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Female Nudity
Michael S. LaTour and Tony L. Henthorne

It is not uncommon to pick up a generalinterest consumer magazine and find an advertisement for fragrances or intimate apparel (among others) featuring provocatively attired and posed female models. Numerous examples come readily to mind. Obsession perfume and cologne advertising by Calvin Klein frequently features a nude couple in various provocative positions. In a tantalizing Victoria's Secret ad, a scantily clad pair are shown in a compromising embrace. Quite often in women's magazines a scantily clad or nude female model is used to elicit a vicarious experience of sensuality. It had been predicted that the decade of the 1980s would employ substantially greater use of sexual content than in earlier times (Kerin et al., 1979). Indeed, this prediction has been found to be true. In fact, the use of sex in advertising has been increasing at a significant rate for over two decades (Soley and Reid, 1988). Today the use of sex and nudity in print advertising continues to be a very controversial topic, as is evidenced by the strength and variability of reactions to its usage. Typically, sexual (or erotic) advertising appeals have varied along two dimensions:
Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 10 No. 3, 1993, pp. 25-32, © MCB University Press, 0736-3761

(1) the amount of nudity in the ad (Peterson and Kerin, 1977); (2) the degree of suggestiveness in the ad (Sciglimpaglia et al., 1978). Typically, the use of sexual communication appeals have met with somewhat mixed consumer response, which tends to be very individualistic in nature (Mitchell, 1986). While nudity and erotic content have been found generally to increase attention to the advertisement, it typically does not enhance recall or positive feelings toward the product (Alexander and Judd, 1979). Advertisements containing explicit nudity have been found to be less favorably perceived and perhaps even considered more offensive than the same ad with a moderately clothed model (Peterson and Kerin, 1977). In addition, such ads have been found to be accompanied by significant levels of psychological tension. According to theory and empirical testing, ad-induced tension arousal may be dysfunctional for ad information processing and is closely associated with substantial negative feelings toward an ad (LaTour, 1990). It has been determined also that the effectiveness of suggestive advertisements may depend heavily on the degree of congruence between the sexy model and the specific product being promoted (Peterson and Kerin, 1977).

While the limitations of such a sample 26 Participants were assigned randomly to one of three treatment groups in different locations within the same building. While it is recognized that the "artificiality" of the group setting could impact the responses. The first treatment . Both of these components then have an effect on attitude toward the brand (Mitchell. THE EXPERIMENTAL METHOD GENDER-SPECIFIC ATTITUDES TOWARD THE AD WERE EXPLORED The purpose of this research is to study the response to female nudity erotic appeals so as to apply the insights gained to relevant considerations for advertising strategies. but rather within a viable representative sample. all with the same copy. and featuring the same perfume bottle as in the landscape ad. it is believed that the participants' lack of close proximity to each other would help nullify that effect. This "pre-treatment" ad was used to give the subject the impression that this was a general test of ads instead of a test of erotic appeals. All participants were fully debriefed at the conclusion of the experiment. and products. participants viewed a perfume ad featuring the same verbal message ("Excitement! Beyond Imagination") and product image (a perfume bottle) superimposed over a peaceful landscape scene. Past research suggests that gender-specific conditioning concerning sex "taboos" and sexuality may allow men to react far more favorably and to be more psychologically comfortable in their reactions to such stimuli than are women (LaTour. Participants were spread out within the rooms and requested not to talk to or look at one another during the experiment. The experimental manipulation was accomplished by three print ads featuring female models in different degrees of exposure. to evaluate the possibility of gender differences in reaction to such ads as a basis for advocating case-by-case testing with other samples. Gender-specific attitudes were explored not only toward the ad but also toward the same brand under different conditions. 1986). given that such ads often target youth-orientated markets (LaTour. These students provide a convenient yet viable population for the analysis of attitudes toward ads. The possibility that negative reactions may be accompanied by tension generation was also explored. A slide projector was used to present two ads to each group. 1990). are recognized. Before viewing the treatment ads. THE RESEARCH A sample of 202 business majors (166 men. ads. 86 women) from a southern university was selected for the study.JOURNAL OF CONSUMER MARKETING The pictorial component in advertisements has been shown to have a possible effect on both beliefs about product attributes and attitude toward the ad. Trained research assistants monitored this process and were stationed at unobtrusive locations throughout the experimental areas. the purpose here is not to generalize globally from these results. and to provide a baseline level of arousal. They are also relevant as a target market for erotic appeals. 1990). Strategic implications for the common practice of using such erotic ads are then discussed.

The pictorial portions of the ads were taken from general readership magazines. and perfume ads often contain some degree of nudity. respondents were asked if they felt "nervous". and demure models) and gender differences on the four dependent . 39 men and 25 women were randomly assigned to this group. Two items ("sexy" and "erotic") were summed for a "perceived eroticism" scale. attitudes toward the brand. or "alarmed" when exposed to the treatments. and tension. The second version featured the same model with her breasts and lower abdomen exposed (nude). After viewing the ads.) The three treatment ads were selected from alternatives presented and discussed in focus group interviews. Perfume has erotic connotations. FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS Perfume was chosen as the product type in order to reduce the possibility that ad induced reactions would be the result of dissonance between the product type and the picture. In addition. The same procedure was followed for attitude toward the brand (see Table AI). 1990) for a summed item scale measure of the attitude toward the ad. therefore subjects should not be surprised by the nudity. Therefore. which has been featured in previous work (LaTour. 1990). OPERATIONALIZATION OF THE VARIABLES TENSION RESPONSES DISPLAYED STRONG INTERNAL RELIABILITY Eight adjective item scales were selected from previous studies dealing with responses to advertising (LaTour. 40 men and 30 women were assigned to this group. therefore.VOLUME 10 NUMBER 3 1993 pictured a partially clothed (semi-nude) female with her breasts and lower abdomen covered by the perfume bottle image. "perceived eroticism" was measured in order to compare such perceptions with attitude responses. 1990) was also utilized. were summed into a "tension" scale. The third version (viewed by 37 men and 31 women) featured a fully clothed male and a fully clothed female model (demure subjects) standing apart from each other in a non-suggestive pose. Specifically. (While consideration was given to the inclusion of male nudity. in terms of attitude toward the ad and toward the brand ratings.05) between those respondents who recognized the brand of perfume in the ad (n=23) and those who did not. it was possible to combine the cases for analysis. A multiple-item tension scale. 27 The influence of the treatments (nude. These tension responses displayed strong internal reliability and. Two sample tests indicated no statistically significant differences (p<0. the relative dominance of female nudity erotic appeals in the print media caused us to focus our effects in that vein. the sample selected is from a student population where perfume is heavily used. semi-nude. Future research may wish to address more fully the issue of female versus male nudity. "edgy". In addition. Men often buy perfume for women (LaTour. the participants were asked to respond to questionnaires designed to measure attitudes toward the ad. Both scales exhibited strong internal reliability.

While this finding appears intuitively obvious. In particular. as would be expected. Substantial controversy has centered on the strength and variability of individual reactions to perceived nudity in print ads. these findings suggest that gender-specific reactions are important for strategists to evaluate for their target markets. Specifically.) Clearly advertisers should not be content with generating just "perceived eroticism".05 level as the benchmark. and (4) tension generation. significantly more than the two other groups. (3) perceived eroticism of the ads.JOURNAL OF CONSUMER MARKETING variables was evaluated. (2) attitude toward the brand. their attitudes were significantly more positive 28 The use of nudity in print ads certainly has the potential for generating strong attitudes and significant levels of tension. (Table I provides a summary of the major findings.) The specific dependent variable analysis revealed significant ad treatment group differences on the attitude toward the ad. DISCUSSION AND MANAGERIAL RECOMMENDATIONS MALES DISPLAYED THE STRONGEST POSITIVE ATTITUDE Interaction effects showed that males viewing the nude treatment displayed the strongest positive attitude toward both the ad and the brand. While making broad generalizations from this student sample is cautioned. Also. The results of this exploratory research hold interesting and important considerations for advertising strategists. men viewing the nude model treatment exhibited a significantly stronger positive attitude toward the brand than did men viewing the demure model treatment. Also. women viewing the nude model treatment displayed a much greater statistically significant level of tension than men viewing the same ad. tension. several highlights of these findings are relevant: • The nude ads were perceived as being the most erotic. it does lead to some interesting implications when compared with the interaction effects for gender and ad treatment as they impact attitudes toward the ad and brand. attitude toward the brand. Even though both sexes perceived the nude treatment as equally erotic. it is . and the perceived eroticism scales. the "nude" ad group saw the ad as the most erotic of the groups. All statistical tests were evaluated for significance with the p< 0. In addition. The dependent variables were represented by summed scales for: (1) attitude toward the ad. (Refer to the Appendix for discussion of the statistical analysis employed. While this finding was not unexpected. examination of the interaction effects revealed statistically significant differences between gender/treatment combinations for all the dependent variables except eroticism. Women were significantly more favorable in their attitude toward both the ad and brand for the demure and semi-nude treatment than for the nude ad. Along with having a much more negative attitude toward the ad and the brand. than those exhibited by women. their reactions in terms of attitude toward the ad and the brand differed.

high levels of tension have been found to be associated with negative feelings toward the ad. However. Typically. 1. if taken alone. Men 3. the most meaningful results of this research come from an examination of the specific gender/ad treatment combinations. Compared with individuals in other groups this ad was significantly stronger on perceived eroticism Most favorable attitude toward the ad and the brand and signficantly more so than women in the nude ad group Significantly more favorable attitude toward the brand than men in the demure group Semi-nude Significantly less erotic than perceptions of the nude ad Demure Significantly less erotic than perceptions of the nude ad Signficantly less favorable attitude than for males viewing the nude ad 2. Women Significantly less favorable attitude toward the ad and the brand than men viewing the nude and women viewing the seminude and demure ads Significantly less erotic than perceptions Significantly more favorable attitude toward the ad and the brand than women viewing the ad Significantly less erotic than perceptions Significantly more favorable attitude toward the ad and the brand than viewing the nude ad 3. The attitudes displayed by . Summary of Findings interesting to note that the nude ads were also found to generate the most overall tension. • Men viewing the nude ads displayed the strongest positive attitudes toward both the advertisement and the brand. Significantly more tension than men viewing the nude ad TABLE I. would suggest that advertisers may wish to downplay the amount of nudity in their ads as a means of possibly reducing tension or 29 uneasiness.VOLUME 10 NUMBER 3 1993 Nude 1. These results. Compared with individuals in other groups this ad stronger on perceived eroticism 2.

The level of nudity considered acceptable by some has been shown to provoke outrage and cries of sexism by others. pending case-by-case testing. care should be given to the selection of the appropriate periodical medium. Rolling Stone. • Advertising strategists should consider just how much nudity is too much nudity. Better Homes and Gardens. 1990). This finding suggests that advertisements containing high levels of female nudity in female-oriented magazines may. with regard to the acceptability of female nudity in advertising (Ford et al. many ads featuring high levels of female nudity are presented in highdistribution women's magazines such as Cosmopolitan. • If a sexy theme is going to be used. However.JOURNAL OF CONSUMER MARKETING men viewing the nude ads were significantly more positive than those exhibited by men viewing the demure ads. but a review of male-oriented magazines such as Gentlemen's Quarterly. men displayed the most positive attitude toward such ads. as well as feminists. and the resulting implications are substantial.. the results of this research indicate that women displayed the least positive attitudes toward sexy or erotic advertising and that these negative reactions were accompanied by significantly high levels of tension. then selection of the appropriate periodical may continue with care. However. . the question of just how much nudity is too much nudity is an important one. than 30 do their female-oriented counterparts. If there is a high likelihood that individuals within the target market will express favorable attitudes toward the use of nudity. For the marketer. This point is important to keep in mind given that this research indicated that female nudity did have a substantial impact on the individual's attitude toward both the ad and the brand. A recent Wall Street Journal article examined this controversy and concluded that advertisers want to do what is considered "right". and Elle. It is recommended that specific ads be subjected to pretesting with samples from various target markets within the contexts of different periodicals. The readership and target market of the periodical should be evaluated carefully. 1991). A danger exists when readership of the periodical also includes a substantial number who are not likely to express favorable attitudes toward this type of ad. In particular. be less effective than advertisements containing either a low level or no female nudity. feminists may be the most negative in their response because of their feelings that women are often portrayed as sex objects (Ford et al. Currently. it has been shown that "cultural conditioning" may have a moderating effect on conservatives. 1990). and even Playboy display a relatively lower level of female nudity in ads. but that extreme confusion exists with regard to what is "right" (Lipman. this point should be considered with caution. Conversely. This finding suggests that ads containing female nudity may result in more favorable responses from men.. However.

Ml. conducted. Journal of Marketing.S.W. attention should be directed to the testing of tension generated by exposure to such ads and the impact of this tension on attitude toward the ad and the brand. (1977). Therefore. p. 4. 12-23.S. and Lundstron. "Contemporary Women's Evaluations of Female Sex Roles in Advertising". Ford. LaTour. pp. pp. 7 No.B.. "Do Nudes in Ads Enhance Brand Recall".A.. Wall Street Journal. "Arousal as an Intervening Variable in a Marketing Communication Context". Vol. 13. 47-50.VOLUME 10 NUMBER 3 1993 This point was emphasized during a discussion one of the authors had with an ad executive whose client is a major cosmetic company. Further. The executive was asked to explain why an ad for a company product featuring a female nude model was included in women's magazines in Western and Northeastern states. (1990).J. M. W. Considering that our sample was from the Southeast. Lundstrom. to allow for more global generalization of results. D. "The Female Role in Advertisements: Some Experimental Evidence". B. Mitchell. possibly simply by featuring a less explicit version of the ad. R. 18 No. 30 September.A.A. June. and Sciglimpaglia. the consequences may be substantial for the product and organization. "Women in Advertisements: Retrospect and Prospect". utilizing random probability sampling. M. Winter. LaTour. "The Effect of Verbal and Visual Components of Advertisements on Brand Attitudes and Attitude toward the Advertisement". 1. Peterson. (1991). significant attention should be directed to determining a priori the viewer's reaction.J. Communication strategy can be altered according to such reactions. 65-81. more conclusive research into the topic should be . (1986). 31 SIGNIFICANT ATTENTION SHOULD BE DIRECTED TO DETERMINING THE VIEWER'S REACTION Addressing these various reactions to sexy or erotic ads should be part of the overall promotional strategy for the firm. The decision was said to be based on previous strong negative reactions to similar ads from the readership in the Southeast. pp. Vol. 1. pp. M. October. LaTour. B1. W. References Alexander.A. 8. Vol. Lipman. but excluded from states in the Southeast. Kerin. February. R. 37-42. R. Vol. Vol. 41 No. Psychology and Marketing. University Microfilm. and Kerin. A. J. M. pp. Sr (1979). Vol. Spring. and Judd. Finally. Journal of Advertising Research. 8 No. additional research across regions is warranted. "Female Nudity in Print Advertising: An Analysis of Gender Differences in Arousal and Ad Response". "Sexy or Sexist? Recent Ads Spark Debate". If significant segments of the population react negatively to the perceived use of erotic appeals. Journal of Consumer Research. (1979). 59-63. J. 1. (1990). Journal of Advertising. unpublished dissertation. Ann Arbor.S. (1986). Journal of Consumer Marketing.

32 . 62-5.L. R. Gender main effect was determined to be significant (p<0. and Tony L. or specifically looking at differences between unique gender-treatment group combinations. Henthorne is Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of Southern Mississippi. Adjective Items Michael S. Aad items Ab items Undesirable (rs) Distinctive Poor (rs) Appealing Inferior (rs) High quality Unsatisfactory Seductive Distinctive Irritating (rs) Food Inappropriate (rs) High quality Offensive (rs) Interesting Unattractive (rs) Afofe: (rs) = reverse scored item Appendix: Statistical Analysis Multivariate Analysis of Variance (MANOVA) of group differences revealed a significant treatment main effect (p < 0. 960-6.).0009) and a significant treatment by gender interaction effect (p< 0. M. L.. Jr (1978). Advances in Consumer Research.001). W. Provo. the most useful information on gender effects was found in analysis of the interaction of gender with the different treatments. D.C.A.05). LaTour is Associate Professor of Marketing at Auburn University. Winter. However.N. Journalism Quarterly. USA. pp. L. 65 No. Soley. pp. and Cain. 4. VI. "Demographic and Cognitive Factors Influencing Viewers' Evaluations of 'Sexy' Advertisements".JOURNAL OF CONSUMER MARKETING Sciglimpaglia. Vol. Belch. and Reid. (Ed.F. Vol. UT. (1988). "Taking It Off: Are Models in Magazine Ads Wearing Less?". TABLE Al. in Wilkie. Association for Consumer Research.