Sex Doesn’t Sell?


This article wrote because I just found old opinion article wrote by H.B. Supiyo in SWA-sembada magazine, dated January 12, 2005. In that opinion, he wrote that “Sex Doesn’t Sell.” I am interesting because last week I just taught about advertising message appeals composing technique at my class. Our syllabus still using 8 techniques by Terrence Shimp:

  1. Celebrity
  2. Humor
  3. Fear Feeling
  4. Fault Feeling
  5. Sex
  6. Music
  7. Comparative
  8. Rational
  9. Emotional
  10. Combination

You see above, sex still included. But Supiyo said that sex doesn’t sell. What it’s mean? He cited a CIM’s commercial & academic research said that only 6 % of respondent who said they are influenced positively by sexual image in advertising. He also cited analysis by Andrew McGuinness, Chief Executive TBWA who said, “We went through an era where sex was a means of shocking consumers, and that doesn’t work any longer.”

I think Supiyo want to say that actually, in western world, advertising which using sex as selling point never reach the same achievement like former period. This is because public audience bored already with sex. They are a kind of achievement person who try to reach their target in life as high as they can, of course with working. Sex also bored because they are regulation that made prostitution and its supporting business legal. Westerners can access sex legally, securely, and safely without any social judgment.

But different situation appeared here, in Indonesia. There are normative value in our culture and religion which still alive in society hardly. One of those values sees sex as taboo. Not everybody have a legal access on that taboo. Only certain people who fulfill several requirements gave “the exclusive pass” to access by society. Prostitution and its supporting business are not legal here. So, we can see here in Indonesia greater part of advertiser using the big three techniques only:

  1. Celebrity
  2. Sex
  3. Comparative

Gladly, sex only lies on number two in my humble opinion. Because, at the top consideration we must see Indonesian influenced culture is patronizing. They put idol as their example for their way of life. Combining with instant mental and desire to be rich & famous, we can see Indonesians like dreaming.

There are many events especially in television shows that. Since AFI, Indonesian Idol, until Gebyar BCA and boring television drama (we call it “sinetron”). Maybe several parts of society like me and the middle class & intellectual-educated peoples doesn’t care –maybe hate that-, but the greater part of our peoples like that shows. Clients who want to sell their product (including service also) see that phenomenon.

So, they maximize the using of media. Just like Baudrillard said, media can manipulate in every sense at once and no on can control this process.2 Clients use media to create the image they like. They choose advertising technique that could maximize their profit. And in this way, celebrity fulfills that. They are a good example of the meaning of “success” in life, the “thing” that everybody wants.

The celebrity here not only movie player, singer, or another luxurious performer, but also political leader (like parliament member, advocate), athlete (Ade Rai, Chris John), newsmaker (like Mbah Maridjan) and in Indonesian case: comedian. Yes, comedian. We can see many advertising using them as endorser. (You can see Tukul, Timbul, Mandra, etc.)

And because the 3 appeals above are using frequently in advertisement, I am applying reverse proving process. My conclusion is: they using frequently because the advertisement endorsed by them sell much.

Differently with Mr. Supiyo’s opinion, I think in Indonesia sex still sells. The reason is our culture which provide paradox situation –in one side put them as a sin and in the other side consume rapidly in one time- love that approach. So, don’t worry. Not like in western world, we would not hear such a warning like Supiyo’s cited from The Economist, October 30, 2004. They say, “Old taboos are disappearing. Bad news for lazy advertisers. Mind you, guys, bad news for lazy advertisers!” Mmm. I suggest us continuing our sleep and keep dreaming.

1 Photo caption: A controversial Opium Yves St. Laurent advert featuring Sophie Dahl. The advert was never banned although having received 948 (2nd most) complaints in the United States. Taken from

2 Poster, Mark ed., 2001. The masses: the implosion of the social in the media. In Jean Baudrillard Selected Writings. Cambridge: Stanford University Press. p. 221.


This article is originally posted on June 8, 2007 at my old blog:


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