Women Hate Sexy Ads, Unless They’re for Something Expensive

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Women are turned off by sexually explicit images in advertisements. Unless, that is, the item being advertised is very precious. And valuable. And rare. Like, maybe, a once a year type gift.

At least, that’s the findings of a new study by an international group of marketing professors. Kathleen D. Vohs, Jaideep Sengupta and Darren W. Dahl used made-up advertisements for watches to test a theory in sexual economics that women want sex to be seen as something special, or at least not cheap.  Sexual economic theory  is “probably the least romantic theory about sex you’ll ever have learned,” says Vohs, who’s  a researcher at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. “Countries, cultures, and individuals treat female sexuality as if it has value and is precious.”

Her team showed men and women different wristwatch ads—some with a saucy image, others with a majestic mountain range. In some  of the ads the watch was priced at $10 and others at $1,250.

Before they viewed the ads, the participants had to memorize a 10-digit code. This was to try to distract them and not have them overthink their reaction to the watch marketing material. After reciting the code, the participants were asked how they felt about the ads.

Women who saw the sexually explicit cheap watch ad responded to it negatively; they were upset, disgusted, unpleasantly surprised or angry. Women who saw the sexually explicit pricey watch ad were less negative. (This might explain why there was little backlash over Charlize Theron’s seductive ads for Chanel, but there was over Danica Patrick’s racy ads for GoDaddy, a discount website hosting platform.) When the ad had the image of  mountains, women didn’t seem to favor either watch.

For the men, the price of the watch did not change the way they rated the sexually explicit ads.  Whether the watch was intended for men or women did not change the results either. This might explain why magazines that have tried to create premium porn haven’t really found their audience.

Although the findings, which were published in Psychological Science, were exactly what the researchers predicted, they were nonetheless a little taken aback. “We were able to get these effects even when participants weren’t actually in a purchasing scenario. Just a quick exposure to an ad was enough for theories of sexual economics to kick in,” says Vohs. “This suggests that the process happens at a deep, intuitive level.”

While this study is fascinating, high end advertisers might, before adding even more semi-disrobed women to their campaigns, might want to heed the advice attributed to Jef Richards, former president of the American Academy of Advertising: “In advertising, sex sells, but only if you’re trying to sell sex.”

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Ridiculous theory. As someone who has had a parallel career in Marketing there is is a difference between a high end luxury ad with beautiful photography and a stunning coherent creative vision for a product that makes women feel sexy likely to be something you wear for pleasure / to attract / (like scent, lingerie, clothing, jewels or something tailored to her taste) and a poorly executed stupid campaign exploiting sexual imagery to make something utilitarian or not inherently sexy so. You would not sell a drain plunger on the basis of sex ( though there probably are a few people who this would appeal to ) because it is not a good fit with the brand why would you try a burger or an jnternet company? To make utilitarian / ordinary sexy (which the Pirelli calendar is perhaps the best example of) either need very smart creative and photography or to find a different strategy.


I'm glad that, along with the Hate Speech against fit women BS, people are finally starting to call women on their stupid notions just like men have been called on forever


I have no idea how did they perform this study, but a control should be the same no sexual ads. Maybe women just responded to price, but sex had nothing to it