Using Sex for a Sales Breakthrough

How does a marketer who sells a utilitarian, and arguably boring product, breakthrough in a multi-million dollar category? At least one secret sauce ingredient to their success: sex.

How does a marketer who sells a utilitarian, and arguably boring product, breakthrough in a multi-million dollar category? At least one secret sauce ingredient to their success: sex.

The original Dollar Shave Club viral video.
The original Dollar Shave Club viral video.

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, while the concept of a continuity program where you’re shipped razor blades once a month for anywhere from $1.00 to $9.00 monthly (depending on the razor blade you want) may be boring, it’s their cheeky marketing messages that make this product so much fun and appealing.

Dollar Shave Club's version of content marketing.
Dollar Shave Club’s version of content marketing.

Their blog posts are light, humorous and often touch on the topic of sex. For example, a recent email came with the subject line “Six Reasons Science Says Sex is Good For Your Health.” Who wouldn’t open that one?

I suspect that particular email had a high open rate because it included the word “sex” in the subject line, and it was used in a way that probably wasn’t offensive to most people.

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

And it’s getting to these core mass desires that brings prospects and customers back around to razor blades. It’s ordinarily a boring product, but one brought to the forefront of the mind 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.

Obviously the marketing of Dollar Shave Club has broken-through and disrupted old-guard consumer product marketers. Unilever acquired them last year for $1 billion.

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’s latest book is “Crack the Customer Mind Code: Seven Pathways from Head to Heart to YES!” is available on Amazon. For a free download with more detail about the seven pathways and other copywriting and consulting tips, go to

Author: Gary Hennerberg

Reinventing Direct is for the direct marketer seeking guidance in the evolving world of online marketing. Gary Hennerberg is a mind code marketing strategist, based on the template from his new book, "Crack the Customer Mind Code." He is recognized as a leading direct marketing consultant and copywriter. He weaves in how to identify a unique selling proposition to position, or reposition, products and services using online and offline marketing approaches, and copywriting sales techniques. He is sought-after for his integration of direct mail, catalogs, email marketing, websites, content marketing, search marketing, retargeting and more. His identification of USPs and copywriting for clients has resulted in sales increases of 15 percent, 35 percent, and even as high as 60 percent. Today he integrates both online and offline media strategies, and proven copywriting techniques, to get clients results. Email him or follow Gary on LinkedIn. Co-authoring this blog is Perry Alexander of ACM Initiatives. Follow Perry on LinkedIn.

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