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Sex doesn’t sell

Sex on TVPeople won’t remember your brand if you advertised during a TV show with a lot of sexual content, according to UK researchers, compared to ads that appear in similar programming with no sex.

This was the key message that came from research carried out at the Department of Psychology at University College London by Ellie Parker and Adrian Furnham. They publish details in this month’s issue of the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology.

The team also discovered that men recalled the brand of products whose adverts contained sexual images more often than did women, in fact, the women in the study were actively put off by sexual content in advertising.

Is any of this particular surprising? If you’re watching a sexy movie are you going to be concerned with remember which brand carpet shampoo they advertised during the commercial break. More to the point, given the length of the ad slots on TV these days, it’s quite possible that viewers simply get “couply” during the breaks, inspired by the images they saw before the carpet cleaner and dog food came on.

Of course, the actual study didn’t allow for any extra-ad coupling. Instead, 60 university students (30 men and 30 women) aged 18 to 31, mean age 21, were divided into four groups. One group watched an overtly suggestive episode of Sex and The City, with sexy adverts running during the breaks. The second group watched the same episode with non-sexual adverts. The other two groups got to see an episode of “Malcolm in the Middle” which contained no sexual references, with either sexual or non-sexual adverts.

“The fact that recall of adverts was hindered by sexual content in the shows suggests that there is something particularly involving or disturbing about sexual shows. Interestingly this is something that is also found in shows with aggressive content,” says Furnham.

“Sex seems to have a detrimental effect on females recall for an advertisement,” says Parker. “Sex is only a useful advertising tool when selling to men.”

But, couldn’t it simply be that the ads were simply more interesting than Malcolm in the Middle. Now, if it had been an episode of Friends, things would have been entirely different, all sixty volunteers would either have switched off or fallen asleep.

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