Bringing Sexy Back

Sex sells, right? It's an adage as old as... well, far older than any of the consumers marketers typically seem to apply it to. When it comes to younger demographics, brands have used sex to sell everything from cars to toilet paper.

So, why is it that, outside of ads for erectile dysfunction products, sexuality in advertising aimed at middle-aged and older consumers is as rare as marketers seem to think sex itself is beyond the age of 45?

The absence of sexuality in advertising highlights one of the most significant differences between the reality of Boomers' lives, and the way they have been traditionally portrayed in the media.

The truth is, sex is a major part of Boomers' lives, a fact that film and television executives are beginning to acknowledge. The result? They're being rewarded with the loyalty of their intended demographic. For evidence, look no further than the popularity of TNT's critically acclaimed "Men of a Certain Age," the comedic series "Hot in Cleveland" (which ranks as TV Land's biggest success to date) or the hit film "It's Complicated."



If marketers begin to fill the gap between perception and reality, demonstrating a deeper understanding of and appreciation for Boomers' lives, they could get a leg up on the competition in strengthening brand reputation and loyalty.

Consider the following:

  • According to a Gfk Roper report, 67% of Boomers consider maintaining a fulfilling sex life to be extremely important. This is just slightly off the mark of 77% set by younger consumers, and ranks above looking good and having a lot of money.
  • AARP adds credence to the argument in a recent study, which reports that a majority of 45+ Americans believe that sexual activity is a critical part of a good relationship, with only 4% claiming that sex is only for younger people.
  • AARP also asserts that more than 70% of men and 50% of women age 45-59 have had sexual intercourse in the last six months. Those numbers decline only slightly (to 60% and 45%, respectively) for those in their sixties.

These findings shed light on an opportunity for advertisers to connect with Boomers on a level on which they once were accustomed to, but are no longer, being reached. However, given the subject matter and the potential downside of failure, it could be a tricky proposition. As fellow Engage:Boomers contributor Jim Gilmartin recently noted, "Older customers tend to be quicker than younger customers to emotionally reflect lack of interest in or negative reaction to an offered product."

On the other hand, if advertisers are able to push the right emotional triggers, the risk could pay off. Gilmartin also argues that "A positive first impression can become embedded especially deep in the emotions of the older person -- so much so that the older customer is often more disposed to be a faithful customer than the younger customer is."

So, what's the best way to handle sexuality when targeting the Boomer+ generations? A soft sell may be key. Gfk Roper reports that roughly 8 in 10 Boomers (82% of men and 76% of women) hold romance as an "extremely important" priority, which suggests that appealing to the romantic side could be as equally effective for male and female consumers.

Another option may be to offer messages or product benefits that counter the dissatisfaction many Boomers experience when it comes to sex. According to AARP, only a fraction of boomers are extremely satisfied with their sex lives. Changes Boomers say would increase their satisfaction include improving their body image, having less stress in their lives, finding a partner, and more favorable social attitudes toward older people and sex.

My goal here is not to provide a specific solution. When it comes to sex, there are no hard and fast rules (pardon the pun), and there may not be an opportunity for every product or brand. I'm just looking to point out the fact that sex doesn't stop selling at 45. Marketers have an underutilized tool in their toolboxes (seriously, the puns are not intentional), which could provide the opportunity for the right brand with the right message to tap (alright, that one was intentional) into the benefits of recognizing Boomers as the sexual beings they are, and to watch their bottom lines, uh ... peak.

2 comments about "Bringing Sexy Back ".
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  1. Barbara Morris from Put Old on Hold Journal, February 14, 2011 at 1:25 p.m.

    Isn't there enough sex in advertising already? It's turning people off! People know they are sexual beings; they don't need to be constantly reminded of it.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, February 14, 2011 at 1:26 p.m.

    So the cover the grey for men in order to attract a younger women for your kid's stepmom or a job is not what you consider sexy marketing to the older man? ;)

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