Contrary to popular assumption, advertising your products in media showing sexual and violent content may not boost sales, says a new study.
"People are so focused on the sex and violence they see in the media that they pay less attention to the advertising messages that appear along with it," explained co-author of the study Brad Bushman, professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University.
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"Advertisers should not be so sure that sex and violence can help them sell their products," Bushman noted.
The researchers analysed the results of 53 different experiments involving nearly 8,500 people, done over 44 years.
Overall, the results published online in the journal Psychological Bulletin showed that programmes featuring violence and sex are not the ideal context for effective advertising.
Their analysis included studies involving a variety of types of media, including print, television, movies and even a few video games.
In all cases, the researchers had studied whether sex and violence affected brand memory, brand attitudes and people's intention to buy the products advertised.
They found that memory for brands and ads was significantly impaired in programmes containing sex, violence, or both sex and violence.
Overall, people had less favourable attitudes toward brands that advertised in violent media compared to neutral media.
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And people reported less intention to buy brands that were advertised in media containing violence, sex or both, compared to the same brands in media containing no sex or violence.
However, memory for ads and buying intentions were both improved when the ad content and the media content were matching in terms of sex and violence. For example, violent ads worked best when they were paired with violent programmes.
Sexual ads did not hurt brand attitudes and buying intentions overall. But the higher the levels of sexual content in the ads, the more negative the attitude people had toward the brand and the less likely they were to say they would buy the product, the study said.