Advertising bombards us with images of sexualized bodies, especially female bodies: girls in bikinis or scantily clad advertising fries or soda. Women in awkward but suggestive poses advertising auto parts or slowly biting into a cookie. If no woman acts that way in everyday life, why do they use sexualization as a marketing strategy?

A whole tradition in advertising is oriented towards creating messages with sexual content as an infallible technique to advertise a product; However, a recent study from the academic journal Sex Roles casts doubt on this marketing technique. The authors found that sex doesn't sell, after all.

The study by researchers Sarah Gramazio, Mara Cadinu, Francesca Guizzo, and Andrea Carnaghi from the Universities of Padova and Trieste in Italy, reached this conclusion through four experiments which Italian men and women were involved. They were asked if they found the products attractive and the likelihood of buying them by showing them two versions of the same product: one a sexualized person was observed and another without the person.

The models presented were both men and women. In the women's case, they were white and thin, while the men were white and muscular. The items were for everyday use and other more particular products.

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The ads made women feel inadequate.

After seeing the sexualized advertisements, the results showed that women said they had less interest in them and highlighted that they had little intention to buy them, compared to products whose advertising was not sexualized. As expected, the women displayed negative emotions, such as anger, sadness, and agitation. The advertisements made the women feel bad, and thus their interest in the product diminished.

Many academics, feminists, and activists have pointed out that sexualization in the media increases women's dissatisfaction with their bodies by establishing beauty stereotypes far removed from social reality and promoting violence against women by objectifying them. Women also showed little interest in advertising with sexualized male bodies.

Men's response

Men, for their part, were not significantly affected by the ads of sexualized women. After conducting a meta-analysis, the researchers pointed out that such a result could be a consequence of the change in the cultural and advertising landscapes of the last decades, showing more messages about female empowerment.

The meta-analysis concluded that men had created a new appreciation for the variety of advertisements of female and male models that go beyond sexualization.

However, the research also revealed that men with a higher level of hostility towards women said they were likely to buy the products after seeing the ads featuring sexualized women.

Attention to sexualized advertising is essential.

The study pointed out again that the objectification of people within advertising is an issue that must be addressed, since media representations of slim models have a damaging psychological impact on women, and promote tolerance to harassment and support of norms of gender inequality.

Why is sexualized advertising so normalized that it does not motivate most women and men to consume?

Although the authors of the study do not delve much into that question, they do point out that it may be that advertising agencies take sexual representations as inevitable. Perhaps it stems from an advertising industry that has moved very slowly, since its inception, in increasing women's presence within creative agencies.

With information from QUARTZ

Traducción: Valentina K. Yanes