Sunday, October 9, 2011

Branding in BJJ: Does Sex Sell?

Yes it does...but there's a catch.

This goes beautifully with the Branding Series. Meg over at Megjitsu just broke the seal on something that I think is going to cause some very interesting ripples in the world of the company's online image.

*It was an image of two women "fighting" in skimpy shorts and bras and an exposed nipple. I took it down because, while the jury's out on sex selling, controversy almost definitely does.*

The image originally appeared in a men's magazine, but was then used by the company in question on their business Facebook page. I can say with quite a bit of certainty, that it's now likely I'll never purchase of a piece of their gear, and I've already heard similar comments from some female, and a few male grapplers. I don't think there are any questions about whether the image trivializes the concept of women practicing grappling, or whether it sexualizes the sport overall (something that's detrimental to both men and women...the last thing anyone needs while training is a man or woman walking onto the mats just to get some "personal time" with them.) It definitely digs up a pretty old question though...Does this kind of marketing work? Do bare breasts translate to increased income?

Judging by the reaction of most heterosexual men, who, let's be honest, make up more than the lion's share of the grappling/BJJ target market, you'd think yes--Meg's post prompted questions about the location of where these two women train and joking complaints about never having trained with attractive women. Fortunately Unfortunately, we don't live in a world where attention automatically translates to cash.

Back in 2005, a company named MediaAnalyzer Software & Research conducted studies that indicate that sexual stimuli  can actually interfere with an ad's effectiveness. Men and women were shown four hundred print ads featuring varying degrees of sexuality and then evaluated on where on the ads their eyes fell and their retention of brand elements. Only 9.8% of the men that viewed the ads with sexual content were able to remember the brand or product, compared with 20% of men that viewed non-sexualized pieces. The results for women weren't far off. It actually makes a lot of sense...if someone viewing an ad (or any piece of marketing) is staring at a greased up thigh, they're not looking at your logo or your product. It makes so much sense and the results are so common that they actually have a name. It's called the Vampire Effect.

Think about it. How many times have you seen a billboard or commercial and thought "haHA...that was funny/hot/cool/disturbingly strange" and had no idea what was being advertised or what company placed the ad?

You could look at that info though and say "Hey, they used it in a Polish magazine where sex is used much more liberally than the US. Things are different there." Well, it's almost 2012 and nothing is contained to one country anymore. A brand image in the US is influenced by the sweat shop run in Thailand and the orphans you feed in Uganda...and that doesn't even touch on the comments that the image generated claiming the clothing maker uses sex to cover up for an inferior product...something a lot of potential buyers (like myself) likely wouldn't have heard if they'd taken a more straightforward or creative approach.

I seriously doubt this company will see any long term benefit from the sexual component of the image, and that's because yes, sex sells, but only when the product itself is sexually relevant...and I doubt many men grapple to pick up women.

I don't want to just pick on one company though, because they are far from the only one pushing the envelopes of sexuality to get attention. It would benefit anyone...whether they're selling gis, private lessons, rashguards or educational remember what they're in business to do (mission statements are good for that) and make sure that everything they put out serves that purpose. I seriously doubt any clothing or equipment company's statement includes making customers laugh or titillating potential male customers.

Long story short, the purpose of ads isn't just to get people to look at them, it's to get people to notice and develop a positive relationship with your brand, and to get that relationship to somehow translate to actual sales.


Jun said...


Long time reader but first time commenting :-)

I'm female and I agree that these sorts of ads trivalizes female grappling. I won't be buying any products from this company and I also refuse to buy any Tatami products after seeing their "PinUp" gi which I felt contributes to the objectification women.

I feel quite strongly about this type of stuff having left my first BJJ club here in London after listening to 3 or 4 guys outside the female changing room sharing their really negative views on female grapplers - all pretty sad really.

Megan said...

Hi Jun!

That's so sad. I didn't think much about it when I first started, but I've become perhaps hyper aware of women being taken seriously in the sport. I have no personal aspirations of competing or becoming a big name, but anyone who takes jiu jitsu seriously should in turn be taken seriously.

Thanks for commenting!

Ashley said...

Megan, thanks for bringing this to my attention.

I ended up over on Manto's "apology" thread and the comments on it are appalling. I don't understand how objectification is something that we are supposed to "lighten up" about. Apparently there is something wrong with us if we find that sort of sexual imagery personally disrespectful, as people or as BJJ practitioners.

It is one thing for that ad to be in a "men's magazine". It is another to broadcast it on Facebook on your company's page with a lewd comment. It is then another thing to read a stream of extremely ignorant comments. It has all left me quite flabbergasted.

@ Jun: That "pinup" gi really bothers me as well. Same sh1t, different pile.

Megan said...

Yeah...I just read the thread. Not really surprised by any of it. It does, still baffle me though, that some people think that just because something doesn't offend them, that no one else should be offended. I understand it a LITTLE more if it were actually in a "men's magazine", but still...I doubt it's that good for their image or balance sheets.

AbbyBJJ said...

Unfortunately, i have had to deal with similar issues with companies objectifying women. I had to drop one of my sponsors (Fight Chix)about a month ago because i saw there new form of marketing as objectifying women. I'll avoid Manto if they continue to post ads like this. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. Hopefully if we all ban together we can put a stop to this.

Ryan said...

Nevermind telling people to "lighten up", men should be just as offended by this as women are. Not only for the objectifying of women (which as a man just depresses me when I see it), but for sexualizing grappling in general. Everyone who's grappled has had to deal with the jokes on how sexual it looks and the solution to this is to try and portray it as more sexual through your marketing? Perhaps the men at Manto should stop and consider that if grappling is a sexual act, they're spending a lot of time performing sexual acts with each other.

Megan said...

Ryan...exactly. So when gay men start showing up to use BJJ gyms as dating pools, I hope nobody's surprised. You sexualize something, it's gonna happen.

Abby, that's so ridiculous. It really makes me think that MMA/BJJ marketing is like, at LEAST 50 years behind even mainstream.

slideyfoot said...

Great post, Megan: I just saw the Facebook threads from MegJitsu and Georgette this morning. This kind of thing has always annoyed me (along with the whole ring girls thing), so it's really encouraging to see how quickly the objectification of women in combat sports advertising is now being challenged. People would not accept racist advertising, so they shouldn't accept sexist advertising either.

@Jun: Ah, is that the same Jun who commented on Meerkatsu's Pin-Up review? If so, it's a shame you and I seemed to be in the minority.

Out of interest, did you have any luck talking about the issue with the instructor of that school before you left? As an instructor myself, I would definitely want to hear about sexist behaviour (or indeed racist, homophobic etc), so I could take steps to deal with it.

Anonymous said...

Meg and Slidey, it's Dirty... check your pms at jjf... got another for you, would post the url, but don't want them getting free advertisements.

Meg Smitley said...

'Long story short, the purpose of ads isn't just to get people to look at them, it's to get people to notice and develop a positive relationship with your brand, and to get that relationship to somehow translate to actual sales.' Amen!

Cogent, rational, articulate piece. Just what I've come to expect and enjoy about your blog, Megan. Thanks for sharing with us such a concisely argued post.

Anonymous said...

Don't you think you are all being a bit too hyper sensitive about this issue? The stark reality is both men and women blow things out of proportion, this being a simple example. If your going to counter argue with the notion that if it were a males body parts etc etc men would be just as outraged, I would agree with you. Lets face facts women are considered to be incredibly beautiful creatures of which both men and women can look at and appreciate. In my opinion that is the reason why you see more adds showing off womens body parts than you do men. I'm not going to stop buying Manto just because it's caused some internet scuffle with the grappling community, leave all those politics at home! if they make a good product the odds are i'm going to buy it.

At the end of the day it the image does not portray two women who know anything about BJJ or MMA .

I leave you with this
they have no idea how to ground and pound
the boob control does not work.

train hard! and good luck to all those gearing up for competitions.

Megan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Megan said...

Anonymous, don't you think you're being a bit too hypersensitive about people's reactions to the ads? I'm guessing no...and that's because sensitivity and reactions to things like this are highly personal and can't be measured on a universal "reaction scale". People can stop buying what they want just like advertisers can use what they want to push a product.

And honestly, women are used in advertising because men enjoy looking at them, not necessarily because it's effective. Please click on the link I provided in the article to the study performed that supports that. If you look across the history of marketing, the most successful companies brands and campaigns haven't used overt sex...they've used creativity and innovation. Why? Because sex...isn't...special. Anybody can throw a half naked body on an ad, and even if it's daring, it's easily imitable by competitors, so the "shock value" and increased exposure will likely last all of five seconds.

Just because someone enjoys seeing something, doesn't mean it will actually sell a product.

An Ryan said. We call care about this sport, and this should concern EVERYONE, because it impacts how the sport as a whole is viewed in the public eye.

Do a Google image search on Judo women and BJJ women and see what you see. You tell me which one looks more like it attracts men who are serious about what they train.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough Megan I knew I would get a bit of flack for the hyper sensitive line but thought that would be the best way to provoke a conversation on this matter. I did review the link you attached but it is a study that was done 6 years ago that said it does say a lot on effective marketing. Fair enough sex isn't always what sells a product but the facts are facts the image isn't trying to sell you Manto's gear at least that's not what I thought of when I first saw the picture. I believe it to have done exactly what Manto intended which was to cause a bit of a ruckus and get people talking about Manto (good or bad) and that is EFFICTIVE marketing.
I would say because the sports has popularity has risen over the past 10 years mostly because of MMA's success around the world, we are only going to get more of this type of advertisement. I don't know the percentage of men to female competitors but I am sure that there are far more men in the sport. This is a combative sport where 2 people try to submit the other, fighting and sex go hand in hand. This can be observed with the rising popularity of womens MMA which has grown since Gina Carano started fighting on CBS in the states, but without her women in MMA would still be fighting for small promotions in the Midwest like HooknShoot or Smackgirl for small pay checks and the world would have never known of Cristine Cyborg, Megumi Fugi or the other incredible fighters around the world who compete in MMA.
You can't really base a google search on the seriousness of a sport, firstly because Judo isn't being predominantly being mentioned during UFC, Strikeforce, Bellator, Bamma etc etc broadcasts where d BJJ mentioned in just about every sentence. Secondly you can't say that Ronda Rousey will not be using her appearance in her favour in the future or Kyra Gracie doesn’t use her looks to sell her brand. I enjoy watching women grapple and compete in MMA indifferent to physical attributes; my original point stands people are bit to hyper sensitive about this issue.

Sawosz said...,or.r_gc.r_pw.,cf.osb&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi,or.r_gc.r_pw.,cf.osb&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi#um=1&hl=pl&tbm=isch&sa=1&q=mma+women&oq=mma+women&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&gs_sm=e&gs_upl=49817l52034l0l52381l8l7l0l0l0l0l0l0ll6l0&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.,cf.osb&fp=fe8f4513cb1c75f4&biw=1366&bih=667

I dont realy see any problem...

Megan said...

"which was to cause a bit of a ruckus and get people talking about Manto (good or bad) and that is EFFICTIVE marketing."

People talking doesn't mean more business. Effective marketing is what generates more business. I don't know what the guys over at Manto intended to do, but my guess is they like hot girls, their friends like hot girls and thought this was funny. There's nothing business-oriented about that. Six years isn't long at all when we're talking about how humans respond to stimuli. If anything, the gap in recognition has probably gotten larger because sex is even more common in advertising...hence why you see so many companies moving to "weird" as opposed to "sexy"...they have to stay different.

I'm not going to argue that sex isn't effective at all...I think using attractive women CAN translate to actual sales. But using overt sexuality...I'm not sold on that.

Like I said before, I don't get your hyper-sensitivity to people's hyper-sensitivity...and I don't like even using the word. If something bother's someone, it bothers them. I'm not going to try to peg you as emotionally irrational (is there such a thing?) just because you have certain feelings around an issue.

You very much can use an image search as a guide to human behavior and the image generated around a sport. To speak to what Sawosz posted, it isn't a "problem" outright, but it is an indicator of the attitude around a sport...and believe...that attitude and perception will influence how mainstream the sport will become, and how many bodies an instructor can get in a door. Don't tell me parents and potential students aren't out there Googling BJJ and MMA when they're considering what gym they want to go to to get in shape. That translates to dollars and that's real.

...there's a reason you see less sex in the biggest and most successful names in gear manufacturing and instruction...

slideyfoot said...

The top results when you google 'judo women' are either videos or pictures of female judoka competing. They are shown as athletes, with a focus on how accomplished they are at their sport.

When you google 'BJJ women', the first page of results isn't as offensive as I expected, except for the usual semi-pornographic picture of Kyra. I'm very pleased to see that the top result appears to be Leslie's fantastic post about women in BJJ.

When you google 'MMA women', there are some sensible results, like the FighterGirls website (which is mostly information for female fighters) and this discussion of the top pound-for-pound women in MMA.

However, you also immediately get various mostly naked women (like this), along with posts like 'The 12 Hottest Women in MMA'. Not the most successful, the most skilled, the most talented. No, the female fighters in that list don't get the luxury of actually being treated as fighters. Rather than athletes, they are presented as blobs of flesh to be drooled over.

Manto's sexist advertising belongs in that last group. I'm disappointed to see Manto sink to that level. I don't currently own any Manto products, but if that advert is indicative of their attitude to women, then I have no interest in either buying or reviewing anything Manto produces.

Megan said...

Look at what Slidey just said.

Is it worth burning bridges with a chunk of your current customers, potential customers AND cutting off a sector of your advertising channel (gi reviewers that could be offended) on the chance that an ad will generate more attention and maybe a short term sales boost? It may be, but that's a big gamble.

This isn't reality TV...and I think they know that. You look at their website and it's almost completely devoid of sexuality. I really think it was a misstep guided by individual preference, and a misunderstanding of the part Facebook can play in company image.

Ryan said...

A large flaw in Anon's argument that BJJ has far more male competitors and thus should expect this sort of thing is the idea that men won't also be offended by this. I know there is a certain percentage of meatheads seemingly inherent in all combat sports that this ad appeals to, but there are also a lot of men smart enough to know that sexism and the sexualization of our sport hurts every body.

Also, since, as Anon pointed out, there is an imbalance in the number of men and women involved in BJJ, shouldn't we be trying to fix that rather than perpetuating the "This is a manly sport for manly men!" BS? I think the lack of women competing is easily the number one problem in BJJ/Submission wrestling. It's ridiculous how they have to jump around divisions to get any matches. The solution to this is not to drive them away.

As for sex in advertising in general, I think it's ridiculous and getting more ridiculous as technology progresses. If a person wants to see someone they're attracted to being sexual, they can literally be watching porn in like 3 seconds pretty much regardless of where they happen to be. I have no need or desire to have any of that stuff mixed up in my advertising or my sports (I hope for the day we can do away with ring girls...).

Jun said...

@slideyfoot: hey I read your blog too, helps me loads! :-)

Yup, it was me that commented on Meerkatsu's blog, it was shortly after the incident at that club so was feeling a bit sensitive about it. I haven't read that blog since I posted and I don't read any BJJ forums anymore as they can be pretty bad too.

I did speak to the receptionist about it and he spoke to one of the guys and got him to apologise to me but I had a different feeling for the club after that and I didn't want to continue training there.

@Megan: as you said I take my training seriously and want to be taken seriously in turn

@Ashley: "same sh1t, different pile" - I'm going to remember that :-)

Georgette said...

Great great great work. I can't think of anything to add. Wonderful journalism and I must say it's heartening to hear MEN agreeing.

Too bad there are so many BOYS in the sport.


Megan said...

"Too bad there are so many BOYS in the sport."


Thanks Georgette!

Jiujitsunista said...

I just wanted to echo Georgette, and say that I too was pleased to see so many men on this side of the argument!

slideyfoot said...

@Jun: Cool, great to hear my blog has been useful to you! :D

Although I'd agree the Pin-Up design was a bad idea, I also think Meerkatsu's blog is worth another try. Seymour is generally very supportive of women: that design won due to a vote rather than his personal choice, after all.

For example, he has written some excellent posts about women in BJJ, like this, this and this.

@Georgette: Ha - my girlfriend would probably laugh at that, as she regularly tells me I'm about 5 years old. ;)

Shark Girl said...

Great post and great dialog. This is hard conversation to have. People can be entrenched in their feelings one way or the other and unwilling to change them.

I have often wondered why we can shame other -isms to be silenced, but sexism remains loud and proud. I think that's because recognizing sexism means that we have to view sex differently, not male-female, but the sex act. The "oh, chill out" excuse, imho, is rooted in "I don't want to change my opinion of what turns me on." In other words, "half-naked girls grappling does it for me, and if I recognize that as a problem, I have to change what turns me on." But I also believe that there's a difference between what can turn us on privately and what we know can be harmful to others. As thinking human beings we can recognize that a turn-on may be a vestige of some evolutionary-biological thingy, but we still know how it is fair and right to respect people. (Still trying to figure out how two girls perpetuates the male genetic code...)

Okay, sorry, SG should not be allowed to post past her bedtime!

Megan said...

Totally agree SG. I think it's also a case of people not wanting society in general to change because it's working for them.

I really believe that a good chunk of marketing isn't about effectiveness (as it rightly should be), but is instead about individuals playing out their own ideals/fantasies through a business. That's totally what I think is going on in the case of excessive sex used in selling MMA gear. I can't imagine it's actually bringing that much cash flow in since pictures of naked wp,em can be found by anyone, at any time these days.

SkinnyD said...

I realize I'm way late to this conversation. But my view is that just because people have become desensitized to sex in marketing doesn't make it right. How sex affects the bottom line is a subsidiary point. As a man I don't appreciate sex being constantly shoved in my face. I personally know women who suffer mentally and physically because of the tendency in marketing to portraying women in general as sex objects, and it affects men, too. Just because some people have become too numb to realize it's wrong doesn't mean the rest of us should buy into it. And I ESPECIALLY hate when it gets mixed up with BJJ, whether it's guys being crass after training or an advertisement. The last thing I want to be thinking about when training is sex. I'm glad the general voice in these comments is to keep it out of BJJ.

Megan said...

Great points Skinny. The conversation around male self-respect in regard to the consumption of sex in advertising is one few people are willing to have.

gracefullysony said...

I'm definitely a little late, but fantastic post and discussion. The objectification is something I try to overlook, but it's difficult when looking for women's fighting gear. Either the designs are terrible, or they're objectifying. After reading AbbyBJJ's comment, I had to look up fight chix again, and something the "sexy" approach like this makes me roll my eyes - how hard is it to put pants on? They've strayed from fight gear to "fight" wear, and by fight wear I mean "After hours" wear. The new promo ad for the Rousey vs. Tate is the definition of objectifying. Strong and sexy is cool... but you're a fighter, play to those strengths.

Kind of on topic, what do you think of ring girls?

Megan said...

Ring girls...I find them pointless and annoying. On top of that, I have yet to hear men responding that heavily to them. I seriously feel like most guys are more focused on the fighting than the jiggling and they're there because somebody likes the idea that "hot chicks" exist. I'd love to see them removed from a few fights and see if anybody even notices.

Felicia said...

Yep. I agree with you on [insert entire post here] :-)