Sex. Seems like everybody's doing it. And it's ever so tempting to add some sexual spice to your visuals, voice, or vocabulary.

But wait.

With sex, first you have to decide whether you want to do it. And if so, how far you want to go.

Sex sells, sometimes. Yes, it's one of the fundamental driving forces of human nature. But particularly in the Americas and Asia you have to be prudent in the way you use it, or you can trigger a negative reaction.

Sex work best when the product or service can honestly promise increased sex appeal: perfume, apparel, and a fancy car or jewelry. Even such products as toothpaste can promise to make your breath fresher, your smile irresistibly kissable.

With products like these, enhanced sexiness can be a persuasive product benefit, and thus the focus of your ad. And depending on how far you're willing to go, can result in a real breakthrough. The kind of campaign that wins awards and gets people talking.

But the use of strong or mild sexuality can help attract and sustain attention, no matter the product or service. Shocking or clever. From the FCUK brand of clothes, to Hyatt Hotel's "Who are you sleeping with?" campaigns.

In another example, a TVC for Motorola Message Pagers features a woman posing in a drawing class wearing only a loose sarong, which starts to slip off. Finally, she uses the newly designed pager clip to fix the sarong firmly in place. Mild by most standards, but an effective way to engage the target audience, men 18 to 30.

So with sex, do it. Have fun with it. A little. Or a lot. Everywhere. All the time.

But don't abuse it. As in this bait and switch ad with the huge headline, "SEX", and a subhead: "Now that I've got your attention, let me tell you about the great life insurance policies we offer."

For international campaigns, keep in mind that sexual values and taboos very greatly around the world. And constantly evolve. You can show a lot of skin in Stockholm. For which they'd skin you alive in Jakarta.

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image of Steve McNamara

Steve McNamara is a freelance ad guy and the publisher of He has been a creative director and copywriter at JWT, BBDO, and, on the client side, at Capital One. Reach him at