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  • 10.01.07

The Hard Sell

Sex sells, or so goes the adage, but does it sell to everyone, all the time? Not always, according to Tom Reichert, a professor at the University of Georgia who examined men’s and women’s reactions to sexually charged ads. In the research, to be published this fall, Reichert and his colleagues used a simple test called the Sexual Self-Schema to measure how comfortable people are with sex by asking how well a series of adjectives (such as “uninhibited,” “spontaneous,” and “arousable”) describe them.

Sex sells, or so goes the adage, but does it sell to everyone, all the time? Not always, according to Tom Reichert, a professor at the University of Georgia who examined men’s and women’s reactions to sexually charged ads. In the research, to be published this fall, Reichert and his colleagues used a simple test called the Sexual Self-Schema to measure how comfortable people are with sex by asking how well a series of adjectives (such as “uninhibited,” “spontaneous,” and “arousable”) describe them. Subjects with a more open outlook on sex are deemed “sex-positive,” while those who experience sexual guilt or uncomfortable feelings rank as “sex-negative.” Then they watched a series of sexy ads (including one for Victoria’s Secret) and rated how much they liked them.

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The results: Men responded well to sexual content regardless of their attitudes. But “women engage in more of a cognitive appraisal of how they should react,” says Reichert. That means women are more influenced by their existing views on sex. Sex-positive women rate sexy ads favorably, while those with negative views of sex were put off by more-sensual approaches. The simplicity of the test may make it a useful tool for companies aiming to determine how far they should go in using sexy content in their advertising–and in planning media buys.

Source: “Assessing the Influence of Gender and Sexual Self-Schema on Affective Responses to Sexual Content in Advertising,”; Tom Reichert, Michael LaTour, and JooYoung Kim, Journal of Current Issues and Research in Advertising, Fall 2007.

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