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An award-winning Colombian advertisement for Axe deodorant asked magazine readers to peel a sticker off the cover of a magazine to see a topless model.


Persuasion Notebook offers quick hits on the business of persuasion from The Globe and Mail's marketing and advertising reporter, Susan Krashinsky. Read more on The Globe's marketing page and follow Susan on Twitter @Susinsky.

Advertisers who think that sex sells may actually be putting their relationship with female consumers at risk. That's especially true for advertising that associates sex with something cheap.

That's the message researchers are drawing from a new study, published in the journal Psychology Science, which demonstrates women's negative reactions toward advertising that uses sexual imagery.

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"Just a quick exposure to an ad was enough for theories of sexual economics to kick in," researcher Kathleen Vohs, a marketing professor at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, said in a statement. Professor Darren Dahl of the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business, was one of the researchers on the study.

Researchers asked participants to view ads that used "a sexually explicit image" while others were shown ads for the same product featuring a picture of a mountain range.

Female participants reacted the same way to the mountain ads regardless of how the product (a watch) was priced. Women reacted negatively to the sexual imagery in the ads, but interestingly, they reacted much more negatively when the watch was priced at $10 versus $1,250 – expressing feelings such as "upset, disgusted, unpleasantly surprised, or angry" in the case of the cheap watch.

Men reacted similarly to the sexual ads regardless of price.

The researchers suggest that "the use of sexual imagery is inimical to women's vested interest in sex being portrayed as infrequent, special, and rare."

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