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Turns Out, Sex Doesn?€?t Actually Sell, Says Study

We?€?ve been told for years that sex sells ?€กฑ whether it?€?s a scantily clad woman eating a burger or models in barely there lingerie walking a runway. But a new study finds that?€?s not necessarily the case.

Researchers at the University of Illinois analyzed nearly 80 advertising studies published over the past 30 years and found that while people have no problem remembering a particularly racy ad ?€กฑ for better or for worse ?€กฑ that doesn?€?t often translate into customers actually buying the product that the advertiser is aiming to sell.

?€?The effectiveness of ads with sexual appeals really depends on what you are measuring,?€?John G. Wirtz, lead author of the study and an assistant professor in the department of advertising at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, tells Yahoo Style. ?€?We found that people definitely remember ads with sexual appeals more than those without, but that effect didn?€?t extend to brands. So people could remember seeing an ad but not necessarily the brand or product featured in the ad.?€?

The research also revealed that advertisers need to choose their sexiness wisely, depending on the product being promoted. ?€?We did find in a small subset of studies that there was a negative effect on purchase intention for products that don?€?t ?€?fit?€? with people?€?s expectations about the appropriateness of using a sexual appeal,?€? notes Wirtz. ?€?An example of a product that would fit would be lingerie or perfume, and a product that wouldn?€?t fit would be something like a camera or a computer.?€?

Sexy ads can also turn off certain viewers. The researchers looked at a smaller data set to compare how men??and women??reacted to ads with sexual appeals and found that one group in particular wasn?€?t a big fan. ?€?One of the most interesting findings was that females actively disliked ads with sexual appeals,?€? he says. ?€?In fact, they disliked the ads more than the males liked them. Otherwise, there was no difference in how females and males responded to the ads.?€?

However, in some cases, sex does sell, says Wirtz. ?€?Even though our study didn?€?t look at individual brands or products, our results suggest that, at least for some products targeting specific demographics, there is a benefit to having a sexual appeal,?€? he notes. ?€?But I think just as importantly, using sexual appeals has become a default for some advertisers. And sexual appeals can create a lot of media attention and online buzz, which can be used as???€?evidence?€? that the ad is working. Of course, our research indicates that the positive front-end effects on memory do not carry over to purchase intention.?€?

So what should advertising companies take away from this research? ?€?I think advertisers should think carefully about what they want to achieve,?€? says Wirtz. ?€?People remember ads with sexual appeals. That type of ad can create media attention and online buzz. These things can be valuable when a product is new and consumers don?€?t know anything about your product.?€?

He continues: ?€?But I also recommend that advertisers think more broadly about whether their brands and products fit with people?€?s expectations and that they recognize that, on average, female consumers really don?€?t like ads with sexual appeals. Is a ?€?sexy ad?€? worth alienating half of the population??€?

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