Sex doesn’t sell after all

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A woman in a bikini making out with a bottle of cold medicine. A manicured hand attempting to caress a dollop of ketchup. These are the kinds of advertisements that denizens of 21st-century consumer culture expect to see, whether they like it or not. After all, sex sells.

But a new study, published in the academic journal Sex Roles, casts doubt on this justification for bombarding the public with images of people (mostly women) baring skin in suggestive poses.  The authors find sex does not sell after all—”a result,” they write, “that questions sexualization as a useful marketing strategy.”

The study, co-authored by researchers Sarah Gramazio, Mara Cadinu, Francesca Guizzo, and Andrea Carnaghi at the universities of Padova and Trieste in Italy, came to this conclusion via four experiments that asked hundreds of Italian men and women about how attractive they found particular products and how likely they were to actually purchase them. Participants saw one version of an advertisement that featured a person in a highly sexualized pose, and another version of the same advertisement, with the person removed via Photoshop.

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