Researchers analyzed the results of 53 different experiments a so-called meta-analysis involving nearly 8, people, done over 44 years.
All of these experiments examined some facet of the question of whether sexual or violent media content could help sell advertised products. In fact, an evolutionary perspective would say it is just the opposite. Their analysis included studies involving a variety of types of media, including print, TV, movies and even a few video games. They examined studies in which the ads themselves contained sex or violence and studies in which only the media surrounding the ads contained such content.
Robert Lull They found that memory for brands and ads was significantly impaired in programs containing sex, violence, or both sex and violence. Overall, people had less favorable attitudes toward brands that advertised in violent media compared to neutral media. Only one study examined attitudes toward brands in sexual media and that pointed toward less favorable attitudes as well. And people reported less intention to buy brands that were advertised in media containing violence, sex or both, compared to the same brands in media containing no sex or violence.
But what about ads that themselves featured sex and violence? Here, the findings were not as clear-cut. Overall, memory for brands that featured sex and violence was not impaired. But attitudes toward brands that featured sexual ads were significantly lower than those same brands in neutral ads.
Only one study examined attitudes toward brands in violent ads and those results also trended toward less favorable attitudes. Overall, buying intentions did not depend on whether the ad contained sex or violence. While these overall conclusions were clear, Lull and Bushman found several nuances in the studies they examined.
Memory for ads and buying intentions were both improved when the ad content and the media content were matching in terms of sex and violence. For example, violent ads worked best when they were paired with violent programs, Lull said.
But the higher the levels of sexual content in the ads, the more negative the attitude people had toward the brand and the less likely they were to say they would buy the product.
Older people in the studies were less likely to say they would buy products featured in violent or sexual ads, compared to younger people. Bushman said he is continuing work in his laboratory to examine the effects of violent ads on memory.