies like Reebok and Marriott, and writes and speaks at industry events about advertising’s role in consumer-controlled media, the integration of public relations and advertising, the future convergence of media, and the decline of traditional media. He also founded AdGabber. Lucky for all of us, he’s been scrutinizing sex in advertising and reporting on it from the front lines for years — so we don’t have to walk the slippery road of Axe commercials alone. Phew. (…read more!)

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  1. I find it interested that we have had a number of media companies (Dying Print Publications) Contact us to joyfully let us know that they have now decided to change their advertising policies and allow us to advertise. It’s funny how the polices of companies will be changing during these strange times, allowing for more risque advertisers to sell their wares.

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