Sex and violence on TV is the erectile dysfunction of advertising
There is no greater boost to the ageing male ego than to answer the phone and have a young female voice says; “I would like to talk to you about sex.” Chris Moerdyk on the distraction of sex and advertising.
And there is nothing more deflating to the male ego when that same voice adds…”in advertising.”
My answer to this young marketing student, who was battling with an assignment on sex in advertising, was very simply that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
Sex in advertising gets the attention of the rampant hormone brigade and up the noses of the Mother Grundies. It is not something I would recommend because there are far better ways of getting attention.
But, the subject of sex and advertising is critically important because this dodgy combination, along with that of sex and violence, can cost marketers a fortune in wasted revenue.
Some years ago a fascinating study by Iowa State University psychology professor, Brad Bushman, showed that watching movies or TV programmes with strong sexual references and violence interfered with the viewer’s ability to remember ads that were flighted before, during and even after the show.
Which suggests that the popular notion of more sex and violence in shows meaning more viewers and therefore more advertising exposure, is flawed.
According to the study, the most telling impact on sex and violence induced advertising memory loss was in the 18-to-25 age group.
Overall, the study showed that audiences exposed to explicit sex and violence in movies and on TV remembered 67 per cent fewer products advertised.
All of which goes to show that the most critical part of advertising is not the advertisement itself but where it is placed.
Just sticking it in the middle of a whole lot of sex and violence probably just reduces advertising to what George Orwell described as the “rattling of a stick in a swill bucket…”
Now, while this suggests that marketers should be looking beyond the sheer numbers and profiles of viewers of movies and TV shows when placing ads, it doesn’t necessarily follow that sex and violence on our screens will disappear.
Because, as the former dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s Communications Department, George Gerbner, pointed out, in this global economy of ours the movies and TV programmes that sell best all over the world are those that need no translation, have no subtlety of plot and require no understanding of culture.
Of course it would be tempting to suggest that South Africa’s mass medium, particularly television, should advise their advertising clients to not put too much faith in running commercials in among the sex and violence but rather somewhere else where the ads would have a far batter chance of working.
Alas, the time has still not arrived where media worry about whether their clients’ advertising works or not and most are still stuck in the short-term paradigm that no matter how badly the ad is placed and no matter how absolutely crap the ad actually is, as long as the client pays for it, well just “publish and be damned”.
However, as demand increases for advertising to be a lot more measureable and to start delivering credible returns on funds employed, perhaps the media will have to re-think accepting any ad for any position without considering the economic consequences.
Follow Chris Moerdyk on Twitter @chrismoerdyk