New research from four collaborating universities shows that sex ads don’t actually sell.

The Research

New research from four collaborating US universities shows that sex doesn’t actually sell after all. The study shows that participants any more likely to remember the products or brands that are advertised in ads with sexual content than PG-rated ads.

The collaboration was between Illinois University, Ball State University and California-Davis University. Scientists gathered and performed a meta-analysis of 78 peer-reviewed studies on advertising between 1969 and 2017. All ad studies involved 17,000 consumers in Europe, Asia, Australia as well as the United States.

Participants looked at all sorts of ads, including print, posters, billboards, video or TV. The study found that participants were more likely to remember the sexual ads, but were not more likely to remember the brands they were actually advertising. They also found that participants more likely had negative views of the ads with sexual content than those without. The women in the study particularly did not like the sexualized ads, but men, on average, did.

The participants also were not more likely to buy the products from the sexual ads than the PG-rated ones.

“We found literally zero effect on participants’ intention to buy products in ads with a sexual appeal,” the lead scientist, John Wirtz, said to Illinois University. “This assumption that sex sells—well, no, according to our study, it doesn’t. There’s no indication that there’s a positive effect.”

Other Studies On Sex Ads

There are also other studies that had similar findings. Another meta-analysis study from 2015 by scientists at Ohio State University had found that brands that usually had sexualized ads were found to be “less favourable” than those than had neutral ads.

Another 2016 study that analyzed Super Bowl advertisements, found that sexualized ads scored 9 percent lower than neutral ads in terms of persuasiveness, likability, informativeness, uniqueness. Relevance, the ability to grab attention and perception-changing ability.

Companies and Sex Ads

Several companies in the US have gotten the memo that sex ads are not ideal. Brands such as Carl’s Jr, and Hardees have recently decided to remove sexual content from any of their ads this year. GoDaddy, which is usually known for “sexy Super Bowl spots” has also been slowing down its sexual ads since 2012.

Some companies, however, remain to stick with sex ads. Postmates, the food-delivery company, recently launched an ad that was described by Alison Griswold as “unapologetically sexual, with close-up photos of people—mostly women—frozen in orgasmic excitement over whatever piece of food is poised to enter their mouths.”


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