aviation advertising - does sex still sell in advertising for aviationIf you go to a museum and look at advertising for aviation, the vintage prints often feature women in outfits and poses that would raise more than an eyebrow by today’s standards.

Sex is a traditional “thing” in aviation advertising, but does it still work? Will it get you in trouble? Does sex still sell?

People ask us –

Do people still hire “booth babes?”

Is our WWII Nose Art inspired logo too “politically incorrect?”

Are we going to turn off more customers than we attract?

John and I talk about history and examples we’ve seen – in what we hope is a judgement-free discussion of what works and what doesn’t.


Supplement – interview with Scott Slocum, the creator of the popular “My Bombshells” warbird calendars.


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Transcript – Does Sex Still Sell? Tradition and Change in aviation advertising

Announcer: You’re listening to aviation marketing Hangar Flying, the community for the best sales and marketing professionals in the aviation industry. You can’t learn to fly just from a book. You learn from other pilots who know the tools, the skills, and the territory. Your hosts, John and Paula Williams, are your sales and marketing test pilots.

They take the risks for you, and share strategies, relevant examples, hacks, and how-tos. Be sure to subscribe on iTunes so you won’t miss a thing.

Paula Williams:   Welcome to Aviation Marketing Hangar Flying Episode number 95, Sex Sells in Aviation Advertising!

John Williams:   I thought this was a family show.

Paula Williams:   [LAUGH] This actually will be our PG version.
Actually, the title is probably as racy as we’re going to get.

John Williams:   [LAUGH]

Paula Williams:   We do have a few bombshells, pictures, and other kinds of things that we’re going to show about the history of sex in advertising.

John Williams:   Sales.

Paula Williams:   In sales, especially in aviation. So, if that bothers you, you may want to skip this episode.
If that does not bother you, then carry on. I’m Paula Williams.

John Williams:   I’m John Williams.

Paula Williams:   And we are ABCI. ABCI’s mission is-

John Williams:   To help all you ladies and gentlemen out there sell more products and services in the aviation world.

Paula Williams:   Absolutely. So if you use the hashtag #AvGeekMarketing, we will find any comment, questions or anything else that you use and reply.

You can also post comments directly on the YouTube video or the Blog Post or wherever it is you find us, and we will do our best to reply to every single tweet, right?

John Williams:   Yes.

Paula Williams:   Okay, so Big Ideas. News flash, sex still sells. Also news flash, there is a downside.

John Williams:   Or could be.

Paula Williams:   Or could be, to using some of the tactics that we’re going to talk about today. And so we’re going to also talk about how to minimize the downside. So this is a judgment free zone, we’re just going to be talking about the tactics that people who used in the past, how they worked for them, how they may not have worked and other kinds of things.

We’re going to leave it to the ministers and others to decide whether or not any of this is ethical. Personally, I think as long as everybody is a happy participant in a marketing activity, there’s probably not a whole lot wrong with it but I suppose you can carry anything to the extremes, right?

John Williams:   Yup, absolutely.

Paula Williams:   All right, there’s always the question, is this outdated? Does sex still sell? Does it still work to hire pretty girls to stand around an airplane, or to be in a photo shoot, or to be at your trade show booth?

John Williams:   Now wait just a minute.
We’ve got lots of pretty girls that own airplanes and companies. So you probably want some handsome guys in there too [LAUGH].

Paula Williams:   Exactly, handsome guys, so there’s equal opportunity. The problem with the whole equal opportunity thing is that the demographics in the market for aviation products and services is so heavily weighted on the male side that you’re going to see a whole lot more showgirls than showguys at any of these events, right?

Okay, so that said, we can debate about what it should be, [LAUGH] what we would prefer. Personally I would prefer to see a lot more showguys than showgirls, but I don’t get to make the rules.

John Williams:   And not only that, we’re going to talk about what works, not about what should and would, and could.

Paula Williams:   What you like. Exactly, this is a discussion we have with just about every client that we have at some point or another. Marketing is not necessarily about what you like or what you dislike. It’s about what’s going to work and what’s going to attract or repel your customers or your ideal customers.

John Williams:   Exactly.

Paula Williams:   And this of course has to jive with your own ethics and values and comfort level because if you’re uncomfortable, then your sales abilities go out the window and your motivation goes out the window as well. So there is an element of that as well. Is this outdated?

Is the idea of having booth babes and other kinds of things outdated or are there still people that do it? I have to say that there has been a pretty marked decrease, probably over the last five years, in the number of apparently less than intellectually qualified people who hang out at trade show booths, people who are just there to wear the outfits and just to visually attract attention.

John Williams:   Yeah, the demand now is for the good looking ladies that are intellectual and can apply all this like our magician did to the products we didn’t have, and use it to sell.

Paula Williams:   Right.

John Williams:   Not just to stand there and say, look at me.

Paula Williams:   Exactly, there are three or four different agencies, talent agencies, where you can hire people for your booth.

If you look at their websites, the emphasis is now quite a bit more on, other kinds of things and not just necessarily standing there and being a photo-op. This photo’s actually from the NBAA 2015, which is the last time it was in Las Vegas. And there were actually quite a few booths that kinda capitalized on the Las Vegas theme.

This one is a fuel company that put together a photo-op, which is not a bad idea. Come to our booth and get your picture taken with the showgirls, those kinds of things. But in a lot of cases, the talent agencies are going a little bit more professional and a little bit more low key, I would say.

Wearing more clothes so these photos are from NBAA 2016 in Orlando last year, this is one of the talent agencies showing their folks that we’re representing booths at that show. And you can see some of them are very professionally dressed and these are the folks that have probably memorized at least a page and a half or two pages of material, the basics about your organization, your product, and your service and so on.

And some people are just there for looks, and there’s nothing wrong with that, because this is a trade show after all, right?

John Williams:   Yep, absolutely.

Paula Williams:   Okay, there’s also a lot of traditions, like the Charlie Bravo calendar. There’s a lot of young ladies in this calendar. It’s kinda spinning off the theme of the World War II nose art.
Paintings of women on the nose of an aircraft and things like that. So there’s a really strong tradition there and I would say as long as everybody whose involved in those kinds of things is a happy and willing participant, that’s great. And as long as your customer base or at least the vast majority of your customer base is in favor of this, I’m all for it.

And Charlie Bravo would is a woman owned company, right?

John Williams:   Yup, clearly.

Paula Williams:   Yeah, hard to find things wrong with this. You also find, and we’ll talk about this in a minute, that there are calendars of men. Usually, not in aviation, because the demographics are wrong. So, what’s good for one I guess, if we have to be equal opportunity, [LAUGH] equal opportunity marketers, right?

This is another one. Scott Slocum has been a guest on our webinars and podcast in the past. He’s a photographer that also runs the Bombshells Company that puts out a calendar of bombshells with warbirds and other aircraft, and I think he also does one with vintage cars.

John Williams:   Yeah, I think he does as well.

Paula Williams:   Right, he also does a lot of air to air photography and other fabulous stuff. He actually came on a webinar that we had a couple of years ago, and was talking about this, and I think even his daughter was featured in a calendar at one time. So, it’s a family business, and this is their tradition.
There’s a lot to be said there, and they do sell a lot of calendars.

John Williams:   Yup, they do.

Paula Williams:   Okay [LAUGH] what is the tool company that used to do a calendar? Was there a Snap-on or-

John Williams:   Yeah, Snap-On used to have one. It was a little too radical for this day in age.

Paula Williams:   Yeah, okay, cool, right, exactly. And if you have, like I said, if you are in a business in a very conservative or religious area or something like that, you may not want to have the Snap-On calendar on your wall [LAUGH].

John Williams:   [LAUGH].

Paula Williams:   Especially where you got people coming to board an aircraft and other kinds of things.

So you really do want to be sensitive about these things and make sure that you’re reading your audience correctly, because there is some sensitivity about this, and that’s one of the risks involved in this. There’s a lot of folks in the industry who are, the numbers of women in certain parts of the industry.

There’s a lot of effort to try and increase the number of female pilots. Increase the number of female mechanics and other kinds of things, especially in the parts of the industry that really need the numbers. So it’s not such a radical idea, right? [LAUGH] And most of the folks that we know in the industry have wives and daughters or are women themselves.

John Williams:   Probably not.

Paula Williams:   Probably not, okay. Yeah.

John Williams:   Made you crazy with this idea though [LAUGH].

Paula Williams:   I tried very hard, I have to tell you, I tried very hard to find an example of sex being used in a advertisement for an aviation product or service, or a calendar or anything like that, that use men.

John Williams:   Could have stuck an airplane in there and there have been firefighters, right?

Paula Williams:   There you go!

John Williams:   They use firefighters on airplanes.

Paula Williams:   Yeah, they’d use firefighters on airplanes. So I guess that’s sort of relevant. This is a firefighter calendar that’s really popular. So, it does go both ways, so it’s definitely a phenomenon that is not going to change as long as people are people and biology is biology, right?

John Williams:   Nope.

Paula Williams:   Okay, so the demographics of aviation are such that regardless of what we want, our target market often is men. There’s not really any way around that if you look at the FAA data, people who have certain FAA certifications, and this is for pilots. But you can look at a similar one for

Paula Williams:   Amp mechanics, other types of ratings that are issued by the FAA, and the vast majority are men. But it is a very small percentage of women. But that number is growing, and it is also a very loyal audience. If you sell something for female pilots, I noticed on one of the groups recently on Facebook.

If you sell shirts for female pilots that are made like women want them to be made, you could make a heck of a lot of money. There are opportunities for [LAUGH] products for women in the aviation industry. So I think that’s definitely an untapped market that would be very faithful to you.
And we talk about how in aviation, we specialize in very small niches of people who have a specialty and so on. There’s a specialty for you that I don’t think is being served as much as it could be.

John Williams:   Yeah, but even if it were, would it be profitable?
That’s the key.

Paula Williams:   That is the question, but I think the numbers in that group there’s 7,000 women who are looking for shirts. [LAUGH] So it’s smaller than the number of men, but still, if you made 7,000 shirts that wouldn’t be a terrible thing, right?

John Williams:   Yeah, but if you made $10 apiece, that’s only 700,000 or $70,000, I mean.

Paula Williams:   True, but as a a line item, in your pipeline-

John Williams:   If you already make shirts, yeah, that would be cool.

Paula Williams:   Yeah, absolutely, and it might be just a simple modification. But anyway, so back to advertising [LAUGH].

John Williams:   Ha!

Paula Williams:   We can talk about product development another time.

But the purpose, the reason that they use sex in advertising and have since the beginning of time, is because it gets attention. There are very few things that get attention as quickly or as easily as sex, gender, and so on. One of the key things about this is that the attention can go the wrong way.

So, if you are trying to attract a specific audience to your booth, and we’ve had a lot of people come to us. And when we talk about their strategy for trade shows and things like that, they don’t want everybody and their dog at their booth. They just want-

John Williams:   Everybody without the dog.

Paula Williams:   [LAUGH] They actually want just people who are likely suspects, or likely prospects for their product or service. And if you have a bunch of cute girls in skimpy outfits that is not necessarily going to attract just the people who are interested in insurance or radio engine, whatever the specific nature of this product or service is.

So, it’s just like when we used the example a few weeks ago about giving away iPads in your contest. Everybody wants an iPad.

John Williams:   [LAUGH] You’re not giving away these girls.

Paula Williams:   I know you’re not giving away these girls but you may be giving away the opportunity to talk to them, or get your picture taken with them or whatever the situation is.

John Williams:   Yeah, I know what you’re trying to say because those iPad things, I go and put my business card in every one of them [LAUGH].

Paula Williams:   Exactly.

John Williams:   And I don’t even care what the product is.

Paula Williams:   There you go, and see there’s a lot of folks at these shows that will go get their picture taken with the show girls regardless of whether or not they have an interest in Phillips 66 fuel, right?

John Williams:   Or whatever.

Paula Williams:   Whatever the product is. So.

John Williams:   We don’t know that Phillip 66 uses girls that were just something she threw out there.

Paula Williams:   A picture of Phillips 66 in NBAA 2015, with the showgirl in Las Vegas.

John Williams:   Was that Phillip 66?

Paula Williams:   Yes, it was.

John Williams:   Yeah, okay, nevermind.

Paula Williams:   Exactly, the purpose of sex in advertising is to get attention. And how you use that attention, once you get it, really has more to do with whether or not this is effective than whether or not you use this or something else.

John Williams:   Yeah, just like inbound marketing, once you have the lead you gotta do something with it.
Once you have the attention, if you don’t do the right thing with it, then you’re screwing it up.

Paula Williams:   Exactly, and in a lot of cases, either with an advertisement with a beautiful girl in it, or in a trade show with beautiful girls in front of it or whatever that may attract a crowd, but it’s not going to generate any sales without having a good-

John Williams:   Follow through.

Paula Williams:   Follow through, and a good system, and a good product of service, and everything else behind it. So this is not going to fix all your problems, but it might increase your sales if it’s used correctly, right?

John Williams:   They should increase the number of people that pass by your product.

Paula Williams:   Absolutely, okay so there are some folks for one reason or another who don’t want to use sex as their method of getting attention in ads or in trade shows. So let’s talk about ads for a moment. There’s lots of ways to get attention in advertisements. One of those is airplane porn.
Beautiful photos of airplanes, that’s a pretty obvious fit for this market, don’t you think?

John Williams:   I would say.

Paula Williams:   Okay.

John Williams:   Or helicopters.

Paula Williams:   Yeah, absolutely. So aircraft, whatever it is that your customers are into. So if you sell a product or service for small piston aircraft, you want to use beautiful photographs of small piston aircraft.
If your product or service is for business jets then, of course, you want to act accordingly and find the most beautiful shots you can get or commission beautiful shots if that is something that’s really important to you to get those shots and get that attention. Stock photography is not quite as effective just because there’s a limited amount of it out there, especially for specific types of aircraft.

So those photos tend to get bought and used a lot, and by a lot of different ad agencies and a lot of different companies that are selling different products and services. So if people have seen it before and it’s a regular thing that they run into all the time, it’s not going to be as effective as something that’s really original and that you’ve done yourself, right?

John Williams:   Yep.

Paula Williams:   Okay, so it might be worth hiring a real photographer to do some custom photography for you. Another thing is faces, especially smiling faces. There is a reason that the Wall Street Journal, which has hardly any visuals at all, does these types of drawings of people’s faces, right?
They attract attention, and they show character, they build credibility, they do a lot of things that the Wall Street Journal wants to do. The interesting thing is, that the shape of a smile actually produces a similar effect, even if it is not on a human face.

John Williams:   Yeah, I know.
The front end of cars are the same thing.

Paula Williams:   [LAUGH] Exactly. The front ends of cars, a coke can smiling. Lots of things will smile at you even if it’s not actually smiling. Storytelling is a really great way to get attention. We’ve been taught since we were this high, when somebody starts telling a story that we sit down and shut up and listen, right?
Is something-

John Williams:   How is this high?

John Williams:   How high is this high? [LAUGH]

Paula Williams:   Well, since we were three feet tall, or shorter than that, when somebody starts telling you a story, you shut up and listen because you want to hear the end of it, right? Video, here’s an example that uses video and whiteboards [LAUGH] .

This is actually from a company called Moz, M-O-Z, and they do a lot of nerdy search engine education. Rand Fishkin, he is a real character. And every Friday, he does what they call Whiteboard Fridays. And does maybe a ten minute video about something that’s very important in search engine optimization.
And he does examples, he does visual aids, he does symbols, images, everything else. He’s got a really elaborate whiteboard that’s always the centerpiece of his videos. And so he’ll go through this and probably destroy this whiteboard in the process of doing the video because he’s explaining these concepts in setting this up.

And sometimes his whiteboard will be just all drawings, sometimes it’ll be really packed with content like it is here. But what he does is very visual and it’s almost a stand up comedy routine that’s very physical comedy, while he’s trying to teach these very esoteric concepts, just to make it more memorable and good story telling and not boring.

So images, symbols, all that stuff. Very good ways to get attention without involving sex in any way, right? [LAUGH] So there are other ways to do it that are just as effective, or many even more so depending on your product or service, right?

John Williams:   Unless his cohort was female and can do the same thing.

Paula Williams:   [LAUGH]

John Williams:   [LAUGH]

Paula Williams:   It wouldn’t matter if she’s dressed like that doing exactly the same thing, I promise you, it will not be about gender. There are other ways also to get attention at trade shows. These are some of the categories that were on some of those talent boards that I was talking about earlier.

You can hire people to do any of these things, all of which are really interesting at a trade show. If they are used correctly, if they are targeted at your primary prospects, if it’s something that they would be interested in. And if it’s tied in really well with your sales process, so maybe while they’re getting a foot massage, they’re listening to a sales pitch.

You gotta tie this in so that it actually works to get you more sales, otherwise, you’re simply spending money.

John Williams:   And not all of these things work with all products.

Paula Williams:   Yeah.

John Williams:   At one of the shows we went to,

John Williams:   A couple shows, a couple years back, they had a de-icing machine on the floor.
And you could actually sit in the chair and de-ice an airplane visually. They had a monitor set up, and when you’re moving the controls, you are actually moving what was on the monitor on a real airplane. I don’t know how they did that, but it’s pretty interesting. Cuz anybody can climb up there and start moving to controls and it would show you what you’re doing.

Paula Williams:   Yeah, once again, a very visual, very physical thing that gets you involved with the product. Now all of these are separate from the product, you’ll notice. Unless you go an extra step and tie it in. And we did that with a magician who did a really good job of incorporating our concepts and our key sales messages into his tricks.

John Williams:   Yes, he did.

Paula Williams:   And there’s a lot of ways to do that. So if you’ve got somebody who’s really good at sales, who also has this other skill, there is a way, sometimes very cleverly, to involve that. Now of course, you can always resort to doing a product demo, right?

And that is directly related to your product, none of the rest of these are. So if you do any of the rest of these items, you’re going to have to work a little bit harder to make sure that it ties into your sales process.

John Williams:   I will throw a tip in though, we have used a magician, and we did a trade show for another company, and they used the same magician.
And in each case, the people running the show came to us and asked us what we did because we had the most traffic of any booth.

Paula Williams:   Right.

John Williams:   In each show, and they were completely separate.

Paula Williams:   Yeah.

John Williams:   One was military and one was civilian.

Paula Williams:   Right.

John Williams:   So magician, a good magician, not good with the magic, but good with talking the product, talking your process, talking what you’re selling, and selling for you is worth it

Paula Williams:   Right, exactly and now somebody is going to point out so I’ll point it out. Chair massage is in here twice, that’s probably because I think that’s a really good idea [LAUGH] .

John Williams:   [LAUGH].

Paula Williams:   Especially by about the third day when everybody is just dying of fatigue and everything else, so. Yeah, but all of these can be done very, very well and can tie in very nicely to your sales process. All right, so the big ideas from this episode, sex still sells, right?
Okay, also there is or can be a downside to using those methods. And we talked about some of the ways to minimize the downside, right?

John Williams:   You bet.

Paula Williams:   Okay, so if you have a situation you’d like to talk with us about, we do free 30 minute consultations.

You just go to AviationBusinessConsultants.com and click “get a consultation.”  There is a short little questionnaire that asks you some nosy questions that will help us come prepared [LAUGH] to give you good advice at that consultation. The consultations we do are confidential. Even if you’ve got a sticky situation you really need some help with, aviation is a very small world, we understand that confidentiality is a very important thing, and we promise to honor that.

But, we also promise that we’ll be very much worth your time, for any sales or marketing scenario that we have probably run into before, possibly more than once, right? Okay, once again, judgement-free zone, we’re not going to beat you up too bad about what you have done that we may not agree with or whatever.

John Williams:   [COUGH]

Paula Williams:   Right?

John Williams:   It doesn’t matter if we agree, unless we disagree for purposes of your betterment.

Paula Williams:   Exactly, all right, so subscribe to our podcast on Stitcher, iTunes, or Google Play, and please do leave us a review. Those actually do help us get found by more people and the more people in aviation are doing good marketing, the better for the industry and the better for all of us, right?

John Williams:   Right.

Paula Williams:   Absolutely, have a great day. [SOUND]

Announcer: Thanks for joining us for aviation marketing Hangar Flying, the best place to learn what really works in sales and marketing in the aviation industry. Remember to subscribe on iTunes and leave a rating![MUSIC]

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