Why Sex Sells

The other day an email came in with the subject line “Six Reasons Science Says Sex is Good For Your Health.” Who wouldn’t open that?

It was another brilliant campaign from an unlikely source: a company that sells razor blades. Of course, this isn’t any company. It’s the Dollar Shave Club.

Their content is light, fun, and, well, likes to throw around the word sex a lot. It makes sense.

Here’s why:

The word sex, and the topic of sex, stimulates the primal human brain and the amygdala into thinking.

The amygdala is the primal “fight or flight” part of the brain that flags us to fear, hunt food and the desire to reproduce. Because the brain is primal, this explains why messages of safety, never being hungry, along with beauty and virility, can be usually be effective. These all touch upon the mass desire of our hopes, dreams, fears, and desires.

And it triggers these core mass desires so that prospects and customers will be led to the topic of a personal product. Razor blades are ordinarily a boring product, but brought front and center to the mind’s attention with DSC’s advice about grooming, health, and style, with a peppering of sex thrown in here and there, all using highly provocative and clickable headlines. DSC successfully uses content to cross-sell other personal products like shaving cream, skin care, One Wipe Charlies (or “butt wipes” as they call them), and more.

DSC sells a utilitarian, and arguably boring product. Yet they have used sex to breakthrough in a multi-million dollar category and disrupted old-guard consumer product marketers. DSC was so valuable that Unilever acquired them for $1 billion.

I first wrote about the Dollar Shave Club in 2012 when they released a video that went viral (with over 24 million views now). DSC introduced how to save a boatload on razor blades and related personal products. And in the interest of transparency, I became a customer myself a couple of years ago (look at my picture for the evidence that I use a lot of razor blades).

So what are the lessons here? My takeaways are this:

  1. You can make a utilitarian, perhaps even boring product sexy.
  2. Light-hearted content marketing works (note I didn’t say “humor,” which often doesn’t work).
  3. You can make light of products with descriptions that don’t dance around nicety, and gets right to what people think (e.g., “butt wipes”).
  4. You can attract the attention of the brain’s amygdala by introducing sex (and safety and eating).
  5. Subject lines and headlines now, more than before, make or break a marketer’s success. 
  6. Videos, where the neuroscience of why people share kick in and lead to it going viral, can build a business quickly.

So, adapting the DSC subject line of “Six Reasons Science Says Sex is Good For Your Health” I didn’t have a list of, for example, “Six Reasons Marketers Say Sex is Good for the Bottom Line” as I had considered. 

But the reality is this: the headline of this blog used the word “sex” and you clicked the link, and if you’re still reading this far, the point about using sex to sell has, arguably, been made.


Gary Hennerberg

After a lot of years in marketing and sales, this is what I know works:

Stories sell. Think unique. Stimulate emotion. Close deals. And here are a few other gems from my new book, “Crack the Customer Mind Code.” Know the persona, interpret your offer and let your prospect give themselves permission to buy. That’s how the brain is wired. It’s how people think.

What else? When I’m not breaking down complex topics (or ones marketers over-complicate) into easy-to-grasp stories that sell, I crunch numbers. Manage projects. Write. Teach. Lead.