Advertising News World

Research debunks advertising’s oldest myth, that sex sells


By John Glenday | Reporter

June 23, 2017 | 3 min read

Research undertaken by the University of Illinois has debunked one of the greatest myths in advertising after finding that the sex sells maxim is largely hogwash.

Sex sells

Research debunks advertising’s oldest myth, that sex sells

A fresh analysis of 78 previous advertising studies conducted over the past three decades found that appeals to our basest animal instinct failed to translate into greater product sales for brands, even if they did prove to be more memorable.

Research lead professor John Wirtz commented: “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.

“We found literally zero effect on participants' intention to buy products in ads with a sexual appeal. This assumption that sex sells - well, no, according to our study, it doesn't. There's no indication that there's a positive effect.”

In practice this meant that products featured alongside scantily-clad appeals for your cash were no more likely to linger in the memory than a straight-laced campaign – although conversely sexual appeals were more likely to elicit a negative reaction toward those brands driven by a ‘surprisingly’ vociferous female reaction to such techniques.

For the purposes of the research sexual appeals were defined as partially or fully nude models; sexual touching or suggestive positions, innuendo and partially hidden words or pictures that communicate a sexual message.

In recent years a counter-reaction against sexist adverts has grown, led by The Sun's decision to scrap its infamous page three models.

Advertising News World

More from Advertising

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +