Fascinating New Study: Sex Sells — But Not With Female Athletes
6:35 pm, July 30th | by Amy Tennery
Sure, tennis star Maria Sharapova’s face is emblazoned on nearly every consumer good imaginable. But a new study shows that female athletes (compared to men) are rarely used as spokespersons — and when they are, companies often fail to use them effectively.
In short, advertisers don’t know what to make of strong women.
The study, carried out by researchers at the University of Delaware and published in the Journal of Brand Strategy, shows that most brands have a tough time figuring out how to execute a female athlete endorsement. While a brand might hype a male athlete’s strength or agility in a commercial, researchers claim that advertisers play up female athletes’ sexuality. Because while brands can differentiate easily between different types of male spokespersons, it seems they’re quick to slap the one-size-fits-all, sex-sells sticker on female endorsers of all stripes.
And sure, sex sells is a tried and true aphorism. But this report shows brands might have overestimated many consumers’ appetite for athletic T&A.
For example, the 2009 ‘Got Milk?’ ad featuring swimmer Dara Torres in a skimpy bathing suit did not impress. “Respondents suggested this was a poor image for an outstanding athlete who achieved so much while raising a family,” the authors said. “Featuring Dara Torres as a middle-aged single mother, able to balance family with work commitments, might be more effective than highlighting her physical attractiveness at age 40.”
But what makes this approach particularly terrible? While these ads are poorly executed and ineffective, researchers say their failure mistakenly leads brands to believe it’s the models’ fault — not their own wrong-headed marketing strategy. Advertisers, are you listening?