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Appealing to men and women using sexual appeals in advertising: In the battle of the sexes, is a truce possible?

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Abstract

Sexual appeals remain a very popular advertising technique yet questions regarding their use remain, including how they can be used to appeal to men and women simultaneously. Literature examining what men and women find sexually appealing and the body language used to signal relationship status guided development of two appeal types: ‘Intimate’ portrayed a couple in an intimate stable relationship, whereas ‘Objectified’ showed them as sexual objects. These were combined with different levels of nudity and product relevance and studied experimentally. As expected, both genders preferred intimate appeals though they only rated low nudity intimate adverts for relevant products positively.
Appealing to men and women using sexual appeals in advertising: In the battle of the
sexes, is a truce possible?
Iain R. Blacka1 and Peta Mortonb
a School of Management and Languages, Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland
b Banjo Advertising, Sydney, Australia
Sexual appeals remain a very popular advertising technique yet questions regarding
their use remain, including how they can be used to appeal to men and women
simultaneously. Literature examining what men and women find sexually
appealing and the body language used to signal relationship status guided
development of two appeal types: ‘Intimate’ portrayed a couple in an intimate
stable relationship whereas ‘Objectified’ showed them as sexual objects. These
were combined with different levels of nudity and product relevance and studied
experimentally. As expected, both genders preferred intimate appeals though they
only rated low nudity intimate adverts for relevant products positively.
Keywords: advertising; sexual appeals; body language; experiment
1 Corresponding author: I.R.Black@hw.ac.uk
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Sex and sexual appeals remain an important and widely utilized platform for promoting a
broad range of products and services. Indeed, Reichert, Latour and Ford suggest its use is
now the norm for advertising products such as cosmetics and perfume. Whereas significant
amounts of research questions how and if 'sex sells' (see for example Dahl, Sengupta and
Vohs 2009 or Giebelhausen and Novak, 2012), particularly for female audiences, recent
research has helped develop a nuanced understanding of the relationship between gender and
response to sexual appeals. This work has shown, for example, that cueing relationships or
targeting those with certain personality types or a propensity to seek sensations, can lead
some women to respond positively to sexual appeals .
Whilst this work shows that women's responses can be positive or improved, overall,
research supports the view that irrespective of what is done in terms of the models and levels
of nudity used, the types of product advertised or sex role portrayals; men and women
typically respond differently to sexual appeals. Indeed most often, women will respond less
favourably .
However, this difference is an important issue for advertisers and marketing managers as
there are several situations where they must consider the responses of both men and women
simultaneously and where a sexual appeal may be a legitimate, effective, creative form. These
situations include products targeted at one group but whose purchase or use is influenced by
the other (chocolate, perfume, clothing, lingerie, underwear) and products targeted and
consumed by both sexes (wine, carbonated soft drinks, beds). In addition, media targeting is
not perfect and managers need to understand the consequences of using sexual appeals on
both men and women simultaneously.
Considering the differing responses, should organisations avoid using this type of appeal
when targeting men and women at the same time? Currently, there is a lack of research to
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help answer this question and help managers understand the potential benefits and limitations
this approach has in terms of advertising effectiveness and branding.
The research reported here aims therefore to examine how to appeal to men and women
simultaneously when using sexual appeals and makes both practical and conceptual
contributions. It takes a heterosexual perspective and leaves the gay, lesbian and bisexual
perspectives for later study. From a practical perspective it adds to work on executional
elements in advertising . It provides specific instructions on how to pose models in terms of
their body position, type of eye contact and physical touching (and what characteristics they
should display), when designing sexual appeals to be enjoyed by both men and women.
Conceptually, it highlights how, contrary to much of the work in the area female subjects
can enjoy sexual advertising appeals if they are constructed using consensual, intimate
displays of affection between the models. It also helps explain the negative reactions by
women and men toward adverts using higher levels of nudity and men’s negative responses
when male models are used .
Theoretical background and hypotheses
Appealing to men and women: An impasse?
Research over a significant period of time shows that men tend to respond more favourably to
sexual appeals than women . This appears to hold over a number of conditions such as level
of nudity (LaTour and Henthorne, 1993; Simpson, Horton, and Brown 1996), the gratuitous
use of sexual appeals , relevance or ‘fit' between the product and the use of sexual appeals
and the use of a number of different dependent measures including attitude toward the
advertisement, attitude toward the brand and purchase intention .
The lesson seems to be that as long as there are attractive women used within the
advertisements, then men, on the whole will respond positively. This is not to say that men
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like sexual appeals and women don’t nor that they like all types of appeals the same, but
instead, that they are less discriminating and less likely to be 'turned off' by for example by
gratuitous use or overt visual displays. For women, it seems a more subtle and nuanced
approach is required, with women tending to prefer verbal and complex messages compared
to the preference for visual stimuli by men.
If we are going to use sexual appeals to target both men and women, where does this leave
us? Considering the above and that overall research supports the notion that women are less
stimulated by visual media , we argue that when constructing advertisements for a mixed sex
audience, they should be based on the type of stimulus and features that women have been
found, overall, to find sexually attractive. Whilst this may not necessarily be the best way to
communicate to men, it is likely, because of its sexual nature, to appeal to them nonetheless.
This then leads to the question of how best to achieve this? The next section, considers
evidence regarding responses to sexual appeals and what the different sexes find attractive, to
develop appeals to which men and women may respond favourably.
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Product relevance
Product relevance refers to whether the product being promoted has pre-existing sexual
connotations and hence whether it is ‘relevant’ to use sexual appeals . It has been found to
have a significant effect on men and women’s ratings of these types of appeals where
advertisements for relevant products are rated more highly (appealing- Peterson and Kerin
(1977) or liking- Sengupata and Dahl (2008) compared to those for products without such
meanings. Hence, due to the importance of this factor and that the literature reviewed does
not suggest the relationship will be modified by the type of appeals to be tested and that we
do not plan to constrain processing relevance is integrated into the type of appeal hypotheses.
It is expected that irrespective of gender, adverts for relevant products will be preferred to
those for irrelevant products.
Women's preferences
Whereas the sexual appeals literature has given considerable attention to the importance
that men attach to physical attractiveness , it is clear that women also rate this as important,
though what differs are the traits for which they are looking .
Li, Bailey, Kenrick, and Linsenmeier found that both men and women assess potential
mates for sufficient levels of physical attractiveness and status though what differed was the
standard they had to reach. So what do women tend to find attractive in men? They tend to
prefer a high waist-to-chest ratio , higher levels of muscularity, lower levels of fat and above
average height . As with men, however, physical attractiveness is assessed holistically and its
characteristics such as waist to hip ratio (WHR), body mass index, hormone markers,
averageness, symmetry and skin texture, are considered together . These attractiveness cues
are linked to health and reproductive fitness .
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Beyond physical attractiveness, women may also find signs of wealth and status attractive
and Symons showed that women are positively aroused by acts of intimacy. This view is
supported by Leitenberg and Henning who found that women use more romantic imagery
when fantasizing about sex. Hill takes this further and showed women were more likely to
engage in sexual activity if it is described in an emotionally committed, intimate situation. In
work specifically on advertising, Dahl et al. discussed how ‘relationship commitment’ is a
valuable resource that men can provide for women in a sexual situation and showed that when
male models provided a gift in the picture (signifying a commitment to the relationship), then
women’s ratings of sexual advertisements improved. Taken together this work suggests
women react more favorably toward sexual stimuli that include cues of intimacy and
relationship commitment.
A common observation of sexual appeals in advertising is that they portray a heterosexual
male view of what is attractive and hence the findings that women are less aroused by this
comes as no surprise. Hence it is a rather unsurprising nuance in this debate that women do
react positively to sexual visual stimuli if they are tailored to them . For example, Youn
argues that women’s generally lower arousal by pornographic films compared to men , is due
to the male orientation typically used. Indeed, Laan et al. and Mosher and Maclan find that
women are aroused if the visual erotica is based on equal enjoyment of non-denigrating,
consensual activities between actors portraying a pre-existing relationship. This suggests that
not only should women prefer sexual stimuli using models posed to display an intimate,
committed relationship, but in doing so, beyond just improving women’s ratings they may
actually enjoy this type of stimulus. Therefore the physical, resource and relationship
characteristics described above provide the framework used for constructing one type of
sexual appeals labelled Intimate to be tested in this study. For this type, a mixed sex couple of
physically attractive models are posed to demonstrate intimate, stable relationships and the
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propensity to remain loyal . Details of the specific posing used are provided in the Stimuli
section.
As this research examines advertisements featuring both a man and a woman, we must
consider the female viewer’s reaction to the female model. Social comparison theory
describes how women typically compare themselves to models on the basis of physical
attractiveness with numerous authors finding that this can have a negative effect on women’s
self-esteem and body satisfaction .
However, women can react positively to models if they present a beauty ideal that is seen
as achievable (i.e. not too thin nor their bodies too attractive) and activates a self-
improvement goal . Therefore, if a female model used in an advertisement is not highly
attractive and does not openly display her beauty or physical resources in an 'objectifying'
manner, then she is not expected to pose a specific threat to the female respondents or invoke
damaging negative self-comparison.
If, however, the female model makes conspicuous displays of her body, and the female
respondents feel threatened, then they are likely to respond using indirect aggression .
Common forms of this include spreading gossip and making derogatory comments which in
turn negatively influence how the model and advert are assessed .
To provide a comparison to the Intimate appeals, these demonstrations of physical
attributes are used to help develop an Objectified type appeal where models are posed to
display themselves and their partners as sexual objects and show their sexual availability to
others. Indeed, examples of these types can be found in print advertising and according to
Reichert et al. are increasingly prevalent, thus, making a test of their effectiveness relevant to
practice.
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H1 (a): Women will prefer advertisements where the models are posed in an intimate
manner compared to those where they are posed in an objectifying manner. In addition, they
will evaluate intimate appeals featuring relevant products positively.
Men's preferences
We also expect that men will respond positively to sexual appeals that contain a
physically attractive female model. However, men also tend to be attracted to evidence that
potential partners have the mental resources to form close, intimate relationships and be
faithful and loyal . Indeed, men are able to detect and react to signs of infidelity . Hence,
they are likely to find appeals, where an attractive female model is posed in a way to show she
is capable of a stable relationship, more attractive compared to appeals showing an attractive
female model showing signs that she may be unfaithful. As described earlier, cues to these
traits are incorporated into the Intimate and Objectified appeals.
Regarding the likely reaction to the male model, Hill showed that men overestimate how
attractive rivals are to women, and hence see potential competition as more of a threat than
they should. In turn, this can lead to aiming derogatory statements toward the competitor,
direct aggression or more likely here, avoiding the competition by looking away and avoiding
the advertisement . Social comparison theory also supports the notion that viewing a rival
who possesses superior resources can have negative effects on men and whilst their self-
image appears to be more robust, it can still be damaged . Therefore, if the male model is
posed so that he does not make a conspicuous display of his body shape ('V’) nor financial or
other status related resources, and hence appears as less of a threat, then male respondents
should not have a strong negative reaction to him. If on the other hand the male model makes
a conspicuous display of his physical resources (as is planned for the 'objectified' condition)
then a negative reaction can be expected. Therefore, we hypothesize that:
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H1 (b): Men will also prefer intimate appeals to objectified appeals, but they will
evaluate positively both intimate and objectifying appeals featuring relevant products.
Advertising research conducted over a number of years and exploring the impact of a
number of different stimulus and individual difference variables, has consistently found that,
overall, men respond more favourably than women to sexual appeals containing couples .
Therefore, despite focusing on creating stimuli designed to appeal to women, we hypothesize
that:
H1 (c): Men, will respond more favorably to sexual appeal than women irrespective of
whether the mixed gender couple are posed in an Intimate or Objectifying manner.
Gender and level of nudity
When opposite sex models appear in advertisements (males viewing adverts with female
models and vice versa), men typically prefer higher levels of nudity and women typically
prefer lower levels . The relationship differs though when mixed gender couples (male and
female models posed together) are used. Here, men still responded more favorably via attitude
toward the advertisement (Aad) and attitude toward the brand (Abr) than women , but both
genders tend to prefer fully clothed to partially clothed or nude stimuli.
Women's preference for lower levels of nudity is explained by their overall preference for
cues of intimacy, status and resources (see for example Kenrick 2001) therefore increasing
levels of male nudity are effectively giving them more of the wrong thing. For men, whilst
they enjoy higher levels of female nudity; they do not enjoy seeing more of the male model
and as described before, if he is assessed as being superior, then their self-image can be
damaged and greater body image dissatisfaction can occur. Hence greater levels of male
nudity are expected to reduce men’s ratings of the adverts and we hypothesize that:
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H2: Irrespective of whether the mixed gender couple are posed in an Intimate or
Objectifying manner, both male and female subjects will respond more favorably to
advertisements using lower levels of nudity compared to higher levels of nudity.
Method
A mixed factor experimental design was used where gender, type of sexual appeal (Intimate
or Objectified) and level of nudity (High or Low) were the between-subjects factors.
Relevance of the product to the appeal was the within-subjects factor and was also
manipulated over 2 levels (Relevant or Irrelevant). Subjects were randomly assigned to one of
four conditions, Low Nudity Intimate, High Nudity Intimate, Low Nudity Objectified and
High Nudity Objectified.
Stimuli material
The stimulus material consisted of colour, print style ads featuring a mixed gender couple. To
guide the development of how specifically to pose the models in order to demonstrate the
required intimacy or objectification, work regarding relationship status and body language
was reviewed. Nonverbal behaviour is used to demonstrate relationship status (i.e. being in a
relationship or interested in forming one) with the actual behaviours used based largely on
gender, the stage of the relationship and the actor’s intentions . In her widely cited article,
Moore codes, in great detail, nonverbal behaviours used at the early stages of a relationship
including behaviours used by women to start courtship by soliciting interest in men and
behaviours used to demonstrate a bond has been formed. These works are therefore also used
to operationalise the Intimate and Objectified types of appeal (Table 1).
Intimate appeals
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These appeals used specific nonverbal behaviour elements that cue intimate affection
commonly seen between couples in a stable relationship. A key element of this is
synchronicity or posture mirroring: People demonstrate rapport and approval with each other
by mirroring poses held by the other party and by mirroring sequences of behaviour until full
body symmetry (where each part of the body mirrors their partner’s) is attained . Within the
Intimate appeals therefore, couples mirror, to a large extent, each other's body positions and
do so using a closed stance as this restricts the display of strength or physical attractiveness to
other parties and instead showing a bond between the couple .
Moore describes behaviour ‘constellations’ where several behaviours appear together
to communicate the desired signal. A constellation was used for the model’s faces to show
affection and intimacy by having them gaze into each other's eyes and holding this eye
contact . As it was important to show nurturing and close intimate contact (rather than
sexually explicit contact) instead of kissing, the models heads touched (whilst keeping their
noses a few centimetres apart) and they smiled at each other . Physical contact with other
parts of the body was used as it is a common sign that a relationship has progressed from the
early 'attention getting' stages. To operationalise this, the models caressed the head of their
partner .
Objectified appeals
In contrast, the Objectified appeals were presented through nonverbal behaviours that are
gender specific cues for sexual interest. Key to this is for the women to express enough
interest to elicit courtship by the man, whereas the man must display enough physical
attractiveness and status to elicit a reaction. As the signals attuned to by each gender are
different, the following instructions were given to the male and female model. When trying
to solicit interest, how the female looks around the environment is very important. Moore
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describes how the women can instigate this phase by visually sweeping the location and
briefly holding the gaze of perspective partners, this is quickly followed by looking away.
Therefore, if the female model looks toward the camera she will simulate both the type 1
‘room encompassing glance’ and the type 2 ‘short darting glance’ . To show interest, a further
facial constellation was used encompassing a coy smile (partial opening of the lips and
lowering the eyelids) and to show openness, her neck was elongating and presented . The
final key element for the female is to show her physical shape by standing in such a way as to
split her hip so highlighting a low WHR, a trait across cultures men tend to find attractive .
For a man to sexually objectify himself and the person he is posing with, it is
important for him to show his strength and status. A key way of doing this is to take up an
open body position and open legged stance . Finally, to show his intentions, rather than
engage with the other model or with the audience he stares at her erogenous zones . Figure 1
presents both the Intimate and Objectified appeals used.
Figure 1. Stimulus materials used
Table 1. Summary of specific elements used in the intimate and objectified conditions
Level of nudity and product relevance
The level of nudity (low and high) was operationalised through amount of clothing worn
by models. Although full frontal nudity has been employed in previous research , it is rarely
used in advertising and avoided here. Instead, following the general approach used
elsewhere , in the low nudity condition models wore a white t-shirt and blue denim jeans and
in the high nudity condition, they wore black underwear only. It is worth noting though that in
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following the approach provided by these authors we are using a North American culturally
bound perception of high vs. low nudity and the results must be interpreted accordingly.
Half the treatment advertisements featured a product classified via pre-testing (as detailed
during the procedure section) as sexually relevant (perfume and massage oil) and half featured
products classified as irrelevant (muesli and USB Sticks). These were chosen to be applicable
to both men and women, hence making the use of a mixed gender couple realistic. Fictitious
brand names from Peterson and Ross were used -Vade’ and ‘Cariss’ for relevant products
and ‘Dallacks’ and ‘Vig’ for the sexual irrelevant products.
Production
Colour photographs for the stimuli were taken by a professional photographer in a studio
enabling lighting and background to be held constant. Professional models were selected, with
the aid of their model agency manager, to have a ‘neutral /classic’ look as assessed using a set
of standard cues to attractiveness such as low WHR for the female model, high WCR for the
male model and clear skin tone . Finally, experienced models were used to ensure that the
posing would appear natural and the relationship genuine. Indeed, the photos used came from
the second shoot as the two original models did not work well together and their posing
appeared awkward and contrived. Two advertisements were created for each condition by a
qualified graphics designer using a single design template to keep font size, style and
background constant.
Pre-test
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The adverts were pre-tested on 20 undergraduate students with the same profile as the
main sample. Level of sexual appeal was measured with the single item scale anchored ‘Mild
sexual appeal’ to ‘Overt sexual appeal.’ Intimacy (‘Intimate’ – ‘Not Intimate’) and
Objectification (‘Objectifying’ – ‘Not Objectifying’) were measured using one item each as
was Product Relevance (‘Relevant’ and ‘Irrelevant’). All items were measured using seven
point semantic differential response format. Model attractiveness was measured using Feick
and Higie’s three item scale using a 7 point likert scale anchored ‘Strongly Disagree’ to
‘Strongly Agree.’ The results (see Table 2) support the idea that the manipulations worked as
expected. Importantly, the Intimate and Objectified appeals did not differ in how overtly
sexual they were. Therefore, variations in responses to between these items cannot be
attributed to how overt the appeals are.
Table 2. Pre-test results
Main data collection procedure
Data were then collected from 128 (74 female, 54 male) undergraduate marketing students
attending an Australian University and who completed the task for class credit. Their age
ranged from 18 to 27 years (mean 20.3), which helped control for likely age effects . As well
as being appropriate for theory testing , this group provided an appropriate sample to enhance
external validity as sexual appeal are commonly used to target students and young adults of
this age.
Subjects attended a computer lab and were told the study objective was to ‘discover how
people respond to different advertising appeals.’ Having been randomly assigned to one of
the four treatment conditions, after reading the instructions and completing a practice
example, subjects were exposed to 12 ads in randomised order. This number comprised the
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four targets (two stimulus replicates for the two levels of the relevance factor) and eight
dummy advertisements (equal numbers of fear and humour appeals used to disguise the true
nature of the research) each appeared on the screen for exactly five seconds. The dummy ads
were also constructed for the purpose of the study and adhered to a similar format as the
target ads. The dependent measures were then asked after each stimulus had been shown.
Having viewed all 12 advertisements, demographic data was collected and the subjects de-
briefed.
Measures
The dependent variables used were Aad and Abr. Attitude toward the advertisement was chosen
as it is a widely accepted measure of advertising effectiveness and has been shown to mediate
the relationship between advertising, brand attitudes and purchase intention . It was measured
using seven items from previously used scales: Bad/good, like/dislike, irritating/not irritating,
boring/interesting were taken from Mitchell and Olsen , unpleasant/pleasant and
unfavorable/favorable were from MacKenzie and Lutz and offensive/not offensive from
Droge . Across the four conditions this scale showed acceptable level of internal consistency
with Cronbach’s alphas of .884, .860, .835 and .827. Abr scale, included as it too is a mediator
of purchase intention, was based on work by Gardner and comprised six items, bad/good,
like/dislike, pleasant/unpleasant, high quality/poor quality, tasteful/tasteless and
expensive/inexpensive with an exploratory factor analysis producing Cronbach’s alphas of .
863, .869, .865 and .869. Items loaded as predicted on to separate factors. For both dependent
variables, items were scored on a seven-point scale.
Results
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To test the hypothesis, a repeated measures MANOVA was run with the results shown in
tables 3 and 4. The dependent measures were summated Aad and Abr constructed by summating
ratings from the relevant and irrelevant advertisements. Midpoints for these scales are 49 and
42, respectively (higher score represent more positive ratings). One within-subjects factor
and three between-subjects factors were included in the models. The within-subject factor,
relevance, comprised of the summated scores for both treatment stimulus replications. This
summation was deemed acceptable because when the scores for each replication were treated
as a separate within subjects factor in the models, no unexpected interactions with the other
factors were found. The between-subject factors were gender, level of nudity and type of
appeal. Descriptive statistics appear in Appendix 1.
Table 3: Results of repeated measured MANOVA: Within subjects effects
Table 4: Results of repeated measured MANOVA: Between subjects effects
H1 (a) predicted that for relevant products, women will respond positively to Intimate appeals
and will prefer them to Objectified appeals. The MANOVA shows a main effect for type of
appeal (Aad Type: F 1, 120 = 13.776, p < .000, and Abr Type: F 1, 120 = 11.114, p = .001) with the
descriptive statistics confirming that the Intimate appeals are preferred to Objectified appeals
(MAadIntimate = 54.58 vs. M AadObjectified = 48.59 and MAbrIntimate = 44.60 vs. MAbrObjectified = 39.75).
Specifically, women rated the Intimate appeals higher than the Objectified appeals for both
Aad and Abr (MAadIntimate = 50.99 vs. MAadObjectified = 44.64, t = 2.41, df 72, p = .019 and MAbrIntimate
= 42.42 vs. MAbrObjectified = 37.54, t = 1.95, df 72, p = .055). To determine whether women’s
responses were positive for either the Intimate or Objectified appeals, these were compared to
scale midpoints. In line with the predictions, only the Intimate Relevant conditions were rated
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positively (MAadIntimateRelevant = 58.20, t = 5.61, df 48, p < .001 and MAbrIntimateRelevant = 47.73, t =
3.51, df 48, p = .001). See Appendix 1 for other results. Therefore, Hypothesis 1 (a) is
supported.
Similarly, hypothesis 1 (b) predicted that men would also prefer Intimate to Objectified
appeals, but they will evaluate both Intimate and Objectifying appeals featuring relevant
products, positively. The results support this. Intimate appeals were preferred to the
Objectified appeals MAadIntimate = 61.92 vs. MAadObjectified = 51.88, t = 2.90, df 52, p = .005 and
MAbrIntimate = 49.04 vs. MAbrObjectified = 41.58, t = 3.20, df 52, p = .002). In addition, both the
Intimate Relevant and Objectified Relevant conditions were rated positively compared to the
scale mid-point (MAadIntimateRelevant = 67.71, t = 9.11, df 23, p < .001, MAbrIntimateRelevant = 55.21, t =
7.82, df 23, p < . 001, MAadObjectifiedRelevant = 57.53, t = 3.53, df 29, p = 001 and MAbrObjectifiedRelevant
= 46.80, t = 2.51, df 29, p = .018).
In line with predictions made by the evolutionary psychology literature, hypothesis 1 (c)
stated that irrespective of whether intimate or objectifying posing is used, men will respond
more favorably to sexual appeals compared to women. This is supported by the MANOVA,
which shows a main effect for gender (Aad Gender: F 1, 120 = 17.355, p < .000, and Abr Gender: F 1, 120
= 8.801, p = .004) with the descriptive statistics showing the means scores for Aad and Abr are
higher for males compared to females (MAadMale = 56.34 vs. MAadfemale = 48.84, t = 3.45, df 126,
p = .001 and MAbrMale = 44.90 vs. MAbrFemale = 40.77, t = 2.33, df 126, p = .021). This difference
is also seen between the men and women for the Intimate appeals (MAadMaleIntimate = 61.92 vs.
MAadfemaleIntimate = 50.99, t = 3.94, df 71, p < .001 and MAbrMaleIntimate = 49.04 vs. MAbrFemaleIntimate =
42.12, t = 2.77, df 71, p = .007) and the Objectified appeals in the Aad condition
(MAadMaleObjectified: = 51.88 vs. MAadfemaleObjectified = 46.44, t = 2.21, df 53, p < .032). It is not found
in the Abr Objectified condition (MAbrMaleObjectified: 41.58, vs. MAbrFemaleObjectified: = 37.54, t = 1.58, df
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53, p = .119). This specific result is discussed in detail later. Overall, hypothesis 1 (c) is
supported.
Finally hypothesis 2 predicted that irrespective of the posing used both genders will prefer
adverts using lower levels of nudity. In support of this, the MANOVA shows a main effect for
level of nudity (Aad Level: F 1, 120 = 5.126, p = .025, and Abr Level: F 1, 120 = 5.198, p = .024) but
does not show an interaction between gender and level of appeal (Aad Level: F 1, 120 = .624, p = .
431, and Abr: F 1, 120 = .027, p = .870). This effect is in the expected direction with low nudity
preferred to high nudity overall (MAadMild = 54.24 vs. MAadOvert = 49.56, t = 2.12, df 126, p = .036
and MAbrMild = 44.48 vs. MAbrOvert = 40.34, t = 2.36, df 126, p = .020. However, whereas a
preference was found for men regarding Aad (MAadMaleMild: = 59.68 vs. MAadMaleOvert = 52.75, t =
1.94, df 52, p = .058) it was only marginally significant for Abr (MAbrMaleMild = 47.09 vs.
MAbrMaleOvert = 42.54, t = 1.85, df = 52, p = .070). In addition, whilst the results for women
were in the predicted direction, they were not significant (MAadfemaleMild = 50.33 vs. MAadfemaleOvert
= 47.19, t = 1.23, df 72, p = .224 and MAbrFemaleMild = 42.62 vs. MAbrFemaleOvert = 38.71, t = 1.63,
df 72, p = .107). Therefore Hypothesis 2 is only partially supported.
Discussion and recommendations
The research examined how to communicate to a mixed gender audience using sexual
appeals. This remains an important question considering the range of situations where this
approach is used to target products to men or women or where organisations must consider
the non-target group reactions. Guidance on how to do this was based on evidence from
consumers' responses to sexual appeals, studies exploring what the different sexes find
attractive and body language literature.
Overall, we hypothesized that when trying to appeal to both genders, the best approach
would be to create adverts focussing more on the cues and traits that women find attractive.
This was operationalised using non-verbal behavioural elements to create an intimate, stable
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relationship between the models (a trait that also appeals to men) and contrasted with an
appeal highlighting sexual objectification. As expected, because of the presence of an
opposite sex model, both genders preferred the Intimate appeals.
A preference for one condition is not however the same as a positive reaction to it. To
achieve this, our results suggest advertisers should use low levels of nudity with the Intimate
appeals and use it only to promote sexually relevant products as this mirrors the only
conditions in which both genders responded positively on both dependent variables (see
Appendix 1).
This research also supports existing literature showing a gender effect when couples are
used and expands this body to show the effect when different types of appeal are used, even
ones explicitly designed to appeal to women. We note that this is not seen in the Abr
Objectified condition. The lower scores by men here may be due to consideration of the
advertiser motives and judging the use of this type of appeal as manipulative and
exploitative .
Overall, however, we conclude that whilst men and women can be advertised to using the
same type of sexual appeal, it is still likely to create a more positive response in men. The
difference may be due to the visual medium being more suited to arousing male sexuality than
for women . This reaction may also be extenuated by women’s stronger negative stimulus
avoidance response . Plutchik and others show that humans have a pervasive tendency to
classify incoming stimulus as either good or bad (affective processing). Kamhawi and Grabe
showed women, when compared to men, are more likely to avoid something they classify as
bad. This avoidance manifests itself in actions such as liking it less and identifying with the
characters less.
Whilst finding an overall effect for level of nudity, where lower levels are preferred, this
relationship was only significant for men’s Aad. That is, they preferred the mild appeals to
19
those that were more overt. This work indicates that men do not necessarily prefer
advertisements showing higher levels of female nudity . Indeed it appears that their negative
reaction to seeing more of the male model appears to override their preference for seeing
more of the female. Griskevicius et al. (2009) provide an explanation of this effect and why
men react negatively to male models in sexual appeals. At higher levels of nudity, the male
model is demonstrating his potentially superior physical resources. As the male respondents
do not have the option of direct aggressions, then resorting to indirect forms, they react
negatively to the model and the advert.
Regarding the lack of relationship found with the other dependent measures, we believe
the most likely reason for this is the relatively mild form of ‘overt’ manipulation used being
too weak to elicit the expected reaction in individual cells. In future research even higher
levels of overtness, including implied and actually nudity should be investigated along with
sexually suggestive taglines and other contextual cues as to the activities taking place.
In conclusion, this study shows that it is possible to appeal to men and women
simultaneously when using sexual appeals. In addressing this, it demonstrates, in detail, the
type of posing and appropriate body language to use, and hence it has significant benefits for
practitioners. In so doing, it also builds a picture of how to develop sexual appeals that work
better for women and that certain types of adverts can be inappropriate for men. By building
the hypotheses on human sexual response and body language literature, a conceptual
explanation for these findings and previous work into this type of appeal is given.
This research does not of course answer all the questions about how to advertise to both
genders simultaneously, nor, due to choices taken in the construction of the adverts, were all
advertising design options examined. Future work must examine the responses of people with
homosexual and bisexual sexual preferences. It would also be interesting to test the use of
intimacy in multimedia and non-visual media. As we concentrated only on visual stimuli,
20
further work on exposure rates that work for both genders would be useful. Methodologically,
the adverts were shown on computer screens rather than in print form and we did not explore
the information processing styles of the respondents. We used culturally bound models
(Caucasians with dark hair) and though overall they were rated as attractive, work is required
with different types of models. The results should also be tested with different samples
including older more conservative groups, as age and student status can be expected to affect
the findings.
Overall this research allows us, within the limitations discussed above, to make a
contribution to work explaining how to appeal to mixed gender audiences. We recommend
using appeals that are based on clothed models demonstrating intimacy, relationships and
equality rather than ones just showing sexy bodies. Critically, these should only be used for
sexually relevant products.
21
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27
Appendix 1. Descriptive statistics for Abr and ABr including P values vs. scale midpoints (49 for Abr, 42 for Abr)
Type
Level of
nudity
Summated Aad for relevant
products
Summated Abr for irrelevant
products
Summated Abr Summated Abr for relevant
products
Summated Abr for irrelevant
products
Summated Abr
Male Female Total Male Female Total Male Female Total Male Female Total Male Female Total Male Female Total
Intimate Low M69.23 59.21 62.39 60.15 43.61 48.85 64.69 51.41 55..62 57.77 49.54 52.15 44.46 37.61 39.78 51.12 43.57 45.96
SD 12.75 12.00 12.97 17.30 15.81 17.86 14.06 11.73 13.83 8.45 13.30 12.49 11.25 13.80 13.31 6.72 12.22 11.27
P .000** .000** .000** .038* .082 .958 .002* .287 .004* .000** .006* .000** .446 .104 .292 .000** .502 .030*
N13 28 41 13 28 41 13 28 41 13 28 41 13 28 41 13 28 41
High M65.91 56.86 59.97 51.36 44.00 46.53 58.64 50.43 53.25 52.18 45.33 47.69 41.00 36.43 38.00 46.59 40.88 42.84
SD 5.58 10.91 10.29 15.32 8.51 11.62 9.85 8.62 9.75 7.29 7.98 8.32 10.87 9.78 10.23 7.29 7.78 7.99
P .000** .004* .000** .620 .014* .239 .009* .457 .019* .001* .070 .001* .767 .017* .035* .063 .517 .555
N11 21 32 11 21 32 11 21 32 11 21 32 11 21 32 11 21 32
Total M67.71 58.20 61.33 56.13 43.78 47.84 61.92 50.99 54.58 55.21 47.73 50.19 42.88 37.10 39.00 49.04 42.42 44.60
SD 10.06 11.49 11.85 16.68 13.07 15.39 12.44 10.43 12.19 8.27 11.42 11.02 10.98 12.14 12.01 7.21 10.54 10.02
P .000** .000** .000** .048* .007* .520 .000** .188 .000** .000** .001* .000** .700 .007* .036* .000** .782 .030*
N24 49 73 24 49 73 24 49 73 24 39 73 24 39 73 24 39 73
Objectified Low M58.93 52.36 56.15 51.73 42.82 47.96 55.33 47.59 52.06 47.33 43.64 45.77 39.87 36.73 38.54 43.60 40.18 42.15
SD 12.96 10.22 12.12 12.74 15.62 14.44 10.48 11.91 11.55 10.27 9.60 9.97 9.01 14.11 11.30 8.81 11.48 9.96
P .010* .309 .006* .420 .219 .717 .035* .703 .189 .064 .584 .065 .374 .244 .131 .383 .611 .844
N15 11 26 15 11 26 15 11 26 15 11 26 15 11 26 15 11 26
High M56.13 49.00 52.69 40.73 35.64 38.28 48.43 42.32 45.38 46.27 39.93 43.21 32.87 31.00 31.97 39.57 35.46 37.59
SD 13.82 10.98 12.83 16.85 11.63 14.54 14.20 10.62 12.76 11.01 7.82 9.97 12.60 8.01 10.49 9.90 7.17 8.79
P .065 1.0 .133 .078 .001* .000** .879 .035* .149 .156 .340 .520 .014* .000** .000** .506 .010* .035*
N15 14 29 15 14 29 15 14 29 15 14 29 15 14 29 15 14 29
Total M57.53 50.48 54.33 46.23 38.80 42.85 51.88 44.64 48.59 46.80 41.56 44.42 36.37 33.52 35.07 41.58 37.54 39.75
SD 13.24 10.57 12.50 15.71 13.72 15.17 12.76 11.28 12.54 10.48 8.67 9.96 11.34 11.23 11.28 9.43 9.41 9.55
P .001* .491 .003* .343 .001* .004* .226 .065 .810 .018* .802 .077 .011* .001* .000** .929 .047* .193
N30 25 55 30 25 55 30 25 55 30 25 55 30 25 55 30 25 55
28
Total Low M63.71 57.28 59.97 55.64 43.38 48.51 59.68 50.33 54.24 52.18 47.87 49.67 42.00 37.36 39.30 47.09 42.62 44.49
SD 13.66 11.81 12.92 15.34 15.55 16.51 12.94 11.76 13.02 10.70 12.54 11.91 10.19 13.71 12.49 8.65 11.97 10.86
P .000** .000** .000** .030* .030* .808 .000** .483 .002* .000** .006* .000** 1.00 .041* .081 .002* .750 .056
N28 39 67 28 39 67 28 39 67 28 39 67 28 39 67 28 39 67
High M60.27 53.71 56.51 45.23 40.66 42.61 52.75 47.19 49.56 48.77 43.17 45.56 36.31 34.26 35.13 42.54 38.71 40.34
SD 11.99 11.46 12.04 16.78 10.57 13.63 13.35 10.16 11.85 9.90 8.25 9.34 12.37 9.39 10.71 9.42 7.91 8.72
P .000** .020* .000** .263 .000** .001* .164 .298 .715 .002* .407 .004* .027* .000** .000** .596 .035* .286
N 26 35 61 26 35 61 26 35 61 26 35 61 26 35 61 26 35 61
Total M62.06 55.59 58.32 50.63 42.09 45.70 56.34 48.84 52.01 50.54 45.65 47.71 39.26 35.89 37.31 44.90 40.77 42.51
SD 12.88 11.71 12.58 16.74 13.41 15.43 13.47 11.07 12.65 10.37 10.91 10.92 11.55 11.89 11.82 9.23 10.37 10.08
P .000** .000** .000** .478 .000** .017* .000** .861 .003* .000** .005* .000** .087 .000** .000** .011* .399 .378
N54 74 128 54 74 128 54 74 128 54 74 128 54 74 128 54 74 128
29
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... Moreover, previous research has investigated whether and how product-sexual appeal match influences the effectiveness of sexual appeals (e.g., Black and Morton 2017;Chang and Tseng 2013;Wirtz, Sparks, and Zimbres 2018). With regard to the relevance of product-sexual appeal match, we employ both products that highly match with sexual appeals and those that do not match well with sexual appeals to explore whether the proposed effect would be moderated by the degree of product-sexual appeal match in different studies. ...
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... As a result, customers are more likely to buy the goods because of the advertisement's sexual attractions. When words alone are not doing the job, sex appeal is often utilized in commercials to draw customers' intention (Black and Morton, 2015). Sexual appeal in advertising has a greater impact on women's purchasing decisions and self-esteem. ...
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... Physical attractiveness can increase the perceived credibility of the communicator and his/her persuasiveness (Baker and Churchill 1977). Ads with attractive models have been found to enhance ad evaluation (Reichert, LaTour, and Ford 2011;Black and Morton 2017;Wan, Luk, and Chow 2014), message recall (Shimp 2007), product evaluation (Kahle and Homer 1985), and purchase intention (Caballero and Solomon 1984). This suggests that a model's attractiveness likely increases promotional effectiveness: ...
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... Overall, the literature on this topic has suggested that sexual advertising leads to superior recall of the advertisement (King et al., 2015;Leka et al., 2013;Toverljani et al., 2017;Wirtz et al., 2018), but it has been less clear whether sexual appeals improve brand memory and/or increase consumers' brand purchase intentions (Black & Morton, 2017;Vezich et al., 2017;Wirtz et al., 2018). While several studies have offered evidence that sexual appeals increase memory for both advertisements and brands (e.g., Ferguson et al., 2010), a recent metaanalytic review concluded that sexual appeals improved memory for the advertisement scene but did not impact brand memory (Wirtz et al., 2018). ...
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