Sex sells – sometimes

20. April 2007

Whenever an advertiser takes out his TV spot during programs heavy on sex, he just might as well save his money, because hardly any human brain is capable of memorizing those spots. On the contrary, advertising films with a revealing content will reach the male memory neurones much better in a sex-free environment. Sex sells, but not always.

It is just another platitude to say, that erotic contents distract people from other things in life. Nonetheless, the study, published in the professional magazine Applied Cognitive Psychology by the researcher duo Ellie Parker and Adrian Furnham, might bring out cold sweat on some TV managers. Because the billion-dollar business of fruity advertising late at night just might turn into a gigantic soap bubble, getting ready to burst quite soon. Men of all people are the most useless species, when it comes to sex and advertising – thus the results of the scientists at University College London. Not only do men hardly remember anything that the shown spot is trying to suggest. Most of the time, they hang on to the contents of the movie, not to the spot: One interspersed naked scene or a rather casual erotic hint is just enough to trump any sexually embellished advertising message. So the psychologists demonstrated, that the human brain does react to sexual appeals – but quite different from what the advertising industry was aiming at.

Doesn't get you anywhere: Sex and advertising

An initial group of test persons watching an episaode of the cult series “Sex and the City” at least remembered afterwards, that the program was interrupted four times by advert breaks. But neither one of them remembered, which spots exactly. Whether man or woman – basically, all thoughts were just circling around the leading ladies in the movie. The researcher note: Not even spots showing languishing tongues mutating to fruits or Aphrodites barely covered with transparent lingerie crawling across the floor looking for their second shoe.

Completely different were the reactions of the control group watching “Malcolm in the Middle”. The US station FOX Network produced this sitcom, from 2000 until 2006 seven series with 151 episodes were broadcasted. Professionals considered it a rather sophisticated series. The main character is Malcolm, a highly gifted boy with an IQ of 165 – but: Compared to “Sex in the City”, it comes along like a broadcast from Vatican put in relation with pictures from the carnival in Rio. The sex-free zone in the time slot and on the screen promotes the receptiveness of the brain for banalities and eroticism, such shown in the psychological studies. Astonishing enough, the test persons remember the beer- and shampoo ads quite well – even if that ad was without any sexual hints.

Sex advertises for sex only

This study also cleaned up another generally accepted opinion. Even a per se erotic advertisement leaves the viewer unimpressed. At the bottom of his heart, he already forgot the ad – even before he could be tempted to buy the product. According to the study, erotic advertising does not shore up the desired effects at all. Whoever has got sex on his mind while watching an erotic spot, is virtually lost as a customer. As the British economic magazine “The Economist” states in its latest edition: “sex only sells sex”.

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