A study in the Journal of Applied Psychology (Vol. 87, No. 3) shows that viewers who watched television programs with sexually explicit or violent content were less likely to remember the advertisements that followed than those who viewed programs containing no sex or violence.
The 324 adults participating in the study were assigned to watch a violent, sexually explicit or neutral television program that contained nine advertisements for products such as cereal, soft drinks and laundry detergent. Participants were then given a pop test to recall the brand names in the advertisements immediately after viewing and again 24 hours later.
Directly after watching, viewers of the sexual or violent programs remembered the advertisements 67 percent less than those who watched neutral programs containing no violence or sexual content, and 60 percent less 24 hours after viewing, according to the study.
The results show that sex and violence do not always sell, says Brad Bushman, PhD, the lead researcher. "Advertisers might want to think twice about sponsoring violent or sexual programs because people--regardless of their age, sex or if they like to watch violence or sex--are less likely to remember their ads when embedded in violent and sexual programs," he says.
Bushman, who in the past has researched the effects of violent content on memory of commercial messages, says there appears to be no difference between the viewing of either violent or sexual programs in the retention of advertising material.
"The reason why people don't remember the ads in violent material is because they are thinking about the violence, not the Tide advertisement," Bushman says. Similarly, he says, after viewing sexual content, viewers are thinking about sex instead of the commercials.
"I like to challenge these conventional beliefs that people hold--that violence sells or sex sells," Bushman says. "A lot of my research focuses on the myths that lay people hold." And in this case, he says, there seems to be no scientific evidence to support the myth.