A group of Italian researchers has carried out an investigation into sexualization in modern advertising and its impact on buying intentions. It turned out that women show negative emotions towards the ads with oversexualized female models, while men are largely unaffected by it.

The research was published last September. It consists of four studies and explores the reactions and behavior of a few hundred participants. The researchers also found out that gender and excluding non-heterosexual participants didn’t change the results.

Key conclusions from the research

  • Women are less attracted to products advertised by sexualized female models. It also lowers their purchase intentions compared to more neutral ads.
  • Most men don’t care about the level of female objectification in ads, as it doesn’t influence their will to buy products. However, showing sexualized male models causes negative emotions and lowers purchase intentions for both men and women.
  • Women and men developed an appreciation of more neutral and non-sexualized ads over the last decade. It can explain an increased number of negative reactions towards sexualized ads, compared to the results of previous research.
  • Viewing sexualized ads still increases purchase intentions for men with a high level of hostile sexism.
  • The researchers conclude that sexualized marketing nowadays is counterproductive for women and useless for men. They question the famous “sex sell” formula, saying that “sex does not sell,” despite the marketing stereotypes.
  • “The use of sexualization in the advertisement seems paradoxical because our findings demonstrate that sexualized ads may backfire regarding their final aim, which is to sell products,” the researchers conclude.

However, the researchers admit that their approach presents some limitations. For example, the study doesn’t provide any information on the reasons why men reacted negatively to ads with male models. The research also didn’t take participants’ relationship status into account.

You can explore the full research and methodology here.