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Does Sex Really Sell?

‘Your Brain on Shopping’ brings science to bear on the age-old advertising cliché.

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Sex sells — or so we’re told. But sexy imagery or a sexualized message doesn’t necessarily get people to spend money so much as grab their attention.

“We found that people remember ads with sexual appeals more than those without, but that effect doesn’t extend to the brands or products that are featured in the ads,” says University of Illinois advertising professor John Wirtz, who authored a 2017 study on the topic.

Not only are shoppers not necessarily inclined to buy a product just because it’s associated with sexiness, but they may actually be less likely to remember the product itself. The sex appeal can be so distracting that viewers may not even pay attention to the specific item — a hamburger, a perfume, a pair of jeans — the commercial’s promoting. Since so many ads use the same sexy symbols and imagery, the brands are often indistinguishable to viewers.

And that doesn’t even include the potential backlash from female consumers when commercials are rife with objectified female bodies.

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