Business & Real Estate

Actually, sex doesn’t sell for companies who produce racy ads, study finds

By Greg Hadley

ghadley@mcclatchy.com

In this photo taken Monday, Dec. 6, 2010, GoDaddy.com Girl Jillian Michaels, Fitness trainer & "Biggest Loser" celebrity, is seen during the filming production of the 2010 Super Bowl television commercial for "GoDaddy.com" at the Delfino Studios in Sylmar, Calif.
In this photo taken Monday, Dec. 6, 2010, GoDaddy.com Girl Jillian Michaels, Fitness trainer & "Biggest Loser" celebrity, is seen during the filming production of the 2010 Super Bowl television commercial for "GoDaddy.com" at the Delfino Studios in Sylmar, Calif. AP

Companies like Hardee’s, GoDaddy and Mr. Clean have generated plenty of buzz and headlines in the past for their advertising campaigns that featured heavy sex appeal, often in the form of scantily-clad women.

But as it turns out, those ads don’t really work, at least the way those brands want. That’s the conclusion of a meta-analysis of nearly 80 different academic studies from researchers at the University of Illinois.

The new study, which was published this week in the International Journal of Advertising, found that while ads with sexual appeals may be more memorable to viewers, they actually don’t have any effect on whether or not viewers will remember that specific brand or be any more likely to buy that brand’s products.

“We found literally zero effect on participants’ intention to buy products in ads with a sexual appeal,” Professor John Wirtz, the study’s lead author, said in a press release. “This assumption that sex sells – well, no, according to our study, it doesn’t.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the study also found that the average man liked the advertisements with sex appeal, while the average woman disliked them.

But just liking an advertisement isn’t enough, Wirtz said, and the results of that can be seen in how companies like the ones listed above have moved away from “sexy” commercials. Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s made a hard pivot away from their racy ads earlier this year, according to the Washington Post, while GoDaddy said it would no longer make such commercials back in 2013, according to Ad Week.

“If the ‘sexy ads’ had been effective, it’s unlikely the company or ad agency would have made such a drastic change,” Wirtz said. “When product is moving, people don’t make changes.”

When Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s moved away from their previous advertising strategy, then-CEO Andy Puzder told Fox Business that they found that even their target demographic, young men, cared more about the food they were selling then the sex in their ads, and Puzder suggested that the internet had made such content so widely available that it was no longer shocking or interesting to viewers.

According to Discover magazine, ads with sex appeal are nothing new: the first known modern advertisement to feature nudity appeared all the way back in 1871. However, besides not being effective any more in selling products, other research suggests that these ads could lead to negative behavior among some people, including sexism and self-esteem issues in women, according to Forbes.

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