Home Science Biology Sex sells in advertisements: Sexual imagery grabs our attention

A U.S. research study out of the University of Georgia found that using sexually related advertisements to sell stuff is very effective. That is, sex sells!

The June 5, 2012 University of Georgia (at Athens) article "Magazine trends study finds increase in advertisements using sex" talks about a research study performed by Dr. Tom Reichert, an advertising professor and head of the department of advertising and public relations at the university's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The article states, "Sex sells, or at least that is what advertisers hope. A recent study from the University of Georgia looked at sexual ads appearing in magazines over 30 years and found that the numbers are up."

The study examined 3,232 full-page advertisements published in 1983, 1993, and 2003 in such magazines as Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Esquire, Playboy, Newsweek, and Time.

Dr. Reichert states, "Advertisers use sex because it can be very effective. Sex sells because it attracts attention. People are hard wired to notice sexually relevant information so ads with sexual content get noticed."

He adds, "Some young men actually think Axe body spray will drive women crazy. But, brand impressions are shaped by images in advertising, too. Arguable, Calvin Klein and Victoria's Secret are not much different than Hanes or Vassarette, but perception studies show those brands are perceived as ‘sexy,' and some customers want that."

Thus, even though a product being advertised with sex is basically no different than another similar product advertised without sexual undertones, people buy more of the product with the sexually explicit ad.

The research team headed by Reichert found that sexually related images in advertisements appeared in an average of 20% of them, in the three years studied.

In 1983, the study found that sexually related ads were used 15% of the time. However, in in 2003 that percentage climbed to 27%.

Reichert states, "Our findings show that the increase in visual sexual imagery over the three decades of analysis is attributable to products already featuring sexual content in ads, not necessarily widespread adoption by other product categories. Specifically, alcohol, entertainment and beauty ads are responsible for much of the increase."

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William Atkins

William Atkins completed educational degrees in science (bachelor’s in physics and mathematics) from Illinois State University (Normal, United States) and business (master’s in entrepreneurship and bachelor’s in industrial relations) from Western Illinois University

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