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Effect of sexual appeal in advertising on aggression and sexual aggression

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A common trope in marketing and advertising is to use sex appeal in its many guises to imply that a product or service has some association with sexual pleasure. Research in the Journal for International Business and Entrepreneurship Development has looked at the secondary effects of sex appeal used in advertising on adolescents exposed to such marketing materials.

Karnika Bains and Prem Prakash Dewani of the Indian Institute of Management in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India, have specifically focused on a purported association between sexualized advertising and the development of aggression and sexual aggression in adolescents exposed to such advertising. Their findings suggest that repeated exposure to certain kinds of sexualized advertising desensitizes adolescents to the nuances of sexuality and to some degree dehumanizes sexuality. They also found that demeaning portrayals of sexuality in advertising can foster inappropriate attitudes and behavior.

In the current climate, many markets are saturated with sexualized imagery and innuendo, much of which might be described generously as titillating but much of which could be said to touch on the pornographic. Of course, the more graphic often the more publicity a brand gets from its campaign. This is especially true if the advertising is controversial, shock-advertising. It might be felt that controversy could have a negative impact on brand awareness, but this is rarely the case and campaigns continue to push the boundaries of decency. The common stance is one of “act now, apologize later” because “no publicity is bad publicity.”

The current research considers the social cost of sex appeal in advertising. The team explains how they have found that “culture plays a multi-dimensional role in determining the acceptance, effectiveness, and consequences of advertisements using sexual appeal.” Much of the exploitation of sex appeal in advertising is, they add, demeaning to women, and is at a gratuitous level in many advertisements. They conclude from their review of the literature that “sex in advertisements is detrimental to society.” They suggest that it is time for the advertising industry to re-evaluate its self-regulatory norms.

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