To Sell or Not to Sell…With Sex

In today’s Sports Business Daily, there was an interesting article about a 2K Sports ad for their tennis video game Top Spin 4 featuring Serena Williams that was supposedly rejected for being too sexy. The ad has ended up on YouTube anyway, so before we discuss further, you can see it for yourself:

The decision on whether or not to use a commercial like this comes down to a conflict between two opposing forces. On one hand, you have the fundamental (albeit cliche) idea that “sex sells,” and on the other hand, you have the debate as to what is and isn’t in good taste. Serena Williams is widely recognized as having tremendous sex appeal, which combined with her tremendous on-the-court success has made her into an iconic figure in sports, fashion and pop culture. So the idea of using a sexy image of her seems like a logical option. But does the combination of revealing outfits, poses and grunting turn sex appeal into something trashy? This is where 2K Sports must have ultimately felt this particular spot went too far.

Now I have three other questions to ponder, and I’d love your thoughts…

  1. Would this ad have led to more sales for Top Spin 4 than a more conservative advertising approach?
  2. Would running this commercial have adversely affected the brand of 2K Sports? Or for Serena herself?
  3. Are ads like this a good or bad thing for women’s tennis overall?

I’m still going back and forth on these myself. I think you can make a good argument that this approach would have sold more copies of this particular game, but that short-term spike may not worth the risk of longer-term brand devaluation.

As for women’s tennis, the idea of using sex appeal to promote women’s sports actually came up at the Women in Sports panel at the Global Sports Forum two weeks ago. Even these distinguished panelists seemed unsure about what’s best in situations like this. Some felt that anything that increases the level of media exposure for women’s sports would be a positive thing in the long-term, whereas others were more concerned about maintaining a positive image. If they can’t decide what the best approach is, it’s not surprising that these decisions are so tough.