When Sex Doesn't Sell: Using Sexualized Images of Women Reduces Support for Ethical Campaigns

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Short Description:

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.

[Abstract excerpted from original source.]

“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.”

Spot Check Number: 2421
Sponsor: University of Queensland, and University of Melbourne
Researcher/Author: Renata Bongiorno, Paul G. Bain, and Nick Haslam
Research Method: Online Survey
Geographic Region: United States National, International
Number of Participants: 362
Population Descriptors: Australian male undergraduates, and a mixed-gender community sample from the U.S.
Year Conducted: 2013
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Great research!

Many of us in the vegan community have been uncomfortable with these sorts of campaigns, and it is interesting to see the research results. It will be interesting to see if these sorts of campaigns disappear as a result of this research.

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