Study: Sex and violence actually don't work in advertising

The cast from Sex in the City

Using sex and violence in advertising doesn’t really work, according to the latest research.

Advertisers might do better if the ads themselves had a G rating, according to a study published by the American Psychological Association.

“Our findings have tremendous applied significance, especially for advertisers,” says Brad J. Bushman, professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University.

“Sex and violence do not sell, and in fact they may even backfire by impairing memory, attitudes and buying intentions for advertised products. Thus, advertisers should think twice about sponsoring violent and sexual programs, and about using violent and sexual themes in their ads.”

Brands advertised during commercial breaks in violent media were remembered less often, evaluated less favourably and less likely to be purchased than brands advertised in nonviolent media.

Sexual content had a little influence but not as much. Brands advertising during commercial breaks in media with sexual overtones were viewed less favorably than those advertised in media with no sexual content.

But there was little difference in viewers’ brand memory or intention to buy.

“It’s not that people aren’t attracted to sex and violence,” says researcher Robert B. Lull.

“On the contrary, people have been attracted to sex and violence since evolutionary times, when attending to violent cues prevented our ancestors from being killed by enemies or predators and paying attention to sexual cues attuned our ancestors to potential reproductive opportunities.”

People tend to pay more attention to the violence and the sex surrounding the ads than to the actual products being advertised.

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