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Assessing the Role of Sex Appeal in Marketing Communications. The Case of Ghana.

This chapter talks about the background to the study, statement of
problem, research questions, objective of the study, scope of the study,
significance of the study and the organization and limitation of the study.
Sexual appeals have been a part of marketing since the introduction of
modern advertising. This technique is often used in conjunction with
bandwagon mentality, repetition, or alleged subliminal messages (Mooij,
2005). The use of sex appeals is an increasingly popular technique to sell
products, namely those that are image-based, such as candy, liquor,
cigarettes, jewelry, fragrance, cosmetics and fashion goods. One explanation
is the increase in the exposure to and preponderance of advertisements.
Advertising is a pervasive in our society on television, radio, magazines,
newspapers, handbills, posters, billboards, direct mail and on the Internet.
Advertising is everywhere. We are besieged with commercials at airport
baggage carousels, on corporate telephone lines, on flashing screens at the
local market, etc (Cohan, 2001). Sex appeals seem to capture the attention
of the viewer, which is one of the primary goals of advertising. Sex is
manifested in advertising in many forms. The most common manifestation is
having models wear sexy or revealing clothing (Reichert, 2003).

What is Sex Appeal?

Sex Appeal is the use of sexual or erotic imagery in advertising to draw
interest or attract target audience and to help sell a particular product.
Sexually suggestive imagery is a powerful device employed by advertisers to






consumers. Through connecting sexual ideas





with a given product,

advertisers hope to cloud the distinction between product and flesh, real
product function and sexual satisfaction.
In associating a product with sex, advertisers alter the idea of the product in
the mind of the consumer, and, in doing so; alter the reaction of the
consumer to the product.
The type of imagery that may be used is very broad, and would include
nudity, Pin-up girls, and hunky men, even if it is often only suggestively
sexual. The use of sex in advertising can be highly overt or extremely subtle.
It ranges from relatively explicit displays of sexual acts, to the use of basic
cosmetics to enhance attractive features.
Sex appeal advertising invokes any message, which, whether as brand
information in advertising contexts or as persuasive appeals in marketing
contexts, is associated with sexual information (Reichert et. al. 2001; as cited
in Liu, Li, & Cheng 2006). It has long been an accepted belief that this form
of advertising is very effective at attention-grabbing, considered by some
commentators as a powerful step in reaching ones target market, especially
in the current clutter of 21st century marketing and communications (Levit,
n.d.; Reichert & Lambiase, 2003; as cited in Dahl, Sengupta, &Vohs 2009).
Believed to grab ones attention easily, it is therefore assumed to be more
effective at generating sales; one of the main objectives of commercial
marketing activities, including advertising (Harrel 2002).

Considerable research has been done on ethics in marketing, partly because
marketing is the
business function most often charged with unethical practices. Advertising is
preoccupied with the body and the use of sexuality to play on the physical
appetites and pursuit of pleasure by the viewer, which affects the ability of
men and women alike to be persuaded. The issues surrounding sexual

content in advertisements are more difficult to define and handle because

they reflect a large variety of personally subjective, culturally related and
historically changing values and attitudes (Boddewyn, 1991). For these
reasons, Moral issues in marketing are important, given the fact that
marketing is expected to identify, predict and satisfy customer requirements
profitably (Carrigan et al, 2005). Due to the difficult equation between both
ends of the marketers responsibility, some actions (like certain Ads), have
led to the creation of new laws and regulations regarding the world of
advertising. (Clow & Baack, 2007).
Sex Sells, is a very well known term in the advertising world, but now it is a
much less powerful technique than before, due to the ethical dilemma
surrounding it. Sex appeal is one of the most controversial advertising
approaches found, that is although popular, faces a lot of criticism. Specially,
the fact that many advertisers believe that consumers around the world have
similar needs and desires and global marketing is becoming more
homogenous (Chan, et al 2007).


Consumers today are bombarded by commercial messages from a broad
range of sources. As advertisers seek out ways to break through clutter and
draw attention to their messages, the use of sexually oriented appeals have
been used as a communication technique (Saunders 1996). The Purpose of
this project is to examine the effectiveness of a tool called sexual appeals in
advertisements under marketing communications, its effects thus both
positive and negative as far as marketing communications (advertisements)
in Ghana is concerned.
The main objectives of this research project are to find out if:

Sexual appeals in advertising are successful in attracting the


Consumers can recall the brand name of advertisements which have

used sexual appeals.

Advertisements using sexual appeals have a positive effect or negative

effect on consumers.

Consumer reacts differently with different degree of explicitness.


1. Does the use of Sexual Appeals in advertising successfully attract
2. Can Consumers recall the brand name of advertisements which have
used sexual appeals?
3. Does Advertisements that use sexual appeals have a positive effect or
negative effect on consumers?
4. Do consumers react differently with different degree of explicitness?


This research work will help measure the effectiveness of the use of sexual
appeals in promotional messages, in other words, it will enlighten us about
the attitudes of target audiences or consumers towards the use of sex

appeals in advertisements and to know whether these appeals are

acceptable in our Ghanaian society or not, and to know whether attitudes
developed by the sexual advertisements leads to the same attitudes toward
the brand and purchase intention or not.
Also this work will serve as reference material for other institutions,
professionals, students and researchers.


The report is structured into five main categories.
The first chapter entails the general introduction and its subtopics involving
background to the study, statement of the problem, objectives, research questions just
to mention a few.
The second chapter of this report involves the review of literature, which establishes
intellectual contexts of research related to this work.
The third chapter reports on the research methodology and procedures used in the
The fourth chapter reports on the results with their discussion by research
questions/objectives, including the interpretation of the findings in references to
literature/previous findings.
The fifth chapter entails a summary of the key findings of the study, conclusions and

This chapter presents the types of sexual information in advertisements, the current
theories or theoretical knowledge surrounding how sexual appeals work in
advertising. It is necessary for advertisers to understand how consumers will
process their advertisements in order to make them successful. This particular
research work needs to understand the effects that sexual appeals will have on a
consumers ability to process information in advertising. The summary of this review
justifies the study.

Types of sexual information in advertisements

Lambiase and Reichert (2003) state that there are five types of sexual information
in advertising; nudity, sexual behavior, psychical attractiveness, sexual referents
and sexual embeds.

A. Nudity
Lambiase and Reichert (2003) state that displays of bodies constitute a
crucial source of sexual information. When people were asked to identify the
characteristics in advertising that contained nudity they referred to short
skirts, tight tops, muscular arms, bikini and lingeries. The term nudity does
not imply that models are completely unclothed; a suggestive dress is often
represented by open blouses with partially exposed cleavage, tight fitting
clothing that highlight the body. Nudity is extremely rare in mainstream
advertising and therefore it is often represented by side and back shots of
the model, tub and shower scenes, and in some cases frontal nudity from the
waist up (ibid).
B. Sexual behavior

Lambiase and Reichert (2003) continue to state that although sexual content
in the mainstream advertising leaves out the sex act, it does include sexually
provocative behavioral display. Sexual behavior can be diversified into
advertisements in two ways, as individual behavior or interpersonal
interaction. In the first form models can behave sexually in advertisements
by making eye contact, using different facial expression and inviting smiles
with the viewer, flirting, and moving provocatively. In these ways the author
further claims that models can communicate sexual interest with the viewer
or simple try to bring out sexual arousal. Audiovisual characteristics of
television commercials can emphasize sexual behavior by showing models
moving and talking seductively to the viewers. The second for of sexual
behavior involves two models or more engaging each other in sexual
contact. The degree of explicitness of the encounter can vary from simple
displays of affection, to inferred intercourse (ibid).
C. Physical attractiveness
Lambiase and Reichert (2003) state that physical attractiveness among
humans is a trial that is central for foreseeing interpersonal attraction and
mate selection. Features of physical appearance, including facial beauty and
complexion, play a great role in sexual interest and desire. For this reason,
physically attractive models in advertising can be, and most often are,
considered examples of sex in advertising. Determination of attractiveness
levels is made by a comparison by mean ratings and this rating is considered
from the models hair, face, complexion, eye contact, physique and behavior
D. Sexual referents
Lambiase and Reichert (2003) state that images and words that refer to sex
or activate sexual thoughts, can be considered examples of sex in
advertising. According to the authors sexual referents in advertising can be
defined as message elements, visual or verbal, that serve to bring forth or
develop sexual thoughts. Sexual content takes from in the viewers mind, not
in the advertisement. (ibid)
E. Sexual embeds
According to Lambiase and Reichert (2003) sexual embeds are defined as
referents or forms of sexual representation designed to be perceived
subconsciously. Common types of embeds include objects that are shaped or

positioned like genitalia and small hidden messages of naked people and
body parts. Sexual embeds are integrated into images by advertisements
creators and are planned to go undetected by those people who are viewing
the advertisement (ibid).
In a study by Ramirez and Reichert (2000) the most important definition of
what was perceived as sexual in an advertisement were physical
characteristics. Physical characteristics can be divided into three
subcategories; clothing such as half naked and tight dresses, attractiveness,
and body such as cleavage and chest. There were no differences between
what men and women perceived as sexual concerning clothing, but men
mentioned physical attractiveness as an important factor twice as often as
women did. Overall men were a little bit more likely to define sexiness in this
way (ibid).
The second most frequently definition of what was considered as sexual,
involved movement (Ramirez and Reichert, 2000). According to the author
this category included behavior such as flirting, dancing and shaving,
demeanour such as provocative, sassiness and fun loving, and voices such
as singing, moans and groans. In this category there were no significant
differences between the genders opinions both concerning the definition and
the subcategories (ibid).
The third most frequent definition that characterizes sexiness was contextual
features (Ramirez and Reichert, 2000). This category included photographic
such as its faced paced, camera roams over model, setting, music, lighting
such as hazy and shadows, and shots in black and white. The author state
that there were no difference concerning the first four subcategories
between the genders, but women were more likely to make reference to
black and white as a contributing factor to sexual appeal.
When a couple is in deep embrace, which is the fourth most frequent
definition of sexual appeal, a gender difference emerged (Ramirez and
Reichert, 2000). This category is divided in to four sub categories, voyeurism,
projection, models wanting sex with viewer and fantasy-like. According to the
authors there were no significant gender differences in this category and
there were also few that identified this category as sexiness and therefore
the authors state this category as not meaningful.

The next section outlines the theoretical knowledge necessary to understand how
information in advertisements is processed by consumers, how sexual appeals
influence this process.

Information processing
Information processing refers to the process by which a stimulus is received
interpreted, stored in memory and later retrieved, (Engel, Blackwell and
Miniard 1994)
Nowadays we are exposed to hundreds of ads a day in newspaper and
magazines, on TV, on billboards. Advertising normally forms part of the
multitude of stimuli to which we pay no attention (Kelvin, 1962-65). There
are certain ads that do grab our attention. According to James (1890) cited
by health 2001), attention can be defined as focalization and concentration
of consciousness. This is because we favor the perception of some stimuli
more than others. However, even if attention-getting stimuli are present in
an advertisement it does not necessarily mean that the viewer will
remember it.
The memory process is extremely important to advertising. Time elapses
between the initial exposure to the advertisement and the time when the
viewer will be required to make an actual purchase decision. Thus it is
important to know how consumers process an advertisement and for the
purpose of this dissertation, how sexually oriented advertisements aid or
hinder this process.

Hierarchy of effects model

Consumer researchers have developed those models in order to explain
different levels of consumer response to advertising.
The AIDA model was developed in the 1980s and is in use today. The AIDA
model suggests there are four stages involved in motivating a consumer to
purchase. The advertisement must create attention, capture interest,
stimulate desire, and invoke action, (Bergman and Lindquist, and Sirgy,

Daniel starch developed model in 1925,to be effective an advertisement

must be seen , read, believed, remembered and acted upon. The model
promoted the requirement to make an advertisement easy to understand,
credible and interesting, cited by hill and OSullivan, (1999)
Russell Colleys model DAGMAR has four stages, awareness, comprehension,
conviction and action. Colley believes that an involvement should be
designed to carry the customer along through the stages towards eventual
purchase, (hill and OSullivan, 1999)
These models rely on the assumption that buyers behave rationally. They
encompass the traditional view that it persuades consumer to choose a
brand and that the degree of knowledge learned about a brand corresponds
directly to the attention paid (heath, 2002).
Controversially, Robert heath (2002) has found that advertising campaigns
may be effective in a different and more complex way. His theory of low
involvement processing demonstrates how he believes advertisements
influences brand learning.
The low involvement processing model
Researchers into cognitive science have found that memory is structured into
three components; attention, short term, memory and long term memory.
There are two types of long term memory, sometimes termed conscious
memory and implicit memory, called unconscious or non conscious memory.
(Goode, 2001)

In recent years it has been discovered that advertising has the power to work
at a non-conscious level and so it is able to influence us without us realizing
it. Health (2001) cited Daniel l. Schacter (1996)
You May Think That Because You Pay Little Attention To Commercials On T.V
Or In Newspapers Your Judgment About Products Are Unaffected By Them.
But A Recent Experiment Showed That People Tend To Prefer Products
Featured In Advertisements They Barely Glanced At Several Minutes EarlierEven When They Have No Explicit Memory For Having Seen The
Implicit memory functions in two ways, it records what is received and it also
works conceptually in the semantic memory. The implicit memory cannot
work out conclusions or messages that need to be interpreted (heath, 2001).
Instead it connects feelings and sensations to an advertisement subconsciously so that these can be recalled at a later date (Goodge, 2001). As
the implicit memory cant work out messages or analyze an advertisement it
is necessary for a successful ad to work at both high and low involvement
levels, or in other words reach the conscious and non conscious memory.
The elaboration likelihood model attempts to explain how each of these
theories work and highlights the role of sexual appeals in the memory
Elaboration likelihood model
The elm of persuasion is a theory about the processes responsible for
yielding to a persuasive communication and strength of the attitudes that
result from those processes,
The ELM provides ground work for the different ways that an advertisement
can persuade. There are two ways in which an advertisement can appeal to a
consumer, either factually or emotionally. Factual messages focus on
informational reasons to buy and are likely to be effective if the consumer is
motivated to pay attention to the advertisement. Motivation to process the
message depends upon the relevance of the product advertised, the need for
cognition and the responsibility of the consumer to process the
advertisement (Berkman et al., 1997). When the factual aspects of the
advertisement are what appeals to the consumer, the central route to
persuasion is taken.


Sexual appeals generally take a peripheral route to persuasion. Consumers

who are not motivated to process the advertisement information respond
instead to the feeling the advertisement arouses. Berkman et al .(1997)
Given a highly motivated audience of consumers who are willing to expand
cognitive effort to process marketing information, factual messages work
best. Low motivation and low cognitive ability mean emotional appeals will
be more effective.
Both traditional and new theories of how brand learning works seem to
suggest that sexual appeals will increase the attention paid to an
Sexual appeals as an attention grabbing device
The most common method of attracting attention to an advertisement is to
use creative devises, such as sexual appeals. Creative devises are used not
only to get attention but also to make an ad sufficiently interesting and
appealing for the message to be registered and memorized (heath, 2001). It
has been widely quoted that sexually oriented ads are successful in gaining
the consumers attention, (Alexander and Judd, 1978 cite baker, 1961;
Richman and Hartman, 1982).



An understanding of the concept of arousal is central to the understanding of
the effects of sexually-based stimuli on consumer attention and recall.
Arousal does not seem to be well understood in a consumer context, and
little consumer research has been directed towards uncovering its specific
role in the processing of brand-related information by consumers. Its
importance, however, has been documented by direct attention in at least
two comprehensive models of consumer behavior (Hansen, 1972; Howard,
1977) and in the area of consumer novelty seeking behavior (Venkatesan,

Arousal, usually defined as the degree of tension in the body, is a

physiological state which gives rise to attention and search in the consumer
decision-making process (Howard, 1977, p. 136). In the context of sexuallyoriented stimuli, arousal caused by such stimuli can be thought to relate
directly to attention toward the particular advertisement and may be
mediated by the consumers' innate motivational state. Sexually-oriented ads
may also relate to consumer reaction through stimulus ambiguity since an
unexpected or surprise stimulus (one form of ambiguity as defined by
Howard and Sheth (i969, p. 158) and Howard (1977, p. 140) guides the
consumer search process. In this way, arousal can be thought to be a form of
consumer motivation though its tension-producing effects are not well
The impact of environmental stimulation by a sexually-oriented
advertisement may be illustrated by an equilibrium" model in which a
consumer is initially at an equilibrium with regard to sex. When a sensory
input (an erotic ad, for example) is presented to the consumer, a
disequilibrium state may be created since the incoming cue is associated
with an innate motive (sexual activity). Psychological and perhaps
physiological tension produced by the disequilibrium may then cause
increased cognitive activity directed towards the ad and/or the advertised
product. This enhanced level of information processing then will interact with
the consumer's stable value system to produce an affective evaluation of the
ad and, consequently, the product being advertised. The overall product
image can thus be affected by the interaction of the type of stimulus object

(and the context in which the stimulus is presented) with the structure of
values and beliefs held by the receiver of the advertising message.
Of major importance in this process is the increased cognitive activity
produced by the disequilibrium amount of arousal. A non-sexually-oriented
stimulus may not have caused the same degree of arousal. The primary
conclusion that must be drawn from arousal theory is that, relative to a nonsexy ad, a sexually-oriented communication will (perhaps significantly)
increase the level of consumer attention to the ad. However, there is no
reason to believe that increased attention will positively affect consumer
attitudes and purchase behavior. On the contrary, it is very likely that for
consumer groups with certain sets of values, the image of the brand may
In addition to its attention to individual consumer differences in the form of
values, arousal theory can also be used to understand the impact of sexual
stimuli deemed irrelevant in certain advertising situations. Probably the best
known form of irrelevant sex in advertising is the inclusion of a female model
with no logical relation to the product, who performs only a decorative
function (cf., Courtney and Lockeretz, 1971; Venkatesan and Losco, 1975).
Available theory and research suggests that advertisements with such "sex
object" cues may be tuned out since arousal actually inhibits the impact of
irrelevant information (Howard, 1977, p. 143). Especially in a routinized (or
nearly routinized) buying decision, such an advertising communication would
not indicate that the advertised product would meet the consumer's rather
well-defined set of choice criteria. Therefore, the effectiveness of the ad,
both in terms of cognitive affect and search motivation, may be much less
than for an ad which depicts the brand in a more meaningful, productrelevant way.
Arousal theory also suggests some considerations regarding the
measurement of sensory response to sexually-oriented advertising. Relative
to an effective non-sexual ad, an effective sexy advertisement might be
expected to cause physiological responses that could be tracked by
monitoring devices. Among these are galvanic skin response, pupil dilation,
eye movements, response speed, heart beat, and breathing patterns. Recall
and attitude measurement could determine consumers' evaluative responses
and intended behavior, as well as the amount of learning which occurred
during the exposure to the sexually-oriented ad.


Selective Perception
Another of the set of theoretical concepts which may be used to understand
the effects of sexually-oriented advertising stimuli is selective perception.
Usually defined as the complex process by which consumers select, organize,
and interpret sensory stimulation (Berelson and Steiner, 1967, p. 141),
selective perception can be used as the theoretical basis for studying the
strength and ambiguity of sexually-oriented ads. Research results in the area
of absolute thresholds, differential thresholds, and sensory projection of
ambiguous stimuli may provide important clues as to how consumers
ultimately interpret and evaluate advertisements using sexual themes.
Often used to explain consumer response to pricing stimuli (cf., Monroe,
1973), the absolute threshold marks the lower limit of sensory stimulation. In
the case of sexually-oriented advertising, such an ad must be of a certain
intensity before its sexual meaning may be grasped. "Suggestive" messages
must, therefore, fall above the absolute perceptual threshold before their
sexual connotations are understood by those who see or hear the ad. [An
excellent illustration of the role of absolute threshold levels in explaining
consumer response to sexual innuendo in advertising is provided by Johnson
and Satow (1978) in their discussion of the "Edith Bunker reaction" to a BIC
Razor commercial by a group of older women.] Individual differences and
environmental factors will also affect the consumer's ability to perceive
sexually-implicit stimuli.
Also useful in understanding perceptual influences on advertising stimuli is
the differential threshold, the minimum difference in two or more stimuli
which causes a change in discrimination among those stimuli. This minimum
amount of change necessary to produce a "just noticeable difference" (or
j.n.d.) may be useful in explaining the difference between a sexually-oriented
stimulus perceived as being tasteful, meaningful, and appealing and another
stimulus perceived as tasteless and offensive. In other words, the degree of
intensity of the stimulus or the context in which the stimulus is presented will
make the difference in consumers' perception of and reaction to sex in
Closely related to threshold levels is the ambiguity of the stimulus object.
Theoretical discussions of stimulus ambiguity (e.g., Berelson and Steiner,
1967, pp. 155-57; Howard and Sheth, 1969, pp. 156-67) stress that an
ambiguous object is likely to be perceived in a way which is consistent with

the individual's experiences, prior beliefs, and enduring values. In other

words, "perceptual constancy" causes consumers to perceive ambiguous
stimuli in congruence with their existing cognitive structures. Further, there
seems to be an observable relationship between stimulus ambiguity and
arousal which affects an individual's response to sexually-oriented stimuli. In
an applications sense, advertisers may be well advised to employ
moderately ambiguous themes which may be perceived as sexually-oriented
by some viewers (and thus cause arousal) but may fall below the threshold of
other viewers (and thus may avoid offending them). As noted previously,
however, there may be a significant difference between arousal caused by
observing a sexy ad and enhanced brand image or persuasion due to the ad.

Notwithstanding the importance of arousal and selective perception in
understanding the impact of sexually-oriented communications, self-concept
(or self-image) theory may also make a contribution.
In the context of sexually-oriented advertising, it seems important to
consider the influence of both actual and ideal self-concept. Anecdotal
evidence to this effect is provided in Johnson and Satow's (1978) discussion
of female fantasy ads. Theoretically, a viewer of a sexually-oriented
advertisement would be expected to evaluate the ad on the basis of the role
of the actors or models in the ad. In the case of a "sexy" female model, a
female viewer would be more likely to project herself into the situation if she
perceives herself as actually being sexy (actual self-concept) or, perhaps
more importantly, if she wants to be sexy (ideal self-concept). The crucial
point is that the stimulus should be congruent with either actual or ideal selfimage in order to serve as a link between the viewer of the ad and the
advertised product.
The role of self-concept may also be valuable in explaining the negative
reaction of feminist women's groups to sex in advertising, especially the use
of female models solely as sex objects. These critics would not tend to
project themselves into the advertisement since their values are

diametrically opposed to those embodied in the female model. The result of

this situation is an appropriate negative response. The advertiser is
perceived as attempting to manipulate consumers by using a socially
undesirable appeal (degradation). Other female viewers, who are not
cognizant of a manipulative intent and whose values are consistent with the
model's role, may respond favorably to the same ad. Self-concept theory
suggests that a sexually-oriented stimulus must be appropriate for the
product and congruent to the values of the recipient of the ad in order for the
desired response or projection to occur. Only then will a favorable brand
image be created or maintained by association with the stimulus.
Originally stemming from the early research in communications conducted in
conjunction with the Yale Communication and Attitude Change Program, the
study of distraction effects now plays a central role in understanding the
impact of persuasive messages. While the experimental evidence seems
contradictory (Karlins and Abelson, 1970, pp. 15-18), some research results
seem to have strong implications for the role of sex in advertising. Based
upon the findings reported by Haaland and Venkatesan (1968) and Zimbardo
et al. (1968) and others, communications employing moderately distracting
stimuli which positively reinforce the consumer will probably be more
persuasive than other types of distraction and perhaps than no distraction at
In terms of sexually-oriented advertising, the available research would seem
to indicate that sexual distraction, even if it is irrelevant to the product being
advertised, can play a positive role in the communications process. Even
though distraction hypotheses do not form the theoretical bases for the
reported research on sex in advertising, there is evidence that distraction
provides the rationale for its practical use. Danielenko (1974) cites an
argument for using sex in advertising based on the premise of blocking
counterarguments of a hostile receiver. The claim is that a sexy stimulus
distracts the consumer and no counterarguments are initiated. The result is
that the consumer remembers less about the ad, but is persuaded more than
if a non-distracting stimulus is used.
With respect to this interpretation of the Yale studies in an advertising
context, one qualifier seems appropriate in advertising a sexual stimulus is
likely to be the attention getter; successful processing of the ad content then

depends on the transferal of attention to the advertising message. The

chance of this happening may decrease as the irrelevancy of the stimulus to
the product increases. The success of the irrelevant stimulus in the Yale may
stem from the fact that the primary focus of was the persuasive message, so
that some processing of that message was guaranteed. This could be
investigated empirically; in any case distraction theory seems a useful
foundation for further research.
Aggression Theory
The long-held contention that sexual and aggressive motives are correlated
provides the structure for much of the current literature in aggression theory.
The important point from this line of thinking is the possibility that there may
be a connection between sexually-oriented stimuli and aggressive behavior
on the part of individuals who are exposed to these stimuli.
A thorough review of the aggression/sexual stimuli literature reveals no
managerial significance coming from this body of knowledge. But,
undoubtedly, there would be strong social and public policy implications if
the data revealed evidence of a positive relationship (or, worse yet, a cause
and effect relationship) between viewing sexually-oriented stimuli and
aggressive behavior. This possibility serves as the reasoning behind the
inclusion of a brief review of aggression theory results. These results, as well
as results from other areas relevant to sexually-oriented advertising, are
summarized in the following section of this paper.


The frequent use of sexual stimuli in advertising testifies to a widespread
belief in its effectiveness. However, little research has been directed at
justifying this faith or delineating the nature of the presumed benefits. This
section reviews six marketing studies that have addressed this topic and
summarizes some psychological literature on human response to erotic


The psychology literature can be divided into two areas which seem relevant
to advertising: (1) sex differences in response to erotica and (2) the effects of
erotic stimuli on aggressive tendencies. One important limitation on the
generalizability of these results to advertising concerns the degree of
eroticism of the stimuli used. Psychological research typically contains
pictures or films of explicit sexual acts which by comparison make the most
daring advertising erotica seem mild. Responses to such disparate levels of
sexual stimuli may differ in kind as well as degree. Despite this limitation,
this research may provide insight into the effects of sexually-oriented
communications messages.
An issue of great social concern is how sexually-arousing stimuli affects
aggressive behavior. Aside from the obvious implications for censorship of
pornography there is an ethical problem regarding the use of erotic
advertisements in marketing. Many psychology experiments in the last
decade have attempted to resolve this issue. Results of these studies have
Contrary to prior expectations, mildly erotic stimuli most frequently
decreased subsequent aggressive behavior by subjects angered by a
confederate (Baron, 1978; Frodi, 1977; Baron and Bell, 1977; Donnerstein et
al., 1975; Baron, 1974). Exposure to highly explicit stimuli increased
aggression in angered subjects in some instances (Donnerstein and Barrett,
1978; Jaffee et al., 1974; Meyer, 1962), but had no effect in others (Baron
and Bell, 1977; Donnerstein et al., 1975). Studies which manipulated the
gender of the confederate found no variations in aggression due to this
factor (Donnerstein and Barrett, 1978; Jaffe et al., 1974).
Compared to the stimuli used in these psychological studies, sexuallyoriented stimuli generally used in legitimate advertising are not likely to be
classified as highly erotic. At the current time, the available studies provide
no evidence that the use of mildly erotic stimuli in advertising is socially
irresponsible due to its provoking aggressive behavior.

Sex Differences in Response to Erotica


Psychological research has recently challenged a time-honored stereotype

about gender differences in response to erotic stimuli. In 1953, a survey of
American women reported that they were not aroused by erotic stimuli
(Kinsey et al., 1953), and subsequent surveys periodically corroborated this
finding. Contradictions began to emerge only in the experimental research of
the 1970's. Discussion of these works will cover two primary areas: sex
differences in arousal by erotica, and sex differences in effective/evaluative
ratings of erotica. As discussed previously, sexual arousal may have an effect
on information seeking or serve as a distractor from counter arguing, thus
increasing advertising effectiveness. In addition, the affect and evaluation of
an advertising stimulus could conceivably generalize to the advertisement,
product, and sponsoring company. Differential response by males and
females to erotic stimuli would imply that effective use of this device is
dependent on the ad's target audience.
In several studies, measures of general sexual aroused when subjects were
shown erotica revealed no sex differences (Schmidt, 1975; Schmidt and
Sigusch, 1970). Males reported a greater overall arousal in research by
Sigusch et al. (1970), yet there was no sex difference in frequency of genital
excitation in response to those stimuli. Empirical evidence also contradicted
the stereotype of women being more aroused by romantic, emotional stimuli
(Fisher and Byrne, 1978; Schmidt, 1975).
Despite these findings, there do still appear to be some sex differences in
reaction to erotica. In Schmidt's (1975) study, women reported more arousal
than men to a "same sex" stimulus (referring to the sex of the subject
observer and the sex of the actor in the stimulus). And in other research
(Griffitt, 1973; Schmidt and Sigusch, 1970), females reported less arousal
than men, to the depiction of less conventional sexual acts. Women also
reported more emotional arousal during and after observation of erotic
stimuli (Sigusch and Schmidt, 1970). It must be emphasized that even when
mean differences between sexes were significant, individual variation was
great, with segments of the female samples reporting more arousal than the
average male in several such instances (Schmidt and Sigusch, 1970; Schmidt
et al., 1970).
The same studies also measured affect and evaluation for the erotic stimuli,
and a pattern of sex differences did emerge. Females were more likely than
males to label the stimuli as pornographic and give ratings of disgust, anger
and nausea (Fisher and Byrne, 1978; Griffitt, 1970). Women also tended to

evaluate stimuli using "same sex" and romantic stimuli more favorably and
erotica depicting less conventional sexual acts less favorably than did males
(Schmidt, 1975; Sigusch et al., 1970; Schmidt and Sigusch, 1970). An
exception to this pattern was reported by Fisher and Byrne (1978), who
found no sex differences in affect for stimuli, regardless of erotic theme.
From the evidence cited thus far, male and female subjects seem to have
similar physical reactions to sexual stimuli. Both respond to erotica with
arousal, and both generally respond more strongly to stimuli involving the
opposite sex. The cognitions which accompany that arousal appear to vary
more. Females have a greater tendency to evaluate erotic stimuli negatively,
with possible adverse implications for product advertising. The more
favorable evaluation of "same sex" stimuli by women would indicate that
their use would be more appropriate for female than male products.
However, there may be a greater tendency in an advertising situation to
project oneself into the illustration rather than regarding the actor in the
stimulus as an object of desire, thereby mitigating the negative reaction by
males to same sex stimuli.
Consumer Research on Sexual Stimuli in Advertising
In the marketing literature, six studies have examined the use of sexual
stimuli in advertising. This small body of work is, unfortunately, not cohesive.
The studies have approached different aspects of the phenomenon, using
widely varying designs and variables. Due to their disparity, each study can
best be analyzed in the context of the major question it addresses.
Consumers' Attitudes on the Amount of Sex in Advertising. Wise, King, and
Merenski (1974) asked a large sample of college-age respondents and their
parents to rate the extent of their agreement with the statement
"Advertisers make too much use of sexual appeals in ads." The only
significant variables were age and sex; females and older respondents
agreed more frequently. The finding that females have a more negative
affect for erotica than do males is consistent with psychological research.
Application of these results to a decision about whether to use a sexual
appeal for an older and/or female target market is nonetheless unwarranted.
The attitude statement used is broadly phrased. Agreement may indicate
that only some sexual appeals are sexist or in bad taste, that all erotic
advertisements are immoral, or even that some reach an inappropriate
audience such as children. Reactions of females and older consumers to a

tasteful, appropriate sexual appeal could well be favorable. The dimensions

of the sexy ads to which these groups objected should be explored.
Dimensions Which Consumers Perceived in Sexual Stimuli. Morrison and
Sherman (1972) asked Ss to rate a total of 100 advertisements on six
dimensions. Clustering techniques were used to determine similarities across
respondents' ratings for both sexes. The research pointed to several
interesting findings. First, women differed most in their tendency to perceive
nudity; of those who did perceive it, 68% reported being aroused. Secondly,
not all men perceived nudity in the ads. Sexual arousal was not contingent
on the degree of nudity in the ad; like women, men can be aroused by
suggestive and mildly sexually-oriented stimuli. Thirdly, women tended to
reported both romantic theme and sexual arousal perceptions, or neither.
This contradicts the findings from psychological research that arousal for
women is not contingent on a romantic, affectionate theme. Lastly, female
groups did not differ in their tendency to perceive copy suggestiveness, while
male groups did. Copy suggestiveness may, therefore, be a more important
variable for women than formerly thought.
A few methodological points in the Morrison and Sherman study prevent
unqualified acceptance of these results. The input for the clustering involved
ratings on different ads. Clustering respondents on the similarity of their
perceptions of different stimuli may have resulted in the grouping of
individuals who had seen similar ads, rather than the grouping of people who
have a general tendency to perceive similar dimensions.
Sexual Stimuli and Recall/Recognition Measures. In a study designed to
investigate brand recall, Steadman (1969) found that non-sexual illustrations
resulted in better recall of brand names with which they were paired than did
sexual illustrations. This effect remained in a retest one week later. Recall did
not vary according to the degree of eroticism of the sexual illustrations.
Respondents who favored use of sex in advertising had better recall of brand
names paired with sexual illustrations than did other respondents. Although
plagued by problems of external validity, the findings of Steadman's research
have found further empirical support.
Alexander and Judd (1978) partially replicated the Stead-man study and
included several methodological improvements their study found poorer
"brand recall" for those ads with a female model as opposed to ads which
include inanimate objects. Surprisingly, there was no difference in recall for

brands paired with a picture of a model's face and neck and brands paired
with a full length picture of a nude model. This fact suggests the possibility
that the human element rather than nudity per se is responsible for the
worse recall. The higher interest created by the human pictures may have
distracted subjects from learning "brand names." However, that same
feature could be advantageous in a realistic setting, since it may increase
the likelihood of the ad getting any attention in the first place.
The most convincing evidence for the lack of impact of sexual stimuli on
brand name recognition is presented by Chestnut et al. (1977). Here, the
presence of decorative models improved ad recognition but had no effect on
brand name recognition. Overall, ad recognition was significantly greater
than brand name recognition. These differences were attributed to variations
in the encoding process.

The existence of a badly needed theoretical framework in the Chestnut et al.

study generates some provocative questions for future research. Interesting
issues include the roles of repetition and stimulus/product congruency in the
encoding process. It seems clear that an approach based on these
theoretical perspectives holds the promise of obtaining less equivocal results
than have been thus far demonstrated.

Several conclusions are forthcoming from this review. First, the role of sexuallyoriented advertising stimuli may be more clearly understood through the theoretical
constructs discussed in this paper. It is also evident that the operation of each of
these concepts is mediated by the consumer's enduring value system. The
understanding of sex in competitive advertising is therefore contingent upon the
consideration of personal values in the context of such theoretical constructs.
Another major conclusion stemming from this paper is the apparent opportunity for
research in this area. Such research would offer practical input into the questions of
advertising's role in society and the managerial uses of sexually-oriented
advertising. It is imperative that any such empirical work employ stimuli designed to
be realistic representations of advertising.


Positive and negative roles of sex appeals in advertisements

(Secondary Sources)
Alexander and Tudd (1986) contend that ad creators must be acutely aware
of the reactions (both positive and negative) of their target audience to the
use of potentially controversial sexual appeals as ad stimuli.
There are evidences of both positive effects as well as negative effects of sex
appeals in advertisements there are some authors who think sex appeal has
a positive effect and there are some authors who think sex appeal has a
negative effect on advertisements.
Positive effects of sex appeals
One might ask why do advertisers promote sex appeals? the answer in its
purest form is that it works well in most cares and according to Bumler
(1999), most advertising executives use sex appeal as the most powerful
weapon in their arsenal and therefore they use graphic images to get and
hold to audiences attention. From a marketing perspective, sexual appeal
may be advantageous for the simple reason that they prey on basic
biological instinct and thus, an incredible motivational factor, which is a
desirable attribute to break through clutter. Advertisements that attract
attention have the increased likelihood to affect persuasion, especially in a
saturated media environment typified by passive viewing exposure (Reichert,

heckler and Jackson 2001). Numerous research studies have revealed that
sexual appeal , when used in advertising are attention grabbing, likeable,
arousing, effect inducing, memorable, and somewhat more apt to increase
interest in the topic advertised in comparison to non-sexual appeal (Severn,
belch and belch 1990).
According to Shimp (2003), sex appeals serve several crucial roles in
advertising. Firstly, sexual material in advertising acts as an initial attention
lure to the ad, which is referred to as the stopping power of sex (Yovovich,
1983). Attention is necessary condition for learning attitudinal changes and
behavioral effects, easy to relate, emotion inducing, and most of all,
memorable. Finally the third role of sexual content in advertising is to evoke
emotional responses, such as feeling of arousal, excitement, or even lust,
which in turn can create stimulation and desire for the product (Bumler,
1999). According to Hoyer and McInnis (2001), this role may affect the
consumers mood and can result in favorable cognitive processing of the ad
and increase the persuasion impact. In addition to the aforementioned roles,
Richmond and Hartman (1982) argue that sex appeal in advertising is also
effective in eliciting fantasy or expressing the imaginative fulfillments of
motives, such as sexual gratification.
Latour, Pitts and Snook-Luther (1990) have provided insight into the
emotional impact of sexual appeals, specifically the level and nature of
evoked arousal and attitudes towards the advertisement and brand. They
have found a direct relationship between the positive arousal evoked by
sexual appeals and evolutions of the brand. Nonetheless, whether sexual
appeal elicits a positive or negative reaction depends on the appropriateness
to the advertised product. Richmond and Hartman (1982) ascertain that
sexual stimuli will enhance brand recall only if it has an appropriate
relationship with the product category and the advertising execution. When
sex appeal is used inappropriately such as utilizing it solely as an attention
device, exploiting the female body, degrading the female role or insulting
propriety, weak brand recall may occur and may in fact produce a negative
attitude towards the brand. This implies that the use of sex appeal in
advertising must be appropriate to the type of products being advertised and
when sex appeal is used thoughtfully and appropriately, it may produce
acceptable and satisfactory results.
Negative effects of sex appeal in advertising


While studies have shown that overt sexual portrayals attract attention to an
advertisement, other numerous advertising research have also suggested
that inappropriate and excessive use of sexual content can actually have a
number of negative effects. Consistently, studies have demonstrated that
sexual appeal attracts attention to the ad, typically without a corresponding
advantage for brand information processing. Sexual content may be eyecatching and entertaining, but it may not be communicative and might
distract the viewer from the message.
Reichert, heckler, and Jackson (2001) claim that when sexual stimulus is
used in advertising, viewers perceptual and processing recourses are
directed towards the sexual information in the ad rather than towards the
brand. Severn, belch and belch (1990) also argue that the use of explicit
sexual messages in advertisements may interfere with consumers
processing of message arguments and brand information, which in turn may
reduce message comprehension. Furthermore, according to Stewart and
Furze (2000), initial devices such as sexual stimuli overwhelm the message,
and are negatively correlated to both recall and persuasion. Finally, there has
been evidence to suggest that overt sexual appeals may have detrimental
effects on attitudes toward the ad and brand, and therefore may reduce
purchase intention (grazer and Keesling 1995). These findings led McInnis ,
Moorman , and Jaworski (1991, cited in Hoyer and McInnis 2001) to advance
the proposition that hedonic appeals, such as sexual stimuli, increase
motivation to process the ad execution, but largely at the expense of the
brand. All of these threaten to act as potential hazards of using sex appeals.

The elaboration likelihood model (elm) provides a framework to understand

the role of sexual appeals in persuasion (Shimp 2003). According to elm,
persuasion can occur along a continuum of elaboration. Persuasion resulting
from extensive issue-relevant thinking is referred to as central route
processing, whereby receivers engage in vigilant examination of message
information. As receivers motivation, opportunity, and ability decrease,
receivers are less likely to engage in systematic elaboration and are
consequently more likely to rely on peripheral cues to guide their decision
making. Evidence suggests that this process occurs in response to sexual
appeals in advertising (Severn, belch and belch 1990).


It appears that numerous advertising utilizing sex appeals seems to get

attention but do little for the advertised product. For instance, Judd and
Alexander (1983) found that ads with decorative female models increase
memory for the image in the ad with no difference in actually reading the
information of the ad. In particular, nudity and erotic content was found to
increase attention to the ad, but not necessarily enhance recall or positive
attitudes towards a brand. As a result, sexual appeals stimulate less
argument elaboration and connecting thoughts than will non-sexual appeal.
Additional evidence also suggest that , as the level of nudity and erotism
increase, the intended communication effects either become negative or
dissipate(la tour, Pitts and Snook-Luther 1999). Therefore, despite the
persuasiveness of sexual appeals when used in advertisements, it is likely to
be the result of peripheral processes and as a result may be transient.
In additional to the aforesaid negative effects of advertising, bad uses of sex
symbols in advertising may lead to unacceptable perception by audience.
According to Courtney (1983), the widespread use of sex as an advertising
technique has elicited significant consumer protest. On top of that, as clutter
increases in advertising, consumers appear to be more able to physically
avoid advertising and tune out (Bumler, 1999). For this reason, every
advertiser has pragmatic need to stand out. As marketers focus on
developing messages that stand out, too many of them forget that their
focus should not solely be on the executional devices, but on the core