A new study suggests that ads on sexy television shows don’t perform as well as those on tamer fare, and that advertisers need to look beyond the audience size and demographics in planning ad placements. APR’s Marketplace radio show reports,

The study placed 18 to 31-year-old college students in front of two shows: Sex and the City and the comedy Malcolm in the Middle.
Both screenings included commercial breaks. The researchers found those watching Malcolm in the Middle had better product recall.

The study concluded that sex doesn’t sell. On TV, it can keep people from remembering commercials. (Sex doesn’t sell after all.)

The dilemma for advertisers is that shows with sexual or romantic content often have higher ratings than other shows. We think this finding would make for an interesting neuromarketing study. Putting the subjects in an fMRI scanner while performing a similar experiment would show which areas of the brain were being activated by the television show, and how that affected the brain activation by identical commercials. That data would open a real window on how to target shows by content. Perhaps some ads will resist the apparent recall-damping effect on the sexier shows.

We also wonder whether it’s less the romantic/sexy content and more some other characteristic of the show. An intense drama like 24 would be a particularly interesting test, in my opinion. With guns shooting, buildings exploding, and Kiefer Sutherland in peril (not to mention Los Angeles and the entire nation) before every commrcial break, one would think the effect on commercial recall might be signficant. (One other commercial characteristic of 24 – is there any show on TV that makes it easier to leave the room completely during a commercial break than 24, with its loud, ominous, percussive fade-outs and lead-ins?)

We look forward to hearing more about this study, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, and further investigations of the neuroscience underlying the depressed ad recall for the sexy shows.

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