Maybe sex doesn’t sell after all

A new study questions whether advertising featuring sex and violence is as effective as that with neutral themes. The finding suggest the old adage that “sex sells” may be wrong.

“Brands advertised in violent contexts will be remembered less often, evaluated less favourably, and less likely to be purchased than brands advertised in nonviolent media,” the study says. 

“We also suggest that advertising in sexual media may not be as detrimental as advertising in violent media, but does not appear to be a successful strategy either.”

Authors of the study, Robert Lull and Brad Bushman from Ohio State Univeristy predicted the result, writing,

We based our predictions on the evolution and emotional arousal theoretical framework, which states that people are evolutionarily predisposed to attend to emotionally arousing cues such as sex and violence. Thus, sexual and violent cues demand more cognitive resources than nonsexual and nonviolent cues.

The findings were the result of a meta-analysis of 53 experiments involving 8,489 participants.


Bill Condie

Bill Condie

Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.

Read science facts, not fiction...

There’s never been a more important time to explain the facts, cherish evidence-based knowledge and to showcase the latest scientific, technological and engineering breakthroughs. Cosmos is published by The Royal Institution of Australia, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science. Financial contributions, however big or small, help us provide access to trusted science information at a time when the world needs it most. Please support us by making a donation or purchasing a subscription today.