When it comes to advertisements, sex sells — or at least, that's what we've been told.
But according to new research, the opposite is true: Sexual content, as well as violence, in an ad or in the content surrounding an ad may actually limit the memorability of a product.
Researchers at The Ohio State University analyzed 8,489 individuals and measured their recall abilities when presented with various advertisements.
The verdict was this: Sexually graphic and violent advertisements may be memorable, but the products they advertise aren't.
According to the results, viewers tend to focus more on the sex than the actual thing being advertised, and this distraction leads to an inability to recall the content being marketed in the commercial.
Conversely, viewers tend to have no problem recalling the content of family-friendly advertisements -- further suggesting sex is the problem.
In addition, advertisements aired during highly sexual shows were viewed less favorably than advertisements aired during shows with little to no sexual undertones.
And violence has a similarly negative effect on viewers; among all the commercial products tested in the study, those advertised with violent commercials were less likely to be remembered, and when they were remembered, they were less likely to sell than products advertised in a nonviolent manner.
Lead author Robert Lull explained,
It is not that people are not attracted to sex and violence. On the contrary, people have been attracted to sex and violence since evolutionary times, when attending to violent cues prevented our ancestors from being killed by enemies or predators and paying attention to sexual cues attuned our ancestors to potential reproductive activities.
Rather, Lull said, we're drawn to this content, so we're unable to focus fully on anything else, and subsequently, the advertisement in question fails to work as it should.
The researchers hope these new findings will change the face of the advertising world and turn it away from the increasingly "violent and sexual themes."
Fortunately, we'll still have our steamy TV shows to keep us company.