Skip to comments.Why Sex and Violence Don’t Sell
Posted on 09/05/2015 2:50:14 PM PDT by Vision Thing
Early on in the AMC series Mad Men, a young, ambitious Peggy Olson defends her ad idea to Don Draper, assuring him, Sex sells. He barely hides his disappointment before brushing this aside, Says who? Just so you know, the people who talk that way think that monkeys can do this.
Don was on to something. New research suggests that sex, in fact, does not selland neither does violence. A recent meta-study by Robert Lull and Brad Bushman of The Ohio State University, published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, looked at 53 experiments to analyze the effects of sexual and violent media and ad content on peoples memory, attitudes, and buying intentions. Contrary to the old adage, they found that, on all three measures, sex and violence werent effective at selling products, whether they characterized the program the ad was interrupting, or the content of the ad itself.
So why then does it seem like were inundated with these kinds of images on a daily basis? Part of the answer is that they simply get our attention. According to the authors, this goes back to evolutionary theory. Sexual and violent cues have been associated with reproduction and survival, and so were hardwired to pay attention to them. This seems to play out in what we choose to watch. Nearly half of the most successful shows, films, and video games from the last five years were rated for violence, and over a quarter were rated for sex. This isnt lost on advertisers.
These programs also tend to attract the highly coveted 18-to-34-year-old demographic, known for having the most disposable income and believed to be more easily influenced by ads than older adults with more entrenched buying habits and brand loyalty. Combine these two factorsaudience size and ageand its not surprising that companies may choose ads and shows that contain sex or violence.
Theres a problem with this reasoning, however. The authors explain that reach and attention arent great measures for advertising effectiveness (research has previously shown that large audiences dont always yield the best ROI; the Super Bowl is a prime example). These are only the first two stages of eight: 1) youre exposed to the ad, 2) you pay attention to it, 3) you understand the message, 4) you evaluate it favorably or unfavorably, 5) you store it to long-term memory, 6) you remember it later, when 7) you have to decide between different brands, and 8) you buy or dont buy the advertised product.
Lull and Bushmans meta-study focused on how sex and violence affected the latter stages of the model, those that represent peoples brand attitudes, brand memory, and buying intentions. And after combing through dozens of studies (involving nearly 8,500 total participants) on these advertising outcomes, they concluded: Brands advertised in violent contexts will be remembered less often, evaluated less favorably, and less likely to be purchased than brands advertised in nonviolent media. The results werent as significant when it came to programs that contained sex, but while it may not be as detrimental as advertising in violent media, they saw no positive effects, suggesting that it does not appear to be a successful strategy either.
The main reason for this, they say, is that titillating images and violent cues distract from the brand and product that the ad is trying to sell. Yes, violence and sex naturally grab our attention, but the problem is that humans have limited attentional capacity, Bushman explained to me. Because violence and sex are so emotionally arousing, they take a lot of that capacity and leave little over for the brands being advertised. So you might notice the violence or sex in an ad but not remember the laundry detergent or whatever they were trying to sell.
Yet while the evidence supports this idea, the researchers acknowledge that future research needs to be done to directly measure the underlying mechanisms of attention and arousal, and how they influence advertising outcomes when were exposed to sex and violence.
A few other interesting findings stood out in the data. The more sexually explicit the content, the worse the impact on advertising outcomes. Older people were more put off by violence and sex than younger people. And brand memory impairments were larger in studies that had more men. They also coded for publication year and observed that the detrimental effects of violence and sex on advertising effectiveness seemed to get smaller and smaller over time. One possible explanation, and more research needs to be done to know for sure, is that people are just becoming desensitized to violence and sex, Bushman said.
This all raises the question: If sex and violence dont lead to better advertising outcomes, what does? The researchers didnt look at other devices like humor or nostalgia. But they did find one possible exception to their overall findingif an ad with sexual overtones is embedded in a sexual program, and likewise with violent ads in violent programs, they saw small positive effects. This is called program/advertisement congruity. However, this only appeared in four of the 53 studies they looked at, so Bushman said hes not as confident in the finding. I think the simplest explanation for this is priming, or how seeing one stimulus can prime or activate related stimuli, Bushman told me. If you see the word bread, you have a faster response to the word butter than you might to the word doctor. Similarly, if people see a program containing violence and sex and then an ad with the same features, those become more accessible in memory.
Perhaps its time to update the conventional wisdom about how profitable sex and violence really are. The researchers suggest that advertisers at least take this into account. We hope that rather than basing decisions on intuition or common sense, people will turn to science, Bushman said. And the scientific evidence from our study is pretty clear. Sorry to say it, Peggy, but it seems like Don was right about this one.
Violence doesn't sell? Look at all the billions spent on violent video games.
Sex and violence sells big time.
Yes, the sexy and violent things we buy do sell, but the article and the studies behind it suggest anyone advertising on sexual or violent shows don’t benefit all that much.
What’s all this I keep hearing about sax and violins?
Both should be free.
Did I do good?
The researchers found that sax-and-violins musical arrangements in advertisements have a bad track record in selling products.
That’s why we never here such combos in jingles.
Nor in pop music.
Nor in any music whatsoever.
I Don't Look Good Naked
I'm really old and ugly
But Hollywood disagrees: Those homies gots to get paid!
Although I play video games, I hate seeing blood and guts. I’m more satisfied with fighting something and seeing a flash of light to indicate victory than I am seeing the colour red filling any part of my screen.
I’m too apprehnsive to click that link, so I’ll just take your word for it. :)
LOL! It’s just music. A song by the same title. That’s all.
I don’t believe that for a second. :)
I don’t see any food in that pic.
How come I never see gals like that whenever I go to Carl’s Jr? I should demand my money back whenever I buy there and don’t get the kind of scenery in their ads.
You’re very modest. :)
“I dont see any food in that pic.”
Nonsense. There’s plenty to eat in that picture.
I guess you could look at it that way....LOL!
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.