Though conventional wisdom says that sex sells, 30 years of advertising studies say that it actually doesn't.
Sexual appeals merely make an ad more memorable, which advertisers definitely want. However, sexual appeals don't necessarily make people want to buy the product. In fact, people are more likely to remember the ad, not the product or service featured into the ad. People are also more likely to view suggestive or erotic ads more negatively.
A meta-analysis of three decades of advertising studies revealed these interesting findings. What, however, counts as a sexual appeal in ads? The inclusion of nude or partially nude models, sexual touching or positions, implications that a sexual encounter is imminent, innuendos, and the communication of a sexual message.
The researchers combined the results of nearly 80 different studies on the matter. Since their study was a meta-analysis, they applied statistical procedures to analyze the data from these different advertising studies. The researchers were thus able to come up with a more accurate view on how people react to sexual appeals in ads.
Maybe, in some way, sex sells just a little bit. Perhaps it does, but not in the way that advertisers intend it to. These kinds of ads don't make people want to buy the advertised product any more than non-sexual ads can. “There's no indication that there's a positive effect,” says lead author John Wirtz.
The researchers also found that, perhaps unsurprisingly, men tended to like sexually suggestive ads. Women, meanwhile, had a strong negative reaction to such ads. Regardless of the gender differences, the sexual nature of the ads didn't have much of an effect on the participants' desire to buy the featured product.
In spite of the fact that people seem to remember the ads more, and men tend to like them, they don't end up being more effective. If sex sells anything, it probably just sells itself.
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