Sexy Advertising Doesn’t Sell The Products You Might Think It Does

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“Sex sells” is a common phrase that might lead you to think that sexy advertising sells the products that it promotes. And while that may be true, a research article from Monash University suggests that this might not always be the case.

The article presents the findings of a three-part study that examined over 1,600 participants and reveals that sexualized imagery in advertisements for products like lingerie and perfume might push consumers to buy personal hygiene products — not the products that use the sexualized advertising.

In particular, the first study found that casual sex reminders “increase liking for personal hygiene products mainly among conservative” individuals, the second found the same effect for religious individuals, and the third study again found the same effect among people who perceive casual sex to be “dirty,” “wrong,” or “immoral.”

Eugene Chan, a senior lecturer in the Department of Marketing at the Monash Business School and author of the paper, believes the results could be valuable to marketers that are ineffectively targeting their clients with sexualized content, per Mirage News.

“If you’re an advertiser who is using sexualized images to sell your products, what we’ve found is that these images may actually lead people to buy different items than originally intended.”

“Our research shows that if a consumer sees a sexualized advertisement – say, for lingerie or perfume – it can actually make certain consumers head out to buy products like soap and face wash,” Chan added.

“Consumers’ physical experiences can really shape their judgment and choices.”

Interestingly, Chan said his research suggests that brands are irrelevant when it comes to consumer decisions in the face of sexualized imagery. If the advertisement makes them feel the need to “rid themselves of impurity,” it doesn’t matter whether the product in question is Versace or a non-name product — the consumer will want to feel clean.

Chan believes that ultimately, the results show that the connection between casual sex and feeling dirty pushes some consumers to desire products that clean them to rid themselves of the feeling of disgust.

The recent study is an extension of Chan’s previous research, which examined how mindfulness affects a person’s willingness to eat insects, into the realm of disgust. He claims that disgust is an emotion with so much power that our behavior is guided to avoid it no matter the cost. For example, Chan says that chocolate candies shaped like insects, such as cockroaches, are less likely to be eaten because they create a feeling of disgust.