Sex and nudity no longer sell

ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE

Honestly, I was underwhelmed when I saw OverEasy Orchard's tongue- in-cheek advertisement - a large billboard erected on Liat Towers, featuring three scantily clad women exposing their buttocks.

Next to the image was the tagline: "Seriously sexy buns. Two are better than one. Smack that, Aug 2015."

The billboard advertisement put up by the eatery barely made me blink until it was found to have breached the local advertising code of decency last month.

When I found out that the advertisement was pulled down soon after, I realised something: Sex and nudity just does not turn heads like it used to.

A few naked buns are not a feast for the eyes anymore.

Let me explain.


ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE

We now live in a time when young couples film themselves having sex in the comfort of Uniqlo fitting rooms, when softcore porn - also known as Fifty Shades Of Grey - is accepted as mainstream, when women reading while having an orgasm is considered art, and when Taiwanese shoppers, mostly female, are happy to be seen queuing around the block to buy beancurd from a hunky vendor with bulging biceps and six-pack abs.

No apologies.

Sex and nudity are everywhere. In entertainment, on Facebook, in magazines, at malls, on billboard advertisements and, well, in Orchard Towers - known for its seedy massage parlours and scantily clad prostitutes soliciting for sex - diagonally across the street from the offending advertisement.

Too much sex is probably why sex no longer sells like it used to.

In a new study released last month, researchers from Ohio State University compared results from 53 different studies that spanned 44 years of research and involved a total of 8,500 participants. All of the studies involved the role of sex and violence in advertising, and whether it led to an increase in sales for a specific product.

What they found: After watching both neutral and sexually suggestive advertisements, viewers were more likely to have a negative impression of the brands behind the racy advertisements and they were less likely to buy those products.

This research agrees with an earlier University of Wisconsin study which found that audiences view advertisements 10 per cent less favourably if sex is used to sell "un-sexy" products.

In his book Ogilvy On Advertising, advertising guru David Ogilvy said that sex sells only if it is relevant to the subject being sold.

In other words, sex sells, but only if you are selling sex.

Brands seem to be cottoning on.

Well-known fashion label, American Apparel, recently announced that it was recasting its brand "in a positive, inclusive, socially conscious light".

That is a huge move for the brand, considering that it used to be one of the most egregious peddlers of overtly sexual advertisements.

In one of its advertising campaigns, a 22-year-old employee poses topless in jeans with the words "Made in Bangladesh" running across her (presumably) bare breasts.

And fashion apparel juggernaut Abercrombie & Fitch, once edgy, has lost a third of its market value in the past year as it struggles with plummeting sales in the United States and Europe.

In an attempt to breathe new life into the brand, it is turning away from sexualised marketing, even going as far as to axe its famed practice of populating its stores with topless hunks. It is also experimenting with more brightly lit stores, toned-down music and close-to-tolerable fragrance levels.

Yes, it is official: Consumers can no longer be seduced and titillated into opening their wallets.

And can you blame them?

Generation Y consumers are typically better travelled than their parents, individualistic and sophisticated.

Many consider themselves to be "cool" with a strong sense of identity and are supportive of social causes and socially responsible companies. They want brands with traits of their own that will serve as a form of self-expression.

Today, when many are rejecting the restraints of stereotypes and the traditional notions of gender, speaking out against sexual abuse, and turning to retailers that adopt environmentally sustainable practices, advertisements of stick-thin models flashing their crotches do seem a little tone-deaf.

So maybe it is a good thing, even for OverEasy, that it was made to take its advertisement down. Now it has space for something more effective.

I, for one, am experiencing sex fatigue. I am tired of Jersey Shore washboard abs, crotch shots, sideboobs, underboobs, overboobs and barely legal teens mooning me.

Such images are just not "shockvertising" anymore.

So, come on, make me think, laugh or bring a real-life issue to light to get my attention.

Another larger-than-life anatomical resting part just does not sit well with the consumers of today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 23, 2015, with the headline 'Sex and nudity no longer sell'. Print Edition | Subscribe