Monday, October 22, 2012

Sex in the Media

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Sex is a word that catches everyone’s attention. Whenever a person hears the word “sex” he looks in that direction. Sex, by definition, is the “sexual urge or instinct as it manifests itself in behavior” (http// Is it possible that this exact urge manifests in behavior to buy certain products that arouse that urge? For example, if a woman sees a beautiful model wearing sexy lingerie in a TV commercial, does she subconsciously want to purchase the product in an attempt to be like her? If a male sees an ad in which other men are drinking beer and are surrounded by beautiful women at a bar, does he automatically thinks that by drinking this particular beer he will be able to live out the portrayed scenario?

It seems obvious that sex and the thought of sex demonstrate themselves have at least some affect on purchasing behavior. However, is it fair to say that whenever someone hears of sex, sees a sexually related ad, or thinks that a certain product is associated with sex, he will be more inclined to buy this particular product? Does this phenomenon depend on the gender of the consumer, their social preferences, or their sexual preferences? Are men more receptive to sex in advertising than women? Are young people more interested in buying sexually related products than older people? Is a liberal society more tolerant of sexual ads than a conservative society? Finally, how effective is sex in advertising? These are all questions that advertisers seek answers, but the answers may not be so simple. The following paper is a compilation of extensive research and findings that examine the effectiveness of sex in advertising and various factors that contribute to its success or failure.

Literature Review

The use of sex appeal over the years has increased considerably. Wise, King, and Merenski state that “his increase [in sex appeal] has been observed in several ways in the number of products for which such appeals are utilized; in the wider variety of products for which sex appeals are more commonly used; and in the intensity of appeals used.” There are a number of beliefs as to why this is the case. One is that “advertising is making fewer outrageous claims, but [they] are making them in a more outrageous manner.” Another theory says that consumers see more use of sexual appeals, but that is only because we see more commercials. (Wise, King, and Merenski 174).

The way in which consumers perceive advertisements has a direct affect on their feelings toward the product and company. When evaluating the effectiveness of sexual stimuli, which can be a controversial method of attracting attention, attaining a positive consumer perception is pivotal to the success of the ad. Therefore, it is important to understand the various aspects of perception, and how to create an ad that will appeal to the target audience without alienating or offending them.

Perception refers to the ability to perceive objects in the real world. It is the method of obtaining information about our surrounding world through our senses and apprehending this information as beliefs ( Perception is a process of information extraction by which people select, organize and interpret sensory stimulation into meaningful and coherent picture of the world. (Berelson and Steiner 164; Britt 178) In other words, it is how people make sense out of the world around them.

Perception is composed of three elements such as exposure, attention, and interpretation, which then lead to memory. Most of the research on sexual stimuli concerns attention and memory. In the attention process, an individual allocates part of his/her mental activity to a stimulus. There are several factors affecting attention, such as color, size, intensity, and isolation. To get attention, elements such as surprise, humor, emotional appeals, and sex can be used. There are two drawbacks to using these elements. It might be so successful in attracting attention to the stimulus object that it will reduce attention devoted sales message, and the interpretation of the message could be negatively affected. This phenomenon is recorded and discussed in several studies on sexual stimuli. The first and most influential of these studies was conducted by Major Steadman in 16. His study found that “non-sexual illustrations were more effective in producing recall of brand names than were sexual illustrations.” (Dudley) Reid and Soley took this research further and discovered that “even when the sexual content does not interfere with brand recall, it does interfere with message comprehension, particularly when the ad contains considerable text.” (Dudley)

However, some studies have found that consumers react positively to various forms of sexual appeals. Some researchers have chosen to evaluate the effectiveness of attractive models in advertisements, and it has been found that consumers automatically associate positive attributes with attractive models or spokespeople. In A.G. Miller’s study, it was determined that the participants found physically attractive models to be “more sensitive, interesting, kind, strong, modest, poised and outgoing, as well as to be of better character than individuals of lesser attractiveness.” (Miller) This research is critical to creating a successful ad, because it suggests that if the consumer sees physically attractive models using or wanting the product, they might subconsciously find the product more desirable as a result of their inferences on the models’ character. In addition, a study by Mills and Aronson found that an attractive female was far more effective in persuading a male audience when she “announced her intention to persuade than when she did not state her purpose.” An unattractive female model had no effect on the male audience regardless of her message delivery. (Mills and Aronson)

Another crucial aspect of perception is that it can be selective. The concept of selective perception is connected with all aspects of people’s lives. Based on the fact that perception is highly influenced by persons interests, beliefs, attitudes and other personal attributes that basically make an individual, it may be concluded that perception is highly subjective and selective (Runyon). Perception is subjective in terms that it takes places in the mind of receiver. Perception is selective because the person is not able to perceive all the stimuli around us and he subconsciously selects the ones to pay attention or to react. At any given point people are selecting the information to which they give attention. The same message sent to different people might get two different responses. This is a very important aspect in advertising. What is selected and emphasized in perceiving is connected with the perceivers perspective, his value systems, interests, needs and previous experience. These are related to the perceivers occupation, class, age, social background, gender, and other demographics. People remember more accurately messages that are closer to their interests, views and beliefs than those that are in contrast with their values and beliefs. This becomes important when choosing whether or not to use sexual stimuli as means of gaining the attention of consumers. If the target markets find sexual stimuli in advertising offensive, the ads will obviously be ineffective.

Perception is of great importance for a marketer. The knowledge of perception is essential to avoid problems when communicating with different target audiences. How consumers perceive the brand, the product, and how they perceive competitors determines how successful the product will be on the market.

Reactions of Men and Women to Sexual Stimuli in Advertising

A debate remains on the issue of whether or not sex can sell more products to men or to women. Current research in the fields of advertising and media suggests that men and women react differently to the use of sexual images in advertising campaigns. As Melanie Yarborough explains in her research, ads are often more detailed when targeted at women because they are more concerned about grooming and appearance. Also, women appreciate very fine distinctions, such as five different variations of shampoo-for curly, straight, oily, or dry hair. For men, by contrast, toiletry ads focus on a single product. Men are likely to pick up on one or two very salient and obvious kinds of cues. Men think in a more macro way, and need to be shown the big picture. Also, men are less likely to process complex metaphors (Yarborough). This study confirms that advertising is positioned differently at the two sexes. Furthermore, the same study continues to explain that men are much more responsive to sexual cues. In one study, men and women listened to audio taped conversations about non-sexual topics. In one, a woman discussed if she should be an anthropologist. Men read sexual cues into the conversation, while women didn’t. Consequently, men seem to be much more sensitive to sexual signals than women.

For many products it is possible to find or invent a sexual connection. However, “the sexual connection is much easier to create for men than for women” (Taflinger). As Richard Taflinger’s research suggests, sex is a strong stimulus in advertising, yet it is a gender-linked stimulus. Sex easily sells to men whereas it is an adjunct to women. In advertising, it is easy to get a man's attention by using women's bodies and insinuating that men will ‘get’ the woman if he buys the product. This technique is playing on his instinctive rather than intellectual view of the world. For a woman, sexual desire is a complex mixture of factors, most of which are extremely difficult to inject into an ad in the time and space available. To sell to a woman, advertising relies on that modern idea (only a few hundred years old) about how men and women relate - romance. Therefore, sex in the media has a greater impact and higher rate of success with males than with females.

Since previous examples demonstrate the differences in men and women in relation to advertising, it is necessary to discuss each sex and the particular attributes assigned to each sex by the media. For example, it is becoming more socially acceptable for women to speak about sex, and therefore more suitable for women’s magazines and television shows to discuss sexual issues and sexually related products. In a current study on sex and the modern magazines, Ann Marie Kerwin states, “ten or so years ago, sex articles tended to go in the middle of the magazine, away from all the advertising…now sex is the top cover line” (Kerwin). Because feeling sexy is now more socially acceptable, women are more open to sexual advertising because they would like to relate to the sexy model, which they associate with self-confidence. Kerwin comments, “Women today are kind of optimistic about their lives, and that’s part of the reason we talk about sex.” Conclusively, it is apparent that sex sells to women, but more for the purpose of providing an image that they find desirable and want to attain.

For men, sexual advertising plays a different role than that for women. It is rather evident to the general community which products use sex to sell to the male population, and these certainly include alcohol. In a study on sex in advertising, Tafliner states, “With sex appeal being the second strongest appeal, it makes sense to use it to make a certain beer more attractive to males. The easiest way to do this is to show how attractive a man can be to beautiful woman if he drinks beer” (Taflinger). Contrary to females, males are attracted to sexual advertising purely on the basis of sex appeal, not because it makes them feel better about themselves or increases their level of self-esteem. Therefore, advertisers must be careful in choosing the best form of ad for both sexes since men and women significantly differ in their sense of attractiveness and appeal.

Because society is becoming more liberal, sex altogether is more acceptable in the media. Hence, it can be concluded that sex sells more now than ever before, otherwise it would not be so widespread. Kolsti, in a Journal of Advertising study, compared the sexual content of advertisements in 184 magazines with those in 164 magazines. That study reported that women, and to a lesser extent men, were dressed more provocatively in the 184 ads than in ads from some years earlier. Furthermore, Playboy and Penthouse are among the top ten in circulation of American publications (Kolsti). This clearly proves that sex sells. As our society becomes less reserved with time, sex continues to sell even more. However, it is risky to apply this view to the world of advertising, where positive perceptions of products and companies are crucial to success.

Reactions of Specific Market Segments to Sexual Stimuli in Advertising

Though gender has a crucial role in attitudes and reactions to sexual stimuli, other population segments have been studied to find whether or not common attitudes toward sexual stimuli exist. In a 17 study, Morrison and Sherman “identified a number of components of sex in advertising and showed that different groups of individuals responded differently to the use of sex in advertising.” They took a common single statement, “Advertisers make too much use of sex appeals in their advertisement,” and studied the reactions of individuals to this statement. Included in their study were 61 college-aged adults (18-5 years old) and their parents. An interview was taken with each one of these individuals, where an attitude study was conducted and participants’ reaction to this statement was recorded. A Likert scaling technique was used where the respondents were able to choose from five responses ranging from strong agreement to strong disagreement. In addition, demographic and educational information was recorded so that a cross sectional study could be performed.

This study showed that attitudes range based on the race of the person, the age of the person, and the educational background of the person. At the most basic level, there was a slight tendency toward agreement with the statement. The strongest agreement came from the parents of college-aged young people and by females.

Taking a deeper look into the responses of the college aged respondents, the strongest agreement with the statement came from students of science and engineering and liberal arts. Business students tended to agree with the statement less. Other important findings to note were that there was a greater tendency to agree among the white respondents and the females. Among the older respondents, the only major finding was that females tend to agree much more strongly than males that there is too much sexual content in advertising. What was most interesting in this study was the fact some of the other variables- race, family income, and education level failed to produce statistically significant differences in responses.

This has tremendous implications for the advertising and marketing agencies that design and market product campaigns to consumers. This study clearly shows that there is a potential for backlash among certain market segments when sexual stimuli is used to sell products.

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Decorative Models

Though many studies attempt to measure consumers’ responses to sexual stimuli, these studies are very subjective in that they analyze only the conscious reactions of consumers. A consumers’ values and beliefs, as well as how they see themselves, can significantly affect how they choose to respond to these surveys. On a more psychological level, some studies have chosen to measure the effectiveness of sexual advertisements rather than consumers’ self-purported reactions. One such example of a more psychological study concerned the use of female models in advertisements. The researchers measured the ability for a consumer to recall a brand with the model versus a brand without the model. Sexton and Haderman performed a study in which they looked at print ads from 150 to 171. They found “an increment of 1% in the use of ‘decorative’ female models. Within this trend, the incidence of models being classified as ‘obviously alluring’ advanced from 10% in 151 to 7% in 171.” Belkaoui and Belkaoui also provide some supporting evidence to Sexton and Haderman saying “the image of nonworking women has shifted from family roles in 158 to more decorative roles in 17.” (Chestnut, Lachance, and Lubitz).

To prove that the use of a female model does have some bearing on the image of a product, Smith and Engel performed a study in which they systematically varied the use of a female model and asked respondents to rate several product attributes. Results of this study show that “the presence of a decorative model actually enhanced the image of the product. This held true for both sexes and was considered an ‘unconscious’ phenomenon in that few subjects reported themselves aware of any bias.” (Chestnut, Lachance, and Lubitz). Although this study shows that a model has an influence on a product’s image, it doesn’t record the affect of learning and brand recall of a product when a model is used.

Baker and Churchill designed a study to further investigate the impact of physically attractive models on successful advertising. They hypothesized that females will rate an ad more positively when a male model is present, whereas males will rate an ad more positively with the presence of a female model. The researchers believed that both sexes would rate an ad higher when the ad contained an attractive model as opposed to an unattractive one. Also, attractive models would have a stronger impact on participants’ ratings when the advertised product was of a romantic nature, such as perfume or cologne. The subjects for the study consisted of 48 male and 48 female undergraduate students from University of Wisconsin. The participants were shown advertisements for coffee, cologne, perfume, and aftershave with male and female models. The attractiveness of the models was previously determined by another study in which subjects were asked to rate the attractiveness of models. Those with the highest and lowest scores were then used for this study.

The results of the study mirrored those of previous studies, with a few notable exceptions. The female subjects were not significantly affected by either the attractiveness of the model or the type of product being advertised. However, the male subjects were very much affected by the attractiveness of the female model, depending on the type of product being advertised. Interestingly, for the coffee advertisements, the unattractive female model was more effective in terms of the male participants’ desire to purchase the product. For the romantic products such as perfume and cologne, the attractive female model was more effective in creating purchase intent. “The results suggest that in trying to sell a non-romantically oriented product to males, an unattractive female model may be more persuasive in creating eventual product purchase than an attractive model.” These results point to the limitations and dangers of using an attractive model as a full-proof way to produce a memorable ad. This study seems to suggest that attractive models are best used when appropriate to the product, such as beauty products or products with romantic overtones.

Sexual content in advertising is successful at gaining our attention because it appeals to our base instincts as humans. It logically follows that male and female models must be attractive for the sexual stimulus to have its desired effect. However, most research confirms that the use of attractive models in advertising is not a full-proof way to create a memorable ad.

The Effects of Sexual Stimuli on Brand Recall

Steadman’s famous 160 study was the first to analyze the actual effectiveness of sexual stimuli in advertising. He hypothesized that a “sexual stimulus may attract a great deal of attention but consumers may not associate the illustration with the product name.” To test this hypothesis, Steadman formed his own advertisements, using certain female models, and then attached an arbitrary brand name to these advertisements.  Then, he exposed respondents to these advertisements and tested their ability to recall the brands. He measured both immediate and delayed brand recall. His results indicated that a “sexy photograph did not facilitate band name recall. Instead, such photographs appeared to inhibit recall over time.” Steadman concluded that nonsexual advertisements were more effective than sexual ones in achieving brand recall. He also found that those with a positive attitude toward nudity in advertising would recall more brand names than those who opposed the use of sexuality in advertising. Baker conducted a similar survey, and agreed with Steadman’s findings. He said, “Although advertisements depicting female nudity possess attention-getting value, male viewers attend solely to the illustration of the nude and ignore the brand name.” (Baker)

A more recent study performed in 176 by Chestnut, Lachance, and Lubitz attempted to study this phenomenon as well. This study used print ads from actual magazines and utilized a recognition test to gauge participant responses, whereas Steadman’s study consisted of ficticious ads and utilized a recall paradigm for measuring participant responses. The researchers had two major hypotheses “First, an ad containing a decorative model will be recognized better than an ad with no model. Second, a decorative model will not facilitate the recognition of brand names taken from advertisements.” These hypotheses were based on the belief that using models in a print ad only fosters a remembrance of model-related information.

The findings of this study verify both hypotheses. “The presence of a decorative model in print advertising is shown to affect the memory for model-related information, but to have little influence upon the recognition of brand name information. The researchers then attempted to further analyze the findings of their study in an attempt to build upon Steadman’s original research.

They concluded that, “If the applied interest is on creating and putting in memory an image of a product’s differing aspects, then adorning the product with a sexual stimulus may not be the most profitable course. Or, if this style of advertising is chosen, at least some effort should be made to integrate the product or brand name into the model-related information.” (Chestnut, Lachance, and Lubitz).

Though Chestnut, Lachance, and Lubitz’ findings replicate Steadman’s findings, they are crucial because the results showed that almost two decades later, the effectiveness of decorative models has remained unchanged. All of these studies have major implications regarding the usefulness and effectiveness of sexual stimuli in advertising. These researchers suggest that sexual stimuli might not be effective if the product requires an understanding of benefits and uses.

Alexander and Judd designed a study to investigate whether these conclusions hold true in more modern times. They hypothesized that a higher number of brand names would be recalled when an ad depicts a nonsexual scene versus a nude female, and that the number of brand names recalled would significantly decrease in proportion to larger amounts of nudity within the ad. (Alexander and Judd)

Participants of the study comprised 181 male volunteers of a southwestern public university business school. Of these participants, 141 were given an attitude questionnaire to examine their feelings toward nudity in advertising. All participants were shown slides of advertisements that depicted five varying degrees of nudity, with level one containing no nudity, and each of the following levels containing increasing amounts of nudity. Immediately after the slides, the researchers measured the participants’ ability to recall the brands. The results proved the initial hypothesis that brand recall would be highest with ads containing no nudity. For level one, the participants were able to recall 18 brands total, whereas the remaining levels produced brand recalls ranging from 4 to 11. These findings were interesting because they showed that brand recall does not significantly decline as the level of nudity increases. Interestingly, the study also found that those participants who were married recalled more ads than their single counterparts.

A similar study tested consumers’ reactions to various ads for suntan lotion. Four tests ads were created and shown to 86 male and female junior and senior marketing students. (Dudley) One ad contained only the product, one depicted a model in a one-piece swimsuit, one featured a topless model, and the fourth depicted a nude model. In the introduction to the study, Dudley describes the “tremendous changes in the social standards related to sex and nudity during the past two decades.” He cites the example of NYPD Blue showing David Caruso’s ‘bare posterior’ as well as advertisements for Obsession and Guess as evidence that American programming and advertising has become much more provocative.

Many previous studies have shown that sexual advertising is most effective when there is a clear relationship between the product and the stimulus. (Peterson and Kerin; Weller, Sibley, and Neuhaus) With this in mind, the purpose of Dudley’s study was to determine the reaction of consumers’ to sexual ads with a product that appeals to both men and women and has an obvious relationship to bare skin. The participants of the study included 15 males and 16 females ranging in age from twenty to thirty years old. The participants broken into groups and shown were shown one of the four variations of the ad, which featured a model whose face was hidden so that attention would be focused only on the body. Eighty-seven participants viewed the product-only ad, 106 viewed the bathing-suit model, 8 were shown the topless model, and 7 viewed the nude model. The participants then evaluated the brand, ad, company, and their interest level in the product.

Results showed that the ad featuring only the product was rated significantly less appealing than the other ads. The amount of nudity within the ad resulted in increasingly strong evaluations from the participants in terms of their level of interest in the advertisement. Interestingly, though the brand with the nude model was seen as most distinctive, it was rated lowest for perceived quality. The brand with the swimsuit model was given the highest perceived quality ratings, and the ad was rated as equally desirable to the topless ad. The company selling the brand with the swimsuit ad was rated as the most reputable company of the four. The brand featuring the topless model was rated more distinctive than the swimsuit ad, but had a lower perceived quality. The topless ad was also rated the most offensive, but only by two points above the neutral point on the scale. The students were much more likely to try or buy the suntan lotion featuring the swimsuit model, while the ad featuring only the product received the lowest ratings for brand, ad, company, and interest level in the product. These results confirm that to use sex as a stimulus in advertising, it must be directly linked to the product itself. This study also brings up the interesting point that nudity in ads can have the unintended effect of a negative image of the company and brand. Though consumers may remember the ad well, they may associate the nudity with a lower quality product and company.

Though it is clear that sexual ads are effective in gaining the attention of most viewers, many studies suggest that this attention does not lead to better product recall. This theory highlights the fact that successful ads must not only gain the attention of the viewer, but also create a positive and long-lasting interpretation of the brand itself. Often, the use of sexual stimuli in advertisements is not guaranteed to produce these results.

General Discussion and Implications

An understanding of the various theories of sexual advertising developed by assorted studies is crucial to making solid marketing decisions. However, research in this area seems to be in its infancy. Researchers in this field recognize that societal values are constantly changing. When it comes to sex and sexually related issues, it is critical to acknowledge the fact that what is prevalent today may have no significance in several years and vice versa. This is clearly exemplified by the amount of sexually explicit scenes and information in television and magazines in today’s age. What is acceptable in the media in modern times would be considered extremely inappropriate and tactless several years ago. As times change, we seem to be becoming a more liberal and open-minded society. Just like our grandparents deem many aspects of the media unacceptable today, our generation of consumers might find many elements of the media offensive and improper ten years from now. This is extremely important for advertisers to take into consideration. What one can sell with the implementation of sex today may have no relevance in the future.

Sex sells particular products to certain people, but one must always take into consideration the society in which they are using sex as a motivational device. Every country has very different attitudes towards sex, and what is suitable in one country may be very well frowned upon in another country. America is considered to be a rather conservative society, where the general public is not very comfortable with sexually related products, explicit sexual content, and nudity. Europe, to the contrary, is much more liberal. Nudity is quite common in daily television shows on uncensored channels as well as all over billboards, magazines, and newspapers. It is not considered improper or inappropriate for a woman to be topless on a beach, or for a couple to engage in sexual activity in a park or on the street. Considering the differences in cultures and norms, it would be much easier to use sex as an advertising tool in Europe than in the United States. In Europe, companies would not be looked down upon for portraying naked women in their commercials or on the pages of a magazine ad. However, in America, most companies would not dare use such extreme visuals to attract consumers. This is very important for advertisers to understand and investigate, especially for global firms that advertise in more than one country. Consequently, lack of adequate research or an omission of information might cause the company a tremendous amount of financial loses, as well as damage to their image and reputation.

It is vital for studies to look at sexual advertisements with respect to different products in various categories. While sex can easily sell some products, it might be simply useless for others. When a consumer associates a certain product with sex, such as condoms or lingerie, there is a high probability that a sexy ad will sell the product to this consumer. However, when a consumer views a sexual ad for a product that has no relevance to sex, such as coffee or furniture, the consumer might recall the ad itself, but not the product advertised. This certainly defeats the primary purpose of the ad and has a negative effect on brand awareness and increase sales. Consequently, it is much more effective to use sex as a tool to sell sexually allied products than those completely unrelated to sex. 

It is also very important to choose the correct method of selling specific types of products. While sex sells to certain groups of people, it is necessary to decide on the correct time, place, and media when publicizing these products. For example, if a sexual ad is aired during a family show or in an every day newspaper, the consumer might be less susceptible to it, than if the same ad is shown late at night or in sexually related magazines, such as Maxim or Cosmopolitan. If such an ad is shown during a family show, the target audience might turn the channel or divert attention away from it when a younger person is present. Similarly, a person might feel embarrassed reading a sexy ad in the paper while at work or on public transportation. Nonetheless, if the same ad is shown when the potential consumer is alone, it might have their undivided attention, hence prove to be more effective. Therefore, it is essential to carefully decide on the method of advertisement when exposing a sexually affiliated ad in order to make the sale more effective.

Further research could include analyzing lawsuits brought about because of sexual stimuli in ads, how many companies and advertising agencies actually use sexual stimuli as the main objective for their campaigns, as well as studies that address marketing managers’ thoughts concerning the use of sexual stimuli to promote products.

Research on sexual advertising has provided several implications for managers in the marketing field. These implications should be studied closely when looking at new marketing campaigns. Our research into the effectiveness and reliability of sexual content in advertising showed that most Americans feel there is too much sex in advertising and that most sexual content in ads does not lead to greater brand recall.

Managers need to be weary of using sex as the main objective of any marketing campaign (either a “decorative” female model, or the actual practice of sex as a stimulus). Our research has shown that there are limitations of using sexual stimuli because it does not lead to greater brand recall and sometimes it diminishes the image of a product. The implication of this for a modern day manager is that when he/she chooses to use a sexual stimulus in their ad, it may backfire. Consumers could potentially see this marketing strategy as offensive thing. This could potentially lead to lawsuits that could be brought on because the ad is too offensive or a consumer boycott. Managers need to be weary of using sexual stimuli in any of their marketing campaigns and they need to understand the limitations of using sex as the main stimulus to grab the attention of the consumer.

Another key issue is connection between the product and the sexual stimuli. If the sexual stimulus does not have any connection with the product, then it merely serves as a distraction from the message. For example, using a sexual stimulus in a furniture ad probably will not have any benefit to the remembrance of that ad. Most consumers will probably only focus their attention on the female model or the sexual act and forget the importance of the product, the uses of the product, and the features of the product. On the opposite side of the spectrum, using a sexual stimulus in a cologne or perfume ad will most likely benefit the product because cologne appeals to the emotions of a consumer just as a sexual stimulus does. Managers need to consider their product category as well as the target audience before choosing sex as an attention-getting stimulus.

Managers need to tailor the marketing stimulus to the audience. This means that they need to be aware of the dangers of marketing a sexy advertisement to a vulnerable market, such as pre-teens and teens. For example, MTV uses a highly sexual form of advertising in their many shows and programs to grab the attention of young teens. Shows like “The Real World,” and “Dismissed” depict provocative scenes that are often cited as inappropriate for the audience by various activist groups. Managers need to be aware of this, constantly verifying the effectiveness of their ads and the opinions of the consumers who attend to these ads. In MTV’s case, the children are probably more than happy to see these kinds of programs. However, the parents would probably like a more subtle kind of advertising.

Looking at these implications to managers, it can be seen that there is a certain amount of risk involved in using sexual stimuli. There are a multitude of problems that arise when working with a sensitive subject such as sex. Managers need to be aware of all of these issues because their main goal is to have their product sell and be remembered.

Public policy regarding sexual advertising has become a topic of increasing urgency in recent years. Billions of dollars are being spent to encourage children and adolescents to buy products that are not healthy for them, with American advertising messages often including inappropriate sexual innuendos in an attempt to sell their products. Sexual content has not increased in quantity from 164-184, but it has become more explicit (Dudley). For example, 1% of models in prime time major network commercials were in some state of undress and 8% of these commercials featured sexual situations (Moore). The use of overt sexual appeals in print advertising has increased considerably in contemporary advertising practice (LaTour; Severn, Belch, and Belch; Soley and Reid).

American children have viewed an estimated 60,000 advertisements on television before graduating from high school (Strasburger). Also, 7% of high school students watch TV everyday (Moore). The United States has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the Western world due, in part, to inadequate access to birth control, inadequate education, and inappropriate depictions of sexuality in American media. Interestingly, public service announcements for abstinence and birth control products-which could prevent unwanted teenage pregnancies and STD’s remain largely forbidden by national network television (AAPCA). Journal of Public Policy study examined the affect of media on adolescent sexual behavior, and recommended several ways to make public service announcements more effective in combating the sexual images in TV programming. These suggestions included more encouragement of open dialogue between parents and teens, as well as a more realistic and graphic view of the dangers of sex (Moore). Many activist groups feel strongly that the current guidelines for appropriate sexual content in advertising messages should be more closely followed. (Advocates for Youth)

If American advertising becomes increasingly graphic, there could be a significant government backlash as there was in France. Recently, French ad campaigns have become increasingly graphic in their use of sexuality. After a series of negative government hearings, the French advertising industry adopted a set of standards designed to control the most sexually exploitative advertising. The hearings focused on the use of increasingly graphic sex and violence in commercials for luxury goods, perfume, cosmetics, and fashion products. Some recent ads went so far as to feature themes of sado-masochism and bestiality. As a result of the hearings, future television ads in France must comply with the new code to be broadcast by French TV. France’s Advertising Verification Bureau’s new code requires ads to respect human dignity and prohibits ads that include degrading or humiliating portrayals of men or women. The code specifically bans ad campaigns that show sexual domination or exploitation. Nudity, however, will continue to be permitted, provided it is not degrading or otherwise alienating. The new code replaces a weaker version that was adopted in 1975. (


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