Does Sex in Advertising Work?

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Does Sex In Advertising Work?
This question has advocates on either side. Many people, especially professors and scholars, regard the selling power of sex in advertising as dubious at best. On the other hand, many consumers and professionals are very aware that sex is an effective selling tool. Why might scholars negate the power of sex in advertising? For one, academic research fails to support much of a selling advantage for sex in advertising. But we must remember that experiments, some of which I’ve conducted, may not provide a realistic picture because researcher constructed ads are shown only once to lots of different people in an artificial environment. In the real world, professionally produced ads are seen many times primarily by the people that advertisers want to target. The question is not, “Does it work?”, but “How does it work and in what situations?” As many people think, sex is used to grab a viewer’s attention. But sex influences people in additional ways. Consider a portion of a recent essay I contributed to Dr. Carol Pardun’s forthcoming book. It describes a few of the ways that sex can influence viewers. Objection: “Sex in advertising doesn’t work.”

This objection comes in several varieties. One is that sex is only used to grab attention. Some people refer to this usage as “borrowed interest.” In other words, advertisers attempt to take the interest generated by sexual information and use it to generate interest for their brands. In a related sense, detractors argue that while sex may stop traffic, it only produces—at best—a one-time sale that won’t build brand value needed to sustain long-term growth. To some degree the critics are correct. Sexual information does grab attention. Sex evokes a hardwired emotional response that is linked to species survival. We can’t help that our eyes and ears are drawn to it because emotional information has a way of piercing our perceptual fields by rising above other environmental information trying to...
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