Sex doesn’t sell: Explicit content puts off consumers, study finds

© Gleb Garanich
Adverts that use sexually attractive people to plug a product may have the opposite of the intended effect and actually put customers off buying goods, a new study has shown.

Despite the advertising adage “sex sells,” customers can be so distracted by the sexualized content of adverts that they fail to notice the products involved.

The study found that shoppers are less likely to remember adverts featuring sexually explicit content, violence or other non-family friendly material than more benign adverts.

Violence was also likely to make viewers tune out of the adverts. Adverts with violence are more likely to be forgotten and be received less favorably when compared with other brands the study found.

Ohio State University psychologist Professor Brad Bushman said the findings of their study were hugely relevant to advertising agencies.

Our findings have tremendous applied significance, especially for advertisers.

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

He explained the test had found “almost no evidence” to suggest the use of sex or violence increased the sales of a product.

“In general, we found such programs, and ads with violent or sexual content, decreased advertising effectiveness,” Bushman said.

The study, which gathered information from 8,489 adults in the course of 53 different experiments, was published in the journal Psychological Bulletin.

The authors suggest advertisers label their adverts with a G-rating, which would mean they are more suitable for a “general audience.”

Bushman and lead author Robert Lull, a PhD candidate at Ohio State University, examined the difference between the perceptions of sex and violence in adverts and the buying intention of the viewers.

They found that overall when the content of the advert and the media content surrounding it was similar, viewers were more likely to engage and express a desire to buy the product.

The authors concluded that although sex and violence capture attention, they are more likely to distract the viewers.