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Does sex still sell in ads? Surprising new study gives the answer

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The longstanding assumption among advertisers that “sex sells” took a major hit from a new study that suggests the truth is exactly the opposite.

Analyzing almost 80 published advertising studies over three decades, University of Illinois researchers separated advertising campaigns by “sexual appeals” that included: partially or fully nude models, sexual touching or positioning, sexual embeds and innuendos, or sexual messaging through pictures or partially hidden words.

Their conclusion? Even though people did remember the sexually-suggestive ads, the brands themselves were much more quickly forgotten. And even worse for advertisers using such methods, people who did remember the brand were more likely to view the brand in a negative light.

Among those who did remember the brand, the sexually-suggestive ads did nothing to spur their interest in purchasing the products advertised. And while men unsurprisingly did enjoy the sexual ads more than women, even they weren’t more likely to buy the product the ad was selling.

According to University of Illinois advertising professor John Wirtz: “We found literally zero effect on participants’ intention to buy products in ads with a sexual appeal. This assumption that sex sells – well, no, according to our study, it doesn’t. There’s no indication that there’s a positive effect.”

When it comes to sexually-suggestive ads, the chain Carl’s Jr. probably comes to mind for most people, but even those campaigns are a remarkable case in point.

“If the ‘sexy ads’ had been effective, it’s unlikely the company or ad agency would have made such a drastic change,” Wirtz wrote of the fact that Carl’s Jr. has toned down their saucy advertising of late. “When product is moving, people don’t make changes.”

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BizPac Review.

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Scott Morefield

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