Selling Sex

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In an Op-Ed in today’s edition of the Washington Post, Lyz Lenz’regrets about sexual abstinence lessons learned in her youth bring to mind memories of “purity rings” in the late 1990s and early 2000s. That was a time when young celebrities such as Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Miley Cyrus and Jonas Brothers publicly boasted of their vows to refrain from sex before marriage. Abstinence was a very popular publicity stunt for brands with a pre-pubescent fan base, and each celebrity’s declaration was met with great fanfare in the news media.

But as these celebrities and their publicists soon found out, the benefits of such publicity is short-lived, and the risk of scandal very high (I’m talking to you, Mr. Duggar). It should be noted that both Ms. Simpson and the Jonas brothers were managed by their respective fathers, who were both ministers before going into the entertainment business. If you are not a cynic, you might believe that abstinence before marriage was a sincerely held belief, not just a marketing ploy. If these celebrities hadn’t gone public with their virginity vows, I would agree with those non-cynics. Selling “no sex,” in my book, is still selling sex. It’s the promise of sex.

Fast-forward to 2016. Although a number of these celebrities remain single, nearly all have abandoned their wholesome purity messages in favor of raunchy and rebellious ones. The most publicized rings on them today are fastened to their noses, nipples and nether regions not suitable for viewing by family audiences. No one is surprised. You don’t have to be a cynic to recognize that Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers brands are master purveyors of the best-selling message yet discovered by marketers.

Reputation management 101:  A holier-than-thou proclamation is the plague. It threatens the longevity of your brand and promises to be an embarrassment of riches in future interviews (I’m talking to you, Jonas Bros.)  Avoid at all costs.

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