The literature on the effect of using sexual themes or pictures in advertising to improve viewer recall is unclear. Most of the research in this area has been concerned with whether (any and all) advertisements embedded in a sexual program are better recalled than in an equivalent nonsexual program. Far fewer studies have looked at the sexual nature of advertisements themselves, as well as that of the programs within which they are embedded. Most, but not all, studies suggest that sexual advertisements are more effective than nonsexual advertisements in influencing viewer memory. Memories for advertisements are also influenced by the program context within which they are embedded. Evidence for the congruity effect (similar vs. dissimilar advertisement and program) is also mixed, but most studies indicate that sexual programs inhibit memory. Third, individual difference variables like sex, gender identity, and sexual attitude have been linked to memory for sexual advertisements.
This study examines the memory for more explicit sexual advertisements than have been used in previous studies. It also examines the congruity effect by placing advertisements in comparable programs that differ primarily only in sexual content. Third, it examines whether participant gender identity moderates any of the effects of advertisement or program on memory.
Sex in TV Advertising
This study was concerned with memory for French TV advertisements, with and without an explicit sexual content. Tourists who come to France are often surprised by the amount of adverts with explicit sexual content that are displayed on walls, magazine pages, and TV (Federico & Levy, 1998). Sex is used in advertising not only to attract attention toward the advertisements, but also in an attempt to create positive emotions that might translate into positive brand attitudes and, hence, sales (Endres & Hug, 2004; Schroeder, 2000).
Psychological research in this area, done in America and Britain, seeks to understand whether "sex really sells" (Fried & Johanson, 2008; Furnham & Hiranandani, 2009; Parker & Furnham, 2007) and, if it does, what psychological processes are involved. This study attempted to replicate and extend previous studies using much more explicit sexual advertisements than are usually found in Anglo-Saxon countries. Only explicitly sexual adverts, commonly referred to in France as "porno chic" (or chic porn; Martin-Juchat, 2004), were used in this study. Because of the explicit nature of these advertisements, it was expected that they would be better remembered (free and cued recall) than the product-matched, nonsexual advertisements. The central issue for advertisers is whether and how much to "sexualize" advertisements or whether to place them in nonsexual or blatantly sexual TV programs to encourage brand attitude and recall and, hence (hopefully), sales.
There is good physiological evidence that sexual adverts increase arousal and attention. Belch, Holgerson, Belch, and Koppman (1981) provided physiological evidence to support the contention that sexual adverts attract attention. They measured galvanic skin response as an indicator of attention, and found that sexual adverts elicited a heightened attention response compared to nonsexual adverts.
In an important, early, and naturalistic study, Bushman and Bonacci (2002) presented participants with nine TV adverts for products of broad market appeal, embedded within a violent, sexual, or neutral program. Participants better recalled adverts embedded within a neutral program than advertisements embedded within a sexual or violent program immediately afterwards and 24 hr after their exposure.
Later, Bushman (2005) reported that participants who watched a program without violence or sex selected 35% more of the advertised brands than did participants who watched a program with violence or sex (or both). Moreover, …