Study: Sexy, Violent Ads Either Hurt the Product or Don't Work at All


Turns out every other Super Bowl commercial is a waste of everyone’s fucking time.

A new study published in the journal Psychological Bulletin found that featuring sex and violence in advertisements actually distracts viewers, making them less likely to remember information about whatever product was being hawked.

The Ohio State University-based researchers knew that sexual and violent emotional cues demanded more cognitive resources than less generally arousing cues, meaning that there was less brain space to process what the ad was selling.

“It never helps to have violence and sex in commercials,” said co-author Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at OSU in an interview with Bloomberg. “It either hurts or has no effect at all.”

They analyzed 53 experiments which included 8,489 participants in total and ultimately found that violent and sexual ads were viewed less favorably than nonviolent, nonsexual ads. They also had no impact on the consumer’s memory or desire to purchase the advertised product.

The study noted that some advertisers had already integrated this knowledge into their strategies—President Obama’s 2008 campaign and Gatorade both advertised in nonviolent sports video games and saw a positive results from those campaigns. I would argue that it’s not that those campaigns abstained from advertising on sexual and violent video games that made them successful—no Obama campaign manager would even consider pairing his campaign with Call of Duty, surely?—but rather, the point is that context matters as much as content.

“75 percent of the context for an ad during a typical television program is not just the other ads—it’s the program itself,” said the study’s other author Robert B. Lull to CNBC. “If the program is likely to especially draw audience attention at the expense of attention to the ads, the ads won’t be as effective.”

Contact the author at [email protected].

Image via Getty.

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