Sex Doesn’t Sell: The Power of Persuasion

In the US there are these ridiculous burger commercials for Carl’s Junior / Hardees. Basically, young half naked women gratuitously eat burgers dripping in sauce. When I was a teenager I loved these commercials, but you can probably guess which part of the commercial I was really craving.

Looking back on these commercials, or just opening any magazine today, it is clear that ad firms bank on the idea that sex sells. The idea is that the attractive man or woman will transfer their desirability to the product that you are selling. While this is an easy to understand concept of persuasion and advertising, sex doesn’t sell everything.

1 size does not fit all when it comes to persuasion

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Research has clearly shown that sex can make people more likely to buy certain products, but those products need to be things that people already associate with sex / attraction (i.e perfume, cosmetics, skin tight jeans, etc…). But take any other product, like a burger / website / gadget, and sexy advertisement has no effect. Think of all the money the car industry has spent trying make cars seem like magnets that attract hot women. Research shows it doesn’t work as well as marketing executives would like us to believe.

Influencing people is not a 1 size fits all skill. Influence is based on the mind-set of the audience, and this is something we need to understand.

Are you afraid of being left out or not being unique?

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Different, unique and standing out of the crowd concept. A red balloon is different and above the other gray ones, representing the individuality in the masses.

One study created two different advertisements for a local museum. The first was followed the “don’t be left out” style of advertising (e.g. – Hundreds of readers enjoy Caveman in a Suit everyday). The other advertisement focused on being distinct and unique (e.g. – Be the one in the know. Read Caveman in a Suit.). These 2 styles of advertising were tested along different types of movies (scary movies vs romantic comedies).

While both advertisements had positive impact on museum attendance, they only worked when partnered with a specific movie type. A scary movie inspires people to join with others (how else can you feel safe), and so the follow-up advertisement of “thousands of people go to X museum every month” was very motivating. Romantic comedies have the opposite effect on people which inspires people to stand apart from the pack (how else can you attract your mate), and so distinctiveness based ads were more motivating.

So what does this mean for you

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Young businesswoman giving presentation

If you are in marketing, I suggest you read the wonderful book Pre-suasion by Robert Chialdini. Its an amazing book about the power of persuasion, and I fully recommend everything written by Chialdini.

The rest of us can use this knowledge when we try to persuade others about our ideas and proposals. You need to understand that the presentations right before yours (even on different topics) will make people open or closed to your idea. How many of us think about what goes on in front of us?

Here is an example:

  • If the leaders were talking about cost controls before you, then you should be pitching your idea as a best practice that other companies are doing. You are building off the lets be safe mind-set by showing that many others also do your idea.
  • If they were talking about growth, then you should be talking about how unique your idea is. You are building off their mind-set of standing apart from our competitors, by presenting your idea as something special.

This kind of communication doesn’t change your idea, it just tailors your words to fit your audience’s mind set. That’s the true power of persuasion.

If you don’t do this, then you risk presenting your idea as a hot woman eating a burger to leaders who are vegans.

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Highlight and tweet it – Sex doesn’t always sell. Influencing others is not a 1 sized fits all skill. Research shows is that the presentations right before yours (even on different topics) will make people open or closed to your idea. Do you think about what goes on right before your presentation? #Cavemansuit

Pre-Suasion by Robert Chialdini

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