International Journal of Advertising

The Review of Marketing Communications

ISSN: 0265-0487 (Print) 1759-3948 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rina20

Is sexy better than funny? Disentangling the
persuasive effects of pleasure and arousal across
sex and humour appeals

Enny Das, Maryna Galekh & Charlotte Vonkeman

To cite this article: Enny Das, Maryna Galekh & Charlotte Vonkeman (2015) Is sexy better than
funny? Disentangling the persuasive effects of pleasure and arousal across sex and humour
appeals, International Journal of Advertising, 34:3, 406-420

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02650487.2014.997423

Published online: 04 Feb 2015.

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control) £ 2 (pleasure level: moderate. high) £ 2 (pleasure level: moderate.doi. should they choose a very sexy ad over a highly funny ad. The Netherlands (Received 22 July 2012. 2015 Vol.997423 Is sexy better than funny? Disentangling the persuasive effects of pleasure and arousal across sex and humour appeals Enny Dasa*. decades of research on the effectiveness of advertising appeals have not answered one key question: is there something particular about sexual advertisements that makes them more persuasive than other appeals? If advertisers want to increase sales. sex. N D 301) examined the combined persuasive effects of different levels of pleasure (moderate. *Corresponding author. cDepartment of Economics and Business Administration. No. high) and arousal (moderate. but not in other. Email: h. The main dependent measures were attitudes towards the ad.ru. 3. At present. high) design.e. The Netherlands.nl Ó 2015 Advertising Association . Maryna Galekhb and Charlotte Vonkemanb. hardly any research has examined whether there is something particular about sexual advertisements that makes them more persuasive than other appeals. Study 1 used a 3 (appeal: sexual. 406 420. Research has used a wide range of different operationalizations to assess responses to emotional appeals. The Netherlands. but comparative evidence regarding the role of arousal is scarce. emotional appeal Although it is evident that sex. International Journal of Advertising. it appears worthwhile to examine whether the implicit assumption hidden in available published studies i. humorous. that arousal plays a key role in sexual. high) for sexual and nonsexual appeals.org/10. arousal. or can ‘good fun’ be equally powerful as ‘good sex’? In spite of its relevance to marketing communication practice. Keywords: sex.. attitudes towards the brand. Two experiments (N D 162. control) £ 2 (arousal level: moderate. Amsterdam. high) between-subjects design. Study 2 employed a 2 (appeal: sexual. VU University. Amsterdam. The vast majority of research has examined the persuasiveness of one spe- cific appeal. and other emotional advertising appeals can help sell products. and mixed (Huang 2004). control) by matching them on pleasure and arousal levels. The results showed that highly pleasant ads increased persuasion regardless of arousal and content. humour.g. creating the infamous ‘apples and oranges’ problem when trying to compare findings across studies. Radboud University. VU University. emotional appeals can be supported by empirical findings. pleasure.1080/02650487. humour. there is evidence that pleasure plays a key role across different appeals. and that sexual appeals outperformed nonsexual appeals only under conditions of moderate pleasure and high arousal. advertising. The present research proposed an empirically robust way to test the persuasiveness of different emotional appeals (sex. Nijmegen. bDepartment of Communication Science. humour) is sur- prisingly scarce. humour. and purchase intentions. 34.das@let. Given the key role attributed to arousal in research on sex- ual appeals in particular.c a Department of Communication and Information Sciences.2014. comparative evidence regarding the persuasive effects across different emotional appeals (e. accepted 28 November 2014) Downloaded by [UNSW Library] at 01:00 02 October 2015 Although it is well known that sex and humour can help sell products. http://dx.

For . Mehrabian and Russell’s (1974). moving. Russell 1989). Baumgartner. and Steenkamp. (Eisend 2009). Huang 2004. The pleasure dimension plays a central role in emotional appeals: the plea- sure principle goes for sexual appeals as well as warmth. ads can be funny. The objec- tive of this research was to provide these tests by introducing a paradigm that matched different emotional appeals on these two key dimensions. a meta-analy- sis on humour in advertising supported the assumed relationship between humour. three. for example. A key question that has received quite some scholarly attention is Downloaded by [UNSW Library] at 01:00 02 October 2015 how many different dimensions of affect play a role in advertising research. however. and Van der Wulp (1996). and Olney et al. Arousal can be defined as the level of alertness or activa- tion on a continuum that ranges from sleep on the one end to frenzied excitement at the other end (e. Heckler. sexy. It also overlaps with the dimension ‘upbeat’ in the scales developed by Edell and Burke (1987). There is some empirical evidence to suggest that different emotional executions do not differ on the pleasure dimension. we start by reviewing the available evidence regarding the effectiveness of different emotional appeals and the workings of pleasure and arousal. Emotional appeals: affective dimensions Emotional appeals can be as diverse as human emotions. and Jackson 2001). Olney et al. or more emotion dimensions (Geuens and De Pelsmacker 1998b). or scary. warm. Huang 2004). and erotic appeals did not lead to significant differences in ad- evoked feelings (Geuens and De Pelsmacker 1998b). that pleasure and arousal constitute two key dimensions. and Van den Bergh 2005. The dimension of arousal is explicitly included in the emotion scales developed and used by Holbrook and Batra (1987). We then describe two experimental studies that tested the persuasive effects of different emotional appeals at experimentally controlled levels (moderate versus high) of pleasure and arousal. Pleasure can best be viewed as a continuum ranging from extreme unhappiness to extreme happiness or ecstasy. humorous. increased persuasion (Holbrook and Batra 1987. and romantic appeals (De Pelsmacker. LaTour 1990. conceptualizations of emotions in advertising. (1991) developed and assessed scales that include a pleasure dimension. Geuens and De Pelsmacker (1998a) found that humour and warmth appeals both affected cheerfulness and carefreeness. Arousal is not universally acknowledged as a key dimension across studies. sex and romantic appeals have been found to increase pleasure. Geuens. Holbrook and O’Shaughnessy 1984. In addition. but Edell and Burke (1987) labeled the dimension ‘warmth’ in their emotion list. two. There is also evidence that different emotional appeals increase persuasion via positive feelings. Most models agree. and (2) assesses the role of the underlying dimensions of plea- sure and arousal across emotional executions in a consistent and robust way. Propositions across advertising models differ. although the latter factor is valenced. (1991). control). For example. whereas the former is valence- free. humour. Eisend 2009. in turn. although this dimension is labeled differently across models. albeit not all. five. affect. A second important dimension in emotional responses to advertising that different mod- els appear to agree on is arousal. and attitudes towards the ad. Mehra- bian and Russell (1974).. Holbrook and Batra (1987). In the next section. Arousal plays a role in many. In another study. four. Researchers appear to agree that pleasure constitutes a key response to advertisements that drives ad effectiveness. ranging from the inclusion of one. Reisenzein 1994. International Journal of Advertising 407 What appears necessary to explicitly test this assumption is research that (1) provides a stringent test of the comparative persuasiveness of sexual versus other emotional appeals (humour.g. Reichert. which.

also. Likewise. Both theories would thus predict that arousal increases or decreases persuasion depending on the level of pleasure an ad evokes. Das et al. and Rutstein 1981). and then propose implications for the persuasiveness of sex (vs. negatively valenced executions such as fear appeals can increase arousal (Huang 2004. 408 E. and control) appeals. The role of arousal across different emotional appeals has remained unclear. thus leading to increased persuasion for pleasurable ads and decreased persuasion for unpleasant ads. Emotional appeals often aim to elicit arousal: humour and erotic appeals are often arousing. and Jackson 2001). Heckler. In the next section. proposing that that arousal polarizes evaluative judgments by increasing selective proc- essing of important (evaluative) cues at the expense of less important ones. Brown 1996). Fishbein. Also consistent with the dynamic complexity hypothe- sis. regardless of whether this pleasure is evoked by sex. we discuss theory and evidence regarding the interplay of pleasure and arousal from other research domains. Horton. depending on her attractiveness (White. and measures of arousal are absent in the vast majority of studies on emotional appeals other than sex. The dynamic complexity hypothe- sis (Paulhus and Lim 1994) builds on the idea that arousal reduces cognitive capacity. any arousal experienced before or during message processing whether or not this arousal is linked to the mes- sage or caused by an unrelated event or action will intensify message valence effects. In a study of people’s evaluation of famous figures and social acquaintances. but. To the best of our knowledge. These authors propose that exposure to sexual stimuli elicits drive-like feelings. Downloaded by [UNSW Library] at 01:00 02 October 2015 Interplay of pleasure and arousal: theory and evidence Different theories converge on the assumption that arousal polarizes affective responses. Ariely and Loewenstein (2006) present a related but slightly deviating perspective. humour. The absence of robust tests of the interplay between arousal and pleasure in advertising is all the more striking considering that sev- eral different theoretical perspectives outside the advertising domain propose that these two factors should interact in their effects on consumer responses. arousal elicited by one movie influenced judgment of a subsequently viewed movie. by allocating a specific role to sexual arousal. example. as the majority of empir- ical studies examined effects within one specific emotional appeal (Baron 1982. Reichert. Paulhus and Lim (1994) found that arousal resulted in simpler perceptions and that these simpler perceptions seemed to lead to more polarized judgments. For example. causing distraction effects after immediate viewing of the second movie and excitation transfer effects with longer time intervals between films (Zillman. arousal polarized brand evaluation by increasing people’s reliance on whichever cues good or bad were perceived to be more diagnostic in an advertising context (Pham 1996). which . there is no published research that has tested the cogni- tive capacity and excitation transfer hypotheses across different emotional advertising appeals. According to Zillman’s (1971) excitation transfer hypothesis. humour. Both models would predict that arousal should polarize persuasion for ads that differ on the pleasure dimension. or any other emotional appeal. because arousal is generic rather than content-specific. Derbaix’s (1995) replication of Edell and Burke (1987) dimensions resulted in a revised scale that yielded a positive and a negative dimension but no arousal dimension. Mody and Cantor 1974). LaTour 1990. arousal elicited by either physical exercise or emotional audio material polarized male participants’ liking of a female target. Simpson. Empirical support for these propositions comes mainly from studies outside the adver- tising domain.

In order to prevent methodological difficul- ties in comparing advertisements with ‘apples’ and ‘oranges’ executions. i.. high) on ad attitudes and attitudes towards the brand differ for sexual and nonsexual appeals? . Zillman 1971). high) and arousal (moderate.e. measured in intelligence quotient (IQ) scores. Thus far. Pham. excitation transfer. increases persuasion for sexual ads regardless of pleasure (Ariely and Loewenstein 2006. humour. pleasure mediated the relationship between arousal and ad effectiveness for sexual appeals. a two way interaction between appeal type and arousal. In this tunnel vision. we used a paradigm that matched different emotional appeals (sex.. Experiments 1. control) appeals. Also outside the advertising domain. Downloaded by [UNSW Library] at 01:00 02 October 2015 Another study found that sexual television programs decreased overall cognitive capacity. Because of conflicting theorizing and because previous research regarding the interplay between pleasure and arousal across different emotional execu- tions is scarce. Overview and research question The main goal of the present research was to disentangle the persuasive effects of plea- sure and arousal for sex (vs. Overall. Theoretical perspectives either predict (a) that arousal should polarize pleasure effects across different appeals. although several studies have yielded research findings relevant to the present research question. According to this perspective. a two-way interaction between pleasure and arousal (Paulhus and Lim 1994. and Elzinga 2002). Research on sexual behaviour has shown that activation of the sexual system facilitates decisions regarding sexual information (Spiering. Gorn.e. which suggests that sexual arousal may increase support for sexual stimuli and actions low on pleasure. and Sin reported (2001) that arousal elicited before participants saw an ad influenced ad evaluations. Experiment 2). or (b) that sexual arousal. the lack of robust empirical tests across different emo- tional appeals and the inconsistency of theoretical perspectives and findings underscore the importance of assessing how arousal and pleasure interact in sexual (vs. and increased appreciation for sex appeals (versus other appeals) during the commercial break (Das et al. Das et al. individuals become primarily focused on information related to sex. but the role of pleasure and appeal type remains unclear. Specifically. i. International Journal of Advertising 409 narrow the focus of attention to a ‘tunnel vision’ (Ariely and Loewenstein 2006). and tunnel vision assumptions across different emotional appeals. but not other arousal. other) appeals. Moreover. 2) and arousal (moder- ate versus high. whereas arousal moderated the relationship between pleasure and ad effectiveness for romantic appeals. and inconclusive. no study has explicitly tested and compared cognitive capacity. control) on the underly- ing dimensions of pleasure (moderate versus high. Ariely and Loewenstein (2006) reported that highly aroused participants were more supportive of dubious seduction strategies. Everaerd. deci- sions regarding sexual information may be facilitated. we formulated the following research question: RQ1:Do the combined effects of different levels of pleasure (moderate. ad evaluations were more polarized in the direction of the ad’s affective tone under high arousal than under low arousal. these findings provide some support for the assumption that sexual arousal produces effects different from other forms of arousal. The objective of the present research was to provide this test. regardless of whether these ads are pleasurable or not. while decisions unrelated to sex may be suppressed. then. especially sexual arousal should increase the effectiveness of sexual ads. 2009). Huang (2004) showed that plea- sure and arousal play a different role in sexual versus romantic appeals. 2009). not all arousal effects are equal.

8% female) from 16 to 52 years old were invited via email to participate in an online experiment. One hundred and sixty-two Dutch consumers (85. The high and moderate pleasure conditions differed significantly (F (1. Three ads were selected for the high pleasure condition based on their scores on per- ceived pleasure: one sexy ad (M D 4. images of couples engaged in seductive behaviour were selected because research has shown that men and women respond similarly to the depiction of sexual images of heterosexual couples (Huang 2004). 32) D 0.49. Design.g.25). We chose a mobile phone because (a) a wide variety of respondents had some affinity with the product.06. pleasure levels across different appeals types were matched based on the findings of a pilot study. Because mobile phones serve several different purposes in human life for example.83. 21) D 0. SD D 6. participants rated four or five images that were presented in random order. 45. The slogan ‘Reach out and touch someone’ was added to create a realistic and complete advertise- ment. In the experiment.67. SD D 1. control ad) £ 2 (moderate pleasure vs. Immediately after viewing an ad.’ was used to eliminate brand awareness effects. par- ticipants rated how pleasant they thought the ad was. Horton and Brown 1996).52. SD D 1. to talk to a loved one. ads Downloaded by [UNSW Library] at 01:00 02 October 2015 with funny content were selected. e. and one neutral ad (M D 4. Das et al.42).96).8% females)1 from 16 to 56 years old (M D 26. These three ads were also equally pleasurable (F(2.2% male. For the sexy ad condition. 14. The pre-selected images were then turned into an advertisement for a mobile phone.60. humorous.53).51. and (b) a product category was needed for which different types of stim- uli (i. p < 0.. For the humorous condition. A total of 23 participants (54. SD D 1. These three ads were equally pleasurable (F(2.g. Pleasure was measured on six-items semantic differentials (Simpson. high) for different emotional appeals (sexual. 410 E. ns). SD D 1. Experiment 1 Experiment 1 examined the effects of pleasure (moderate..20).. Because it was crucial to our study that ads with high levels of pleasure would be perceived as significantly more pleasant than ads with moderate levels of pleasure.. one humorous ad (e. high pleasure) between participants. This is an existing slogan from a Bell Systems commercial that aired in the late 1970s in the US and therefore unlikely to be familiar to Europeans in 2010. ads without overt sexual or humorous content were selected. credible manner. M D 4.001).g. Three ads were selected for the moderate pleasure condition based on their moderate scores on perceived pleasure: one sexy ad (e. Method Materials Online ads were screened for a pilot test. SD D 0. participants and procedure The design was 3 (sexual ad vs. which resulted in a preliminary set of 21 ads. pleased/annoyed. 57) D 12. and one neutral ad (e.49). SD D 0.e. M D 3.71. ‘TCV mobile networks.. For the control condition.01.72) and from different social networks were invited via email or an online link to participate in an .2% males. humorous ad vs. M D 3. A pretest of these materials was then conducted on a separate pool of respondents. A fictitious brand name.05). con- tented/ melancholic (Cronbach’s alpha D 0. control). one humorous ad (M D 4. or close a business deal different appeal types apply. sexual and humorous) could be applied in a realistic.g. ns).75.

The ANOVA also revealed a significant difference for perceived humour (F (2. A 2 (level of pleasure: moderate vs.82.69.3% did not know the telephone provider from the commercial.86.001. Participants were first exposed to the ad.001).05.001). F(1.45. neutral) ANOVA. Horton.156) D 0.45.’ ‘This ad is amusing.156) D 3. high) £ 3 (appeal: sexual vs. SD D 0. SD D 0. The results confirmed that ads in the sexual condition were perceived as more sex- ual (M D 3. International Journal of Advertising 411 online experiment.32. humorous.92). The humorous appeal of the different ads was measured on a threee-item 5-point Likert scale from ‘Strongly agree’ to ‘Strongly disagree’: ‘This ad is Downloaded by [UNSW Library] at 01:00 02 October 2015 humorous. p < 0. who reported being homosexual. SD D 0. All participants were heterosexual except for one person.68.20.002).69. humorous vs.’ ‘This ad is erotic. SD D 0. and control ads were observed (F(2. con- trol) ANOVA confirmed that ads in the high pleasure condition were perceived as more pleasant (M D 4.159) D 11. ns).78. and for text messages on average 47 times per month. p < 0.73).86).51. Of the total participants. p < 0.73.156) D 1. . At the end of the question- naire.10).97) than ads in the sexual condition (M D 2.30. but the difference with the control condition was not signifi- cant (M D 2. The sexual appeal of the ads was verified on a three-item 5-point Likert scale from ‘Strongly agree’ to ‘Strongly disagree’: ‘This ad is asexual. SD D 0.83. Participants who saw the highly pleasant ads had more positive attitudes towards the ad (M D 2. see Figure 1). and Brown 1996) for example. SD D 0.77). p < 0. humorous vs.92.’ ‘This ad is sensual’ (Cronbach’s alpha D 0. 156) D 0. sexual. and then asked to fill out an online questionnaire.’ ‘This ad is serious’ (Cronbach’s alpha D 0. 156) D 1. control) analysis of variance (ANOVA) with post hoc compari- sons. For our main analysis on attitudes towards the ad. 96. control). No signifi- cant differences between sexual. p < 0.74) than participants who saw the moderately pleasant ads (M D 2. Attitudes towards the ad (Aad) were measured on a five-item 5-point Likert scale (De Pelsmacker and Geuens 1999.159) D 212. Pleasure was assessed with six-item 9-point semantic differentials (Simpson. p < 0.001) or the control condition (M D 1. we included manipulation checks for sex and humour in the main study. ns).95. The computer randomly assigned participants to one of the six experimental condi- tions (high or moderate pleasure.72). F (2. All participants had a mobile phone. Most participants were satisfied with their current provider (M D 3. SD D 0.45. high) £ 3 (appeal: sexual vs. and the interaction between level of pleasure and appeal was not sig- nificant (F(2. ns). Appeal had no significant effect on pleasure (F (2. Participation was voluntary.56) than ads in the humorous (M D 1. Results showed a marginally significant difference between the high and moderate pleasure levels for attitudes towards the ad (Aad. participants were thanked and debriefed.87) than ads in the moderate pleasure condition (M D 3. Cronbach’s alpha D 0.58.88).22. F(2. SD D 0. Results The effectiveness of the manipulation of appeal type was tested with a 3-way (appeal: sexual vs. humorous. we used a 2 (level of pleasure: moderate vs.67.29.156) D 8. SD D 0.86. ns). humorous vs. Post hoc comparisons showed that humorous ads were per- ceived as more humorous (M D 2. SD D 0. ns. which they used for conversations on average 197 minutes per month. p < 0. Because the pretest merely assessed whether pleasure levels were matched across different appeals types.01). SD D 0. contented/melancholic (Cronbach’s alpha D 0. and no significant interaction between level of pleasure and ad content (F (2.67. pleased/annoyed.

412 E. Main effect of pleasure on attitudes towards the ad across different appeals (humorous. Second. and purchase . First. The findings extend previous studies (Geuens and De Pelsmacker 1999b) which suggested that differ- ent emotional appeals have similar effects on ad-evoked feelings. the humour condition was perceived as more humorous than the sexual appeal. Likewise. These findings suggest that our control condition may have been funnier than anticipated. This was one of the objectives of Experiment 2. and because theoretical perspec- tives on the interplay between pleasure and arousal are inconsistent. Discussion This study matched sexual. Arousal is a particularly interesting factor because the available empirical evidence suggests arousal plays a more important role for sexual appeals than for other emotional appeals. our findings suggest that different appeals have similar effects on consumers’ appreciation for an ad. in turn. Experiment 2 Experiment 2 set out to replicate and extend Experiment 1 in two specific ways. and underscore the need to replicate the observed findings in a second study. pleasure. sexual. humour. Downloaded by [UNSW Library] at 01:00 02 October 2015 Figure 1. the present experiment also varied arousal levels across different emotional executions. whereas Experiment 1 focused on the role of pleasure. predict attitudes towards the ad. The results indicate that levels of pleasure rather than appeal type determined attitudes towards the advertisements: ads with completely different emotional appeals sex. The present effects were observed even for relatively small differences in pleasure (moderate vs. and control appeals on moderate or high levels of pleasure. or control elicited equal attitudes towards the ad when the level of pleasure was held constant. high) and suggest that larger differences in pleasure would lead to greater persuasive differences. but as equally humorous as the con- trol condition. but also on attitudes towards the brand. the present study was designed to test the effects of emotional appeals. Das et al. which. provided they evoke equal levels of pleasure. It should be noted that although the ads used in this experiment were carefully pre- tested for pleasure levels and checked for specific appeal type. in order to assess whether sexual appeals are more persuasive than other appeals when pleasure levels are controlled for. humorous. and arousal not only on attitudes towards the ad. control) in Experiment 1.

SD D 1. Immediately after viewing the image. 43. 112) D 151.001).46.28. SD D 1. Pleasure. As soon as participants clicked the link. There was a link to a web application in the email. . moderate) across sex versus control appeals on attitudes towards the ad. For the neutral condition. 50) D 0. and two neutral images (M D 6.07). and Brown 1996).99. SD D 0. and purchase intentions.85). F (1. All four images scored high on the pleasure scale and did not significantly differ from each other (F(3. Initially. thus comparing sexual appeals to nonsexual appeals.51. M D 6. SD D 1. Horton. For the sex appeal condition. and that ads significantly differed on levels of pleasure and arousal.19). neutral) ANOVA on the mea- sure of the sexual appeals confirmed that images in the sexual condition were perceived as more sexual (M D 3. and Brown 1996).33. images of couples engaged in seductive behaviour were selected because research has shown that men and women respond similarly to the depiction of Downloaded by [UNSW Library] at 01:00 02 October 2015 sexual images of heterosexual couples (Huang 2004). attitudes towards the brand. From the 24 images. A pretest was then conducted on a separate pool of respondents. SD D 1.001). and two neutral images (M D 4. and arousal. first a selection of eight images was made that matched the criteria for the different experimental conditions sexual/nonsexual.18. stimulated/relaxed (Cronbach’s alpha D 0. The images that were selected for the high and moderate pleasure conditions differed significantly (F(1. Four images were selected for the moderate pleasure condition: two sexual images (M D 4.95. SD D 0.7% males.41. sexual content. This procedure resulted in 15 individual judgments across all 24 images. moderate/high on pleasure.89). Sexual content was measured on a three-item 5-point Likert scale from ‘Strongly agree’ to ‘Strongly disagree’: ‘This ad is asexual. Sexual content. they were asked to rate six images.’ ‘This image is erotic. 112) D 100. such as pleased/annoyed.95) than images in the neutral condition (M D 1. 56) D 0.3% females) from 21 to 60 years old were invited via email to participate in an online experiment.65. One hundred and twenty participants (56.32). participants were asked to rate it on pleasure.10. International Journal of Advertising 413 intentions. online images were screened. SD D 0. such as exited/calm. SD D 1.96). A one-way (type of image: sexual vs. and because the same conceptuali- zation was used in Experiment 1.42).04. p < 0. SD D 0.37.40. which were presented in random order by the computer program. Method Materials Crucial to the present study was the fact that the sex appeals would be indeed perceived as sexual. ns). which resulted in a preliminary set of 24 images. contented/ melancholic (Cronbach’s alpha D 0. Horton. All four images scored moderately on plea- sure and did not significantly differ from each other (F(3. moderate) and arousal (high vs. Four images were selected for the ‘high’ pleasure condition based on their scores on perceived pleasure: two sexual images (M D 6.176. Experiment 2 thus sys- tematically examined the effects of pleasure (high vs. In order to prevent an overly complex research design. moderate/high on arousal.54. M D 4. M D 4. SD D 1.’ ‘This image is sensual’ (Cronbach’s alpha D 0. M D 6.60. Arousal was measured on six-item 9-point semantic differentials (from Simpson. images without overt sexual content were selected.35. p < 0. ns).21. Pleasure was measured on six-item 9-point semantic differentials (Simpson. we dropped the humour condition.60. We then con- ducted ANOVAs to ascertain whether the selected images differed significantly.

42.49.09). the remaining participants were from other European coun- tries (of which 36. pleasure. such as exited/calm. Participants were recruited through different social net- works via email with a link to an online questionnaire. SD D 0.33. hp2 D 0.4%). Between images that were selected for the ‘high arousal’ condition and images that were selected for the ‘moderate arousal’ condition.3% French. 112) D 13.92).71.81.3% German.001).4% Spanish.24). Participation was voluntary.05) than ads in the moderate arousal condition (M D 4. hp2 D 33).04. 52) D 1. Four images were selected for the ‘high’ arousal condition: two sexy images (M D 5. A similar ANOVA on the measure of arousal confirmed that ads in the high arousal condi- tion were perceived as more arousing (M D 5. 414 E. 300) D 145. 9% were bisex- ual and 3. moderate) £ 2 (appeal: sexual vs. control) £ 2 (pleasure: moderate vs.621. moderate) £ 2 (level of arousal: high vs. In the actual experiment.47.24) than ads in the moderate pleasure condition (M D 4. and attitude towards the ad were copied from Experiment 1. participants were asked to answer questions about how they felt after viewing the ad. and 24.7% were Dutch. high) between participants.28.74).80).87.12. A fictitious brand ‘Wrexon’ was chosen to prevent brand familiarity effects. F(1. SD D 0.79. we used 2 (level of pleasure: high vs. 6. p < 0. Immediately after viewing the ad. 5-point Likert scale (Geuens and De Pelsmacker 1999) with a Cronbach’s alpha of 0. and because it is suited to different types of advertising appeals. Downloaded by [UNSW Library] at 01:00 02 October 2015 Design.29) participated the study (53% male. ns). F(1. 7. The slogan ‘ Picture life’ was added to all advertisements. SD D 1. 18. and two neutral images (M D 5. SD D 0. ns). Purchase Intentions (PI) were measured on a four-item. participants. PI). A camera was chosen in order to appeal to a large audience.15. and Brown 1996). All four images scored high on the arousal scale and did not significantly differ from each other (F(3.001. there was a significant difference (F (1. SD D 1. For the main analyses. moderate) £ 2 (level of arousal: .9% Portuguese. SD D 0.7% were homosexual. 54) D 0. AB. Arousal was measured on six 9- point semantic differentials (Simpson. The scales for ad content (sexual).6% were English. SD D 10.93. Three hundred and one respondents older than 18 years (M D 30. neutral) ANOVAs for our dependent measures (Aad. A 2 (level of pleasure: high vs. Four images were selected for the moderate arousal condition: two sexy images (M D 5. Das et al.83.08. high) £ 2 (arousal: moderate vs.49. p < 0. M D 6. 5-point Likert scale (Geuens and De Pelsmacker 1999). Results A unifactor ANOVA on perceived pleasure confirmed that ads in the high pleasure condi- tion were perceived as more pleasant (M D 6. SD D 1. and two neutral images (M D 5.86. All materials were applied to an advertisement for a (transformational) product: a camera. M D 5.37.60. Attitudes towards the brand (AB) were measured on a four-item. All four images scored moderately on arousal and did not significantly differ from each other (F (3. stimulated/relaxed (Cronbach’s alpha D 0. SD D 1. participants were invited via email to participate in an online experiment. SD D 1. 47% female). p < 0. SD D 1.001. Horton. and procedure The design was 2 (appeal type: sexual vs. 93.04. attitude towards the brand and purchase intentions were measured. In addition. 300) D 29. SD D 1. Arousal.70. The majority were heterosexual (87.539.21. 6. M D 5. in which they were randomly assigned to one of eight experimental condi- tions. with a Cronbach’s alpha of 0.5% other).07).23. SD D 0.29. M D 5.

SE D 0. 293) D 6. Appeal and level of arousal had no main effects on attitudes towards the ad. SD D 0.01. respectively (F(1.06).08. high).42. 293) D 7. Again. p < 0. hp2 D 0.09) than ads in the control conditions (M D 2.74).45. 293) D 1.56. p < 0. an interaction between appeal and level of arousal was observed (F(1. 293) D 17. In addition.05. Under conditions of moderate arousal. p < 0.07). A 2 (level of pleasure) £ 2 (level of arousal) £ 2 (appeal) ANOVA on attitudes towards the brand yielded a main effect for pleasure (F(1.70. neutral) on attitudes towards the ad in Experiment 2. p < 0.08. but under conditions of high arousal. control) ANOVA on the attitude towards the ad yielded a significant effect of pleasure (F(1. Simple effects analysis showed that in the moderate arousal conditions. SE D 0. International Journal of Advertising 415 high vs. Highly pleasant ads elicited more positive attitudes towards the ad (M D 3.67).16.05. control) negatively affected attitudes towards the ad in the moderate arousal condition (F (1. hp2 D 0. SE D 0. and F (1. p  0. ns). SD D 0.001. However. ns).02). p < 0. the effect of sexual appeals was more positive (M D 3. hp2 D 0.42.53) than less pleasant ads (M D 2. moderate) £ 2 (appeal: sexual vs. SE D 0.66. 293) D 6. p < 0. 293) D 14.10. a three-way interaction between level of pleasure.293) D 4. respectively.05.19. hp2 D 0. Under high arousal conditions. 293) D 0.40. Interactive effects of pleasure (moderate.02). arousal (moderate. Pleasant ads elicited more positive attitudes towards the brand (M D 3.08) compared to the control condition (M D 2.58. and appeal was observed (F(1.11. 293) D 0. ns). see Figure 2).05).43. and F(1. SE D 0. sexual appeal (vs. p < 0.92.03) and positively affected attitudes towards the ad in the high arousal condition (F(1. Simple effects analysis revealed that appeal had no effect on attitudes towards the ad in the high pleasure condi- Downloaded by [UNSW Library] at 01:00 02 October 2015 tion (F(1. high). hp2 D 0.901.293) D 0.94.03).96. however. level of arousal.72) than moderately pleasant ads (M D 2.14). ns. Appeal and level of arousal had no main effects on attitudes towards the brand. ns) for moderate arousal and high arousal conditions. hp2 D 0.001.52. and appeal (sexual.001.293) D 8.17. and F (1. hp2 D 0.05. 293) D 13. hp2 D 0. hp2 D 0.90. p < 0. SD D 0. 293) D 48. sexual appeals elicited significantly less positive attitudes towards the ad (M D 2. 293) D 8. ns. respectively (F(1. SD D 0.01. Figure 2.20. hp2 D 0. F (1.293) D 1.69.05. F(1. this difference was significant (F (1.96. In the moderate pleasure condition.72. an interaction effect between appeal and level of arousal was observed (F(1.509. . p D 0.02).293) D 0. When highly arousing.07) than control ads (M D 2.03). sexual appeal did not differ significantly from the control appeal (F(1.49.56.293) D 0.01. SE D 0. ads featuring a sexual appeal elicited more positive attitudes towards the advertised brand (M D 3. ns.

ns) for moderate arousal and high arousal conditions.01. SD D 0. highly arousing sexual appeals induced higher purchase intentions (M D 3. This effect was marginally significant (F(1. Under high pleasure conditions. 293) D 11.07) compared to the control conditions (M D 3. Similar to the findings for attitudes towards the ad.76.293) D 0. attitudes were posi- tive regardless of appeal and arousal levels (F(1. ads that elicited high levels of pleasure had pos- itive effects on attitudes towards the ad. but decreased persuasion for moderate levels of arousal. respectively (F(1. attitudes towards the brand were positive regardless of appeal and arousal levels (F(1.293) D 8. sexual content significantly decreased purchase intentions (M D 2. Similar to the findings on Aad and AB. p < 0.45. and F(1.07). neutral) ANOVA on purchase intentions (PI) again yielded a sig- nificant main effect for pleasure (F(1. 293) D 0. and F(1.05. p < 0. ns) for moderate arousal and high arousal conditions. compared to the control appeal. hp2 D 0. Extending Experiment 1.80.13. Again. SD D 0.01).03.56) than less pleasant ads (M D 2. respectively. p < 0. ns. and appeal (F(1. hp2 D 0. In the high arousal conditions.03).01.05.05. 293) D 3. hp2 D 0. F(1. F(1. high arousal condition. elicited signifi- cantly lower purchase intentions (M D 2. Under moderate plea- sure conditions. sexual content led to higher purchase intentions (M D 2.10). These effects were qualified by a significant three-way interaction between level of pleasure.91.00. SD D 0. Replicating and extending Experiment 1.27.74.293) D 0.09. the sexual appeal that was moderately arousing had a marginally significant negative effect on atti- tudes towards the brand (M D 2.07) compared to the control conditions (M D 2. p < 0. 293) D 7. SE D 0.09) than the control appeal (M D 3.62). regardless of appeal. Sexual appeals that scored moderately on arousal. In the moderate pleasure. sexual appeal had a positive effect on attitude towards the brand (M D 3.82. sexual content and arousal only affected brand attitudes under moderate pleasure conditions. hp2 D 0. SD D 0.97. respectively).10). appeal and arousal level played a role in the persuasion process only for ads that scored relatively low on pleasure.04). sexual appeals increased persuasion for high levels of arousal.05. hp2 D 0. hp2 D 0. Discussion The findings of Experiment 2 show a pattern that is highly consistent with the first study. the pleasure main effect was qualified by an interaction effect between appeal and level of arousal (F(1. 293) D 10.575.96. p < 0. 293) D 2.01.99. Specifically. in moderate pleasure conditions. Das et al. moderate) £ 2 (ad content: sexual vs. ns).293) D 0. p < 0. however.10. p < 0.72. p < 0. F(1. attitudes towards the brand. hp2 D 0.05. F(1. SD D 0. ns and F(1. level of arousal. SD D 0.73. A 2 (level of pleasure: high vs. p < 0.83.16. In the moderate pleasure conditions. moderately arousing content (M D 2.10) compared to neutral. F(1. 293) D 8.001. ns.07.01). Appeal and level of arousal had no main effects on purchase intentions.09. SD D 0. hp2 D 0.001. (M D 2. simple effects analysis revealed that under condi- tions of high pleasure. SD D 0. 293) D 4. moderate) £ 2 (level of arousal: high vs. hp2 D 0. Pleasant ads Downloaded by [UNSW Library] at 01:00 02 October 2015 elicited higher purchase intentions (M D 2. SD D 0. SE D 0.03).03).74.03).52.04).65.001. 293) D 7. These effects were qualified by a significant three-way interaction between level of pleasure.03). and appeal (F(1.48. SD D 0. 416 E. and intentions.293) D 0.09).10.09) than control appeals (M D 2.01). These findings under- score the important role of arousal for sexual ads in particular. Previous studies suggested that sexual arousal may elicit a tunnel vision that increases persuasion in particular for . SE D 0. hp2 D 0.08. p < 0.40. SE D 0. 293) D 11. 293) D 0. level of arousal.15. Simple effects analyses showed that under condi- tions of moderate arousal.98.18.

these effects occur only for appeals that are not extremely pleasant. and decrease persuasion. In contrast. as well as pleasure and arousal levels in ads. Sexual appeals are less persuasive than nonsex- ual appeals for moderate pleasure and arousal levels. regardless of whether an appeal uses sex. high) on ad attitudes and attitudes towards the brand differ for sexual and nonsexual appeals? The robust overall pattern of findings across studies suggests that appeal and arousal have no effect on persuasion when pleasure levels are high. high) and arousal (moderate. These results are in line with previous findings. humour. Our main research question was: Do the combined effects of different levels of pleasure (moderate. International Journal of Advertising 417 sexual ads (Das et al. or other elements to sell a product. the present research is the first to explicitly compare the role that arousal plays in the persuasion process for sexual versus nonsexual ads. but not for nonsexual ads. these findings underscore the important role of the . In addition. whereas arousal moderates the relation- ship between pleasure and ad effectiveness for romantic appeals (Huang 2004). Zillman 1971). Overall. Highly pleasant appeals are per- suasive. suggesting that there may be something particular about sexual arousal (Baron 1982. Simpson. Using arousal in not-so-pleasant nonsexual ads may backfire. 2008). By systematically varying appeal. Finally. According to these hypotheses. sex. or some other type of appeal is used to sell a product. creating a tunnel vision that increases persuasion in particular for sexual ads (Ariely and Loewenstein 2006. Although the negative effect of nonsexual arousal under moderate pleasure conditions may be taken as an indication of polarization in a negative direction. Our findings show that sexual content enhanced ad persuasiveness under conditions of moderate pleasure and high arousal. for sexual arousal. arousal should polarize pleasure effects. and generate higher purchase intentions. As far as we know. Sexual appeals outperform nonsexual appeals only when Downloaded by [UNSW Library] at 01:00 02 October 2015 pleasure is moderate and arousal is high. A second implication is that. as long as the advertisement is pleasant. in line with expectations arising from the abundance of research on the role of arousal in sexual ads in particular. no matching polarization in a positive direction was observed under high pleasure condi- tions. 2008). regardless of appeal type (Paulhus and Lim 1994. no polarization was observed for either moderate or high pleasure conditions. General discussion Although much research has been conducted to determine the persuasive effects of differ- ent types of emotional ad appeals. regardless of appeal and arousal. the present study showed that it does not matter if humour. Importantly. arousal decreased persua- sion for nonsexual and moderately pleasant ads. the present research was the first to systematically dis- entangle the effects of pleasure and arousal on persuasion across different emotional executions. pleasure mediated the relationship between arousal and ad effectiveness for sexual appeals (Huang 2004). arousal may boost the persuasiveness of not-so-pleasant sexual ads in particular. Das et al. Taken together. arousal does appear to be espe- cially important for sexual content. The present findings show that arousal produced beneficial persuasion effects for sexual ads. The limited available evidence further supports this notion by showing that pleasure and arousal play a different role in sexual versus romantic appeals. The findings thus suggest that the pleasure principle is paramount in explaining ad persuasiveness: pleasurable ads generate favourable attitudes towards the ad and the advertised brand. our findings suggest that excitation transfer and dynamic complexity hypothe- ses do not necessarily hold in an advertising context. Brown 1996). Horton.

however. humorous. Limitations and future research The objective of the present research was to compare the persuasiveness and underlying processes of sexual versus other appeals (humour. The woman’s head rested in the lap of one man. If an Downloaded by [UNSW Library] at 01:00 02 October 2015 appeal scores high on pleasure. and control ads for dog food (for example) would have introduced the methodological problem of confounding factors. We chose mobile phones and cameras because both products matched with different message strategies. Das et al. The ad generated a storm of complaints for being suggestive of sexual violence and gang rape. Managerial implications The results of the present study raise some interesting issues with regard to the often-used marketing mantra ‘sex sells. Sengupta and Dahl 2008). Although previous research had already established the important role of pleasure. When the sexual content is congruent with the product. there is something particular about sexual appeals: the persuasive power of sexual arousal. and no. A potential drawback of this approach. is that the different appeals across studies may be considered only moderately congruent with the advertised product. whose jeans were unbuttoned. who appeared to grab a handful of her hair. In terms of underlying processes. which was to provide a robust test of pleasure and arousal effects across different appeals. It is possible that the moderate . or an attractive image. Such ads could be classified as not very pleasurable. regardless of its actual content. straddled her. there is nothing particu- lar about sexual appeals. In recent years. Arousal can. certain fashion brands have launched ads that pair sexual appeals with violence. 418 E. such as in lingerie advertisements. and has consequently been banned in Australia (Abraham 2010). and control ads. but so does a good joke. Arousing materials or specific appeals (sex. our findings sug- gest that advertisements do not need to be shocking in order to be effective. humour) do not boost the effectiveness of highly pleasant ads.’ Is there something particular about sexual advertisements that makes them stand out from other emotional executions such as humorous appeals? The answer to this question is yes. In order to do so. it works. For instance. Our findings sug- gest that arousal actually works in terms of persuasion for sexual ads that are rela- tively low on the pleasure dimension. in 2010. and con- trol appeals. Calvin Klein launched a print campaign to promote their jeans line. control). matching product per emotional execution would have interfered with the main goal of this research. Research suggests that ads that feature sexual content incongruent with the advertised or service or product are less effective than congruent ads (Severn. any pleasurable ad works. and sex does not work better than any other appeal. boost the effectiveness of moderately pleasant sexual ads. but highly arousing. however. At the same time. while another man. On the con- trary. humour. Comparing sexual ads for lingerie with humorous ads for beer. thus underscoring the effectiveness of ‘shock’ strategies like the above-mentioned Calvin Klein ad. Hence. however. In terms of persuasion. and Belch 1990). posing with three male models. we needed products that would yield credible sexual. Belch. our research adds to these findings by providing comparative evidence for the relative importance of pleasure and arousal across sex. pleasure principle in persuasion. Findings show that arousal and appeal type play second fiddle to pleasure. Sex sells. The ad depicted a female model. the name of the advertised brand appears easier to remember (Richmond and Hartman 1982.

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