When does advertising with gratuitous sex appeal to women?

This study draws on differences between men and women’s attitudes about sex, either as an end in itself (men) or as inextricably linked to relationship commitment (women) to understand attitudes toward the gratuitous use of sex in advertising. In line with predictions, four experiments showed that women’s spontaneous dislike of sexual ads softened when the ad could be interpreted in terms of commitment related resources being offered by men to women. In contrast, men’s positive attitudes toward sexual ads were relatively unaffected by the salience of relationship commitment cues. These results not only offer insights into consumer reactions to sexual advertising but also inform theories on how men and women conceptualize sexual behaviors and relationships.

Source: “Sex in Advertising: Gender Differences and the Role of Relationship Commitment” from Journal of Consumer Research

More analysis from the New York Times:

In one experiment, the researchers found that women preferred a sexually explicit watch advertisement when the watch had a bow around it and was described as “a gift from a man to the special woman in his life.” But such positioning hurt the appeal to men. Drawing on previous research in sexual psychology, the authors note that women are more likely to “need the justification of relationship commitment for sexual behavior” and that “men typically felt quite uneasy about having to part with substantial pecuniary resources in a dating context.”

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