I’ve always heard the saying “Sex Sells” and I never gave too much attention to it. I won’t pretend to be an expert in advertising or marketing, but I did spend a great portion of my time in grad school researching sex and sexuality. That said, this topic is particularly interesting to me. I have been thinking a lot lately about how brands in the beauty industry market sex to sell more of their products. Much of the research I have found on this topic examines how visual ads use symbolic messages and sexual innuendos to boost sales. Much less research has focused on print advertising. For me, I don’t buy a lot of magazines or even watch TV, so I am someone who is probably most influenced by product names, packaging, etc.
I think it is particularly interesting how brands market what is called “product variants” with the use of creative names, say for example in lipstick or nail polish colors. I know I have been guilty of buying a product just because I like the name. I have also noticed that this usually happens within particular brands that I already love or have made a commitment to.
It took me a little digging, but I found a really interesting study that examined the names of 1,722 lipstick colors across 52 brands (Merskin, 2007). The study utilizes textual analysis and finds that product variant names for these lipsticks brands most often fall within one of three categories: food, beverages, and sex/romance. The author proposes that part of the marketing strategy here is to appeal to the “essential components of human survival and desire.” The author suggests that this type of marketing and advertising is especially effective because it plays on and evokes strong emotions in the consumer. Merskin (2007) writes that these product names evoke especially strong emotions among women because of the associations that women have tied to food, eating, weight, desire, sex, and sexuality. I agree that this strategy is likely very effective, as society has historically controlled women’s sexual expression and body image. You can read the full article here.
In a more recent study, Lindstedt and Nilsson (2014) examined how product variant names within a particular brand influenced buyer intentions to purchase a particular color of nail polish. They categorized the variant nail colors into sex/romance, geographical, and animals/nature names. Unexpectedly, the sex/romance category faired the worst. That is, it did not significantly impact consumer’s purchase intentions. The authors theorize that the market may be saturated with these types of ads, thus lending consumers to become habituated to sexual messages in advertising. You can read more on that here. This is actually not surprising, as the discourse around sex and sexuality is increasingly becoming more normalized (i.e. less taboo), especially over the past decade.
While these are very interesting findings, these are only two studies. I’ll also note that no study is without its limitations, so I recommend taking each with a grain of salt.
I can say that, personally, I don’t know how many times I have purchased an eyeshadow or lipstick simply because of its name! With all that said, I wanted to share some of the sexiest cosmetics on my vanity!
Spoiled Sexy – matte deep mauve
Lingerie Lover – matte mauve
Feather Boa – matte pastel pink
(I will admit that I initially picked out these shades based on their names. However, I have always loved Buxom shadows – these have been a major staple in my makeup wardrobe for years. Also, these first three colors blend really well together for a simple every day look!)
Silk Sheets – chai luster
Satin Seduction – bisque luster
Wild Nights – shimmering sugar plum
(How could I not have this mascara!? I love the name and the packaging. Honestly, the product is not my all time favorite, but I do like it. I actually preferreed their “lashgasam” mascara, however, it seems that it was discontinued 😦 !”
(How adorable is this palett? I love the packaging so much and the colors are really nice. This is by far the “sexiest” product on my vanity. Still, it is not my favorite. I prefer the Buxom shadows. However, with primer these are fairly comparable!”
Here are the colors!:
In the Buff
Urban Decay – Naked2 Palette
(This is actually the first ‘nice’ eyeshadow palette I ever bought. I haven’t used it in ages, but there are some pretty scandalous names here!)
Here are some of my favorites:
Orgasm – peachy pink w/ shimmer
Colors I’d like to try: Baby Doll, Easy Lover and Strip Tease!!!!
(There was a lot of hype about the NARS’ product variant, Orgasam. As far as I know, this color was only made in a blush and lip gloss. After all the fuss, I had to try each of these products. I was reasonably pleased with both, however, I will say that they are not on my list of go-to cosmetics.)
(This is my least favorite product of those listed here. I literally only bought this for the product name. I am a big fan of NARS lipsticks, but sadly this shade is not compatible with my skin tone. I probably even knew this as I was purchasing it. This is actually the perfect example of how much advertising can influence consumer purchasing.)