Friday, 23 September 2005

Sex doesn't sell

The late Mary Whitehouse, famed campaigner for traditional morals and decency, would have approved of this new study by Brad Bushman at the University of Michigan showing that adverts embedded in violent and/or sexual TV programmes are less effective than adverts embedded in more family-oriented entertainment.

Bushman asked 336 adult volunteers aged between 18 and 54 to watch either a violent programme like ‘24’, starring Keifer Sutherland; a sexy programme like ‘Sex in The City’; a violent and sexy programme like ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’; or a family programme like ‘America’s funniest animals’. Halfway through the programmes he embedded the same twelve, 30-second ads for some fairly obscure, branded products, including sugar substitute and plasters.

Afterwards, those participants who watched the ‘violent’, ‘sexy’, or ‘violent and sexy’ programmes were less likely than viewers of the family programmes to recall the names of the brands that had been advertised; were less likely to say they intended to buy the advertised brands in the future; and given the choice of some fake money-off vouchers for a range of obscure brands at the study end, were less likely to choose vouchers for the advertised brands. This pattern of results held regardless of the participants’ age, gender or whether or not they enjoyed the programme they’d watched.

Taken together with research showing violent and sexual programmes may have a detrimental effect on society, and considering most TV depends on advertising revenue, Bushman said that to advertise in such programmes might be “bad for society and bad for the advertiser’s business”.

Bushman, B.J. (2005). Violence and sex in television programmes do not sell products in advertisements. Psychological Science, 16, 702-708.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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