When Sex Doesn't Sell: Using Sexualized Images of Women Reduces Support for Ethical Campaigns
This research showed that the “sex sells” approach does not increase support for ethical causes. Two studies were used to explore the topic. In the first, a sample of Australian male undergraduates viewed PETA advertisements containing either sexualized or non-sexualized images of women. Those who viewed the sexualized content showed reduced intentions to support PETA, a result explained by the images’ dehumanization of women. The second study replicated these findings using a mixed-gender community sample from the U.S., and also showed that behaviors helpful to the cause diminished for those who had viewed the sexualized advertisements.
“Images of scantily clad women are used by advertisers to make products more attractive to men. This “sex sells” approach is increasingly employed to promote ethical causes, most prominently by the animal-rights organization PETA. Yet sexualized images can dehumanize women, leaving an unresolved paradox – is it effective to advertise an ethical cause using unethical means? In Study 1, a sample of Australian male undergraduates (N = 82) viewed PETA advertisements containing either sexualized or non-sexualized images of women. Intentions to support the ethical organization were reduced for those exposed to the sexualized advertising, and this was explained by their dehumanization of the sexualized women, and not by increased arousal. Study 2 used a mixed-gender community sample from the United States (N = 280), replicating this finding and extending it by showing that behaviors helpful to the ethical cause diminished after viewing the sexualized advertisements, which was again mediated by the dehumanization of the women depicted. Alternative explanations relating to the reduced credibility of the sexualized women and their objectification were not supported. When promoting ethical causes, organizations may benefit from using advertising strategies that do not dehumanize women.”
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