Marketing Essays - Sexual Appeals

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Sexual Appeals


The purpose of this dissertation is to find out the effectiveness of a tool called sexual appeals used in the advertisement on advertisement recognition, brand recall and perception. Appeals utilizing overt sexual information are common in mainstream consumer advertising. Sex appeal is pervasive in advertising and is used with increasing frequency. As advertisers seek out ways to break through clutter and draw attention to their messages, the use of sexually oriented appeals have been used as a communication technique (Saunders 1996). Researchers like (Soley and Kurzbard, 1986), believe that advertisers are increasingly using sexual appeals in order to draw attention to their products and these appeals are becoming more explicit. But it is unclear as to whether the effects of sexual appeals have a more of positive effect or negative effect. Many researchers for example, Reichert, heckler, and Jackson (2001) claim that when sexual stimulus is used in advertising, viewer’s perceptual and processing resources are directed towards the sexual information in the ad rather than towards the brand. There also exist a substantial body of research that suggest sexual appeals can lead to successful advertising for example la tour (1990).

The author decided to investigate the effects of sexual appeals because he found both the positive effect as well as negative effect of sexual appeals in advertisements and there seems to be a little conclusive evidence of its effectiveness.

The main objectives of the research project are to find out if:

  • Sexual appeals in advertising are successful in attracting the consumers.
  • Consumers can recall the brand name of advertisements which have used sexual appeals.
  • Advertisements using sexual appeals have a positive effect or negative effect on consumers.
  • Consumer reacts differently with different degree of explicitness.

First the author will use the secondary sources to describe what sexual appeals are and then the effects of sexual appeals (negative and positive). Then the author will try to explain the role sex appeal plays in advertisements.

Primary research will be conducted to investigate further the effect of sexual appeals in advertising. An analysis of the results and then the limitations of the project will follow this. Finally the author will draw conclusions from both the secondary and primary research presented.

What are sexual appeals?

Sex appeal is a tool used by the advertisers in their advertisements to attract the target audience. Sexually suggestive imagery is a powerful device employed by advertisers to create an irresistible attraction between the product and targeted consumers. Through connecting sexual ideas with a given product, advertisers hope to cloud the distinction between product and flesh, real product function and sexual satisfaction. In associating a product with sex, advertisers alter the idea of the product in the mind of the consumer, and, in doing so; alter the reaction of the consumer to the product.

Sex in the advertising is the use of sexual interest as a tool of persuasion to draw attention to a particular item for consumption and it considered one of the most influential tools of marketers and specially advertisers. ( sexual information whether in the form of the pictures, sounds or stories, has been shown to stir up predictable range of emotional responses within viewers (, 2001). The author further state that sexual appeals can be defined as messages, whether as product information in the advertising contexts or as persuasive appeals in social marketing context, which are linked with sexual information. Lambiase and Reichert states five different types of sexual content identified in advertisement, these five are, nudity, sexual, behaviour, physical attractiveness, sexual referents and sexual embeds.

According to Ramirez and Reichert (2000) another definition if an advertisement is considered to be sexual, are if these four characteristics are included, physical features of models such as clothing, physique and general attractiveness, behaviour/movement, contextual features such as camera effects and intimacy between models.

There are various authors who have defined a role of sexual appeals in advertisements like Shimp.

Sex plays three roles in advertising (Shimp, 2003). Firstly sexual material acts as an initial attention lure and retain awareness for a longer period often by featuring attractive models in challenging poses. Secondly, potential roles are to improve recall of message points. The author continues to claim that sexual appeals create drastically better recall when advertising execution has a suitable relationship with the advertised product. Furthermore a third role performed by sexual content in advertising is to evoke emotional responses, such as feelings of arousal and even lust.


Types of sexual information in advertisements

Lambiase and Reichert (2003) state that there are five types of sexual information in advertising; nudity, sexual behaviour, psychical attractiveness, sexual referents and sexual embeds.


Lambiase and Reichert (2003) state that displays of bodies constitute a crucial source of sexual information. When people were asked to identify the characteristics in advertising that contained nudity they referred to short skirts, tight tops, muscular arms, bikini and lingerie’s. The term nudity does not imply that models are completely unclothed; a suggestive dress is often represented by open blouses with partially exposed cleavage, tight fitting clothing that highlight the body. Nudity is extremely rare in mainstream advertising and therefore it is often represented by side and back shots of the model, tub and shower scenes, and in some cases frontal nudity from the waist up (ibid).

Sexual behaviour

Lambiase and Reichert (2003) continue to state that although sexual content in the mainstream advertising leaves out the sex act, it does include sexually provocative behavioural display. Sexual behaviour can be diversified into advertisements in two ways, as individual behaviour or interpersonal interaction. In the first form models can behave sexually in advertisements by making eye contact, using different facial expression and inviting smiles with the viewer, flirting, and moving provocatively. In these ways the author further claims that models can communicate sexual interest with the viewer or simple try to bring out sexual arousal. Audiovisual characteristics of television commercials can emphasize sexual behaviour by showing models moving and talking seductively to the viewers. The second for of sexual behaviour involves two models or more engaging each other in sexual contact. The degree of explicitness of the encounter can vary from simple displays of affection, to inferred intercourse (ibid).

Physical attractiveness

Lambiase and Reichert (2003) state that physical attractiveness among humans is a trial that is central for foreseeing interpersonal attraction and mate selection. Features of physical appearance, including facial beauty and complexion, play a great role in sexual interest and desire. For this reason, physically attractive models in advertising can be, and most often are, considered examples of sex in advertising. Determination of attractiveness levels is made by a comparison by mean ratings and this rating is considered from the models hair, face, complexion, eye contact, physique and behaviour (ibid).

Sexual referents

Lambiase and Reichert (2003) state that images and words that refer to sex or activate sexual thoughts, can be considered examples of sex in advertising. According to the authors sexual referents in advertising can be defined as message elements, visual or verbal, that serve to bring forth or develop sexual thoughts. Sexual content takes from in the viewers mind, not in the advertisement. (ibid)

Sexual embeds

According to Lambiase and Reichert (2003) sexual embeds are defined as referents or forms of sexual representation designed to be perceived subconsciously. Common types of embeds include objects that are shaped or positioned like genitalia and small hidden messages of naked people and body parts. Sexual embeds are integrated into images by advertisements creators and are planned to go undetected by those people who are viewing the advertisement (ibid).

In a study by Ramirez and Reichert (2000) the most important definition of what was perceived as sexual in an advertisement were physical characteristics. Physical characteristics can be divided into three subcategories; clothing such as half naked and tight dresses, attractiveness, and body such as cleavage and chest. There were no differences between what men and women perceived as sexual concerning clothing, but men mentioned physical attractiveness as an important factor twice as often as women did. Overall men were a little bit more likely to define sexiness in this way (ibid).

The second most frequently definition of what was considered as sexual, involved movement (Ramirez and Reichert, 2000). According to the author this category included behaviour such as flirting, dancing and shaving, demeanour such as provocative, sassiness and fun loving, and voices such as singing, moans and groans. In this category there were no significant differences between the genders opinions both concerning the definition and the subcategories (ibid).

The third most frequent definition that characterizes sexiness was contextual features (Ramirez and Reichert, 2000). This category included photographic such as its faced paced, camera roams over model, setting, music, lighting such as hazy and shadows, and shots in black and white. The author state that there were no difference concerning the first four subcategories between the genders, but women were more likely to make reference to black and white as a contributing factor to sexual appeal.

When a couple is in deep embrace, which is the fourth most frequent definition of sexual appeal, a gender difference emerged (Ramirez and Reichert, 2000). This category is divided in to four sub categories, voyeurism, projection, models wanting sex with viewer and fantasy-like. According to the authors there were no significant gender differences in this category and there were also few that identified this category as sexiness and therefore the author’s state this category as not meaningful.

Positive and negative roles of sex appeals in advertisements

Alexander and Tudd (1986) contend that ad creators must be acutely aware of the reactions (both positive and negative) of their target audience to the use of potentially controversial sexual appeals as ad stimuli.

There are evidences of both positive effects as well as negative effects of sex appeals in advertisements there are some authors who think sex appeal has a positive effect and there are some authors who think sex appeal has a negative effect on advertisements.

Positive effects of sex appeals

One might ask ‘why do advertisers promote sex appeals?’ the answer in its purest form is that it works well in most cares and according to Bumler (1999), most advertising executives use sex appeal as the most powerful weapon in their arsenal and therefore they use graphic images to get and hold to audiences’ attention. From a marketing perspective, sexual appeal may be advantageous for the simple reason that they prey on basic biological instinct and thus, an incredible motivational factor, which is a desirable attribute to break through clutter. Advertisements that attract attention have the increased likelihood to affect persuasion, especially in a saturated media environment typified by passive viewing exposure (Reichert, heckler and Jackson 2001). Numerous research studies have revealed that sexual appeal , when used in advertising are attention grabbing, likeable, arousing, effect inducing, memorable, and somewhat more apt to increase interest in the topic advertised in comparison to non-sexual appeal (Severn, belch and belch 1990).

According to Shimp (2003), sex appeals serve several crucial roles in advertising. Firstly, sexual material in advertising acts as an initial attention lure to the ad, which is referred to as the stopping power of sex (Yovovich, 1983). Attention is necessary condition for learning attitudinal changes and behavioural effects, easy to relate, emotion inducing, and most of all, memorable. Finally the third role of sexual content in advertising is to evoke emotional responses, such as feeling of arousal, excitement, or even lust, which in turn can create stimulation and desire for the product (Bumler, 1999). According to Hoyer and McInnis (2001), this role may affect the consumer’s mood and can result in favourable cognitive processing of the ad and increase the persuasion impact. In addition to the aforementioned roles, Richmond and Hartman (1982) argue that sex appeal in advertising is also effective in eliciting fantasy or expressing the imaginative fulfilments of motives, such as sexual gratification.

Latour, Pitts and Snook-Luther (1990) have provided insight into the emotional impact of sexual appeals, specifically the level and nature of evoked arousal and attitudes towards the advertisement and brand. They have found a direct relationship between the positive arousal evoked by sexual appeals and evolutions of the brand. Nonetheless, whether sexual appeal elicits a positive or negative reaction depends on the appropriateness to the advertised product. Richmond and Hartman (1982) ascertain that sexual stimuli will enhance brand recall only if it has an appropriate relationship with the product category and the advertising execution. When sex appeal is used inappropriately such as utilizing it solely as an attention device, exploiting the female body, degrading the female role or insulting propriety, weak brand recall may occur and may in fact produce a negative attitude towards the brand. This implies that the use of sex appeal in advertising must be appropriate to the type of products being advertised and when sex appeal is used thoughtfully and appropriately, it may produce acceptable and satisfactory results.

Negative effects of sex appeal in advertising

While studies have shown that overt sexual portrayals attract attention to an advertisement, other numerous advertising research have also suggested that inappropriate and excessive use of sexual content can actually have a number of negative effects. Consistently, studies have demonstrated that sexual appeal attracts attention to the ad, typically without a corresponding advantage for brand information processing. Sexual content may be eye-catching and entertaining, but it may not be communicative and might distract the viewer from the message.

Reichert, heckler, and Jackson (2001) claim that when sexual stimulus is used in advertising, viewers’ perceptual and processing recourses are directed towards the sexual information in the ad rather than towards the brand. Severn, belch and belch (1990) also argue that the use of explicit sexual messages in advertisements may interfere with consumers’ processing of message arguments and brand information, which in turn may reduce message comprehension. Furthermore, according to Stewart and Furze (2000), initial devices such as sexual stimuli overwhelm the message, and are negatively correlated to both recall and persualtion. Finally, there has been evidence to suggest that overt sexual appeals may have detrimental effects on attitudes toward the ad and brand, and therefore may reduce purchase intention (grazer and Keesling 1995). These findings led McInnis , Moorman , and Jaworski (1991, cited in Hoyer and McInnis 2001) to advance the proposition that hedonic appeals, such as sexual stimuli, increase motivation to process the ad execution, but largely at the expense of the brand. All of these threaten to act as potential hazards of using sex appeals.

The elaboration likelihood model (elm) provides a framework to understand the role of sexual appeals in persuasion (Shimp 2003). According to elm, persuasion can occur along a continuum of elaboration. Persuasion resulting from extensive issue-relevant thinking is referred to as central route processing, whereby receivers engage in vigilant examination of message information. As receivers’ motivation, opportunity, and ability decrease, receivers are less likely to engage in systematic elaboration and are consequently more likely to rely on peripheral cues to guide their decision making. Evidence suggests that this process occurs in response to sexual appeals in advertising (Severn, belch and belch 1990).

It appears that numerous advertising utilizing sex appeals seems to get attention but do little for the advertised product. For instance, Judd and Alexander (1983) found that ads with decorative female models increase memory for the image in the ad with no difference in actually reading the information of the ad. In particular, nudity and erotic content was found to increase attention to the ad, but not necessarily enhance recall or positive attitudes towards a brand. As a result, sexual appeals stimulate less argument elaboration and connecting thoughts than will non-sexual appeal. Additional evidence also suggest that , as the level of nudity and erotism increase, the intended communication effects either become negative or dissipate(la tour, Pitts and Snook-Luther 1999). Therefore, despite the persuasiveness of sexual appeals when used in advertisements, it is likely to be the result of peripheral processes and as a result may be tranent.

In additional to the aforesaid negative effects of advertising, bad uses of sex symbols in advertising may lead to unacceptable perception by audience. According to Courtney (1983), the widespread use of sex as an advertising technique has elicited significant consumer protest. On top of that, as clutter increases in advertising, consumers appear to be more able to physically avoid advertising and tune out (Bumler, 1999). For this reason, every advertiser has pragmatic need to stand out. As marketer focus on developing messages that stand out too many of them forget that their focus should not solely be on the executional devices, but on the core message.

Review of current theory

In this chapter the author will present the current theories surrounding how sexual appeals work in advertising. It is necessary for advertisers to understand how consumers will process their advertisements in order to make them successful. This particular dissertation needs to understand the effects that sexual appeals will have on a consumer’s ability to process information in advertising.

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Information processing

Information processing refers to the process by which a stimulus is received interpreted, stored in memory and later retrieved, (Engel, Blackwell and Miniard 1994)

Nowadays we are exposed to hundreds of ads a day in newspaper and magazines, on TV, on billboards.’ Advertising normally forms part of the multitude of stimuli to which we pay no attention’ (Kelvin, 1962-65). There are certain ads that do grab our attention. According to James (1890) cited by health 2001), attention can be defined as “focalisation and concentration of consciousness”. This is because we favour the perception of some stimuli more than others. However, even if attention-getting stimuli are present in an advertisement it does not necessarily mean that the viewer will remember it.

The memory process is extremely important to advertising. Time elapses between the initial exposure to the advertisement and the time when the viewer will be required to make an actual purchase decision. Thus it is important to know how consumers process an advertisement and for the purpose of this dissertation, how sexually oriented advertisements aid or hinder this process.

First the author will look at two separate theories on how it is believed an advertisement can lead to brand learning.

Hierarchy of effects model

Consumer researchers have developed those models in order to explain different levels of consumer response to advertising.

The AIDA model was developed in the 1980’s and is in use today. The AIDA model suggests there are four stages involved in motivating a consumer to purchase. The advertisement must create attention, capture interest, stimulate desire, and invoke action, (Bergman and Lindquist, and Sirgy, 1997)

Daniel starch developed model in 1925,”to be effective an advertisement must be seen , read, believed, remembered and acted upon.” The model promoted the requirement to make an advertisement easy to understand, credible and interesting, cited by hill and O’Sullivan, (1999)

Russell Colley’s model DAGMAR has four stages, awareness, comprehension, conviction and action. Colley believes that an involvement should be designed to carry the customer along through the stages towards eventual purchase, (hill and O’Sullivan, 1999)

These models rely on the assumption that buyers behave rationally. They encompass the traditional view that it persuades consumer to choose a brand and that the degree of knowledge learned about a brand corresponds directly to the attention paid (heath, 2002).

Controversially, Robert heath (2002) has found that advertising campaigns may be effective in a different and more complex way. His theory of low involvement processing demonstrates how he believes advertisements influences brand learning.

The low involvement processing model

Researchers into cognitive science have found that memory is structured into three components; attention, short term, memory and long term memory. There are two types of long term memory, sometimes termed conscious memory and implicit memory, called unconscious or non conscious memory. (Goode, 2001)

In recent years it has been discovered that advertising has the power to work at a non-conscious level and so it is able to influence us without us realizing it. Health (2001) cited Daniel l. Schacter (1996)

“You May Think That Because You Pay Little Attention To Commercials On T.V Or In Newspapers Your Judgement About Products Are Unaffected By Them. But A Recent Experiment Showed That People Tend To Prefer Products Featured In Advertisements They Barely Glanced At Several Minutes Earlier- Even When They Have No Explicit Memory For Having Seen The Advertisement.”

Implicit memory functions in two ways, it records what is received and it also works conceptually in the semantic memory. The implicit memory cannot work out conclusions or messages that need to be interpreted (heath, 2001). Instead it connects feelings and sensations to an advertisement sub- consciously so that these can be recalled at a later date (Goodge, 2001). As the implicit memory can’t work out messages or analyze an advertisement it is necessary for a successful ad to work at both high and low involvement levels, or in other words reach the conscious and non conscious memory.

The elaboration likelihood model attempts to explain how each of these theories work and highlights the role of sexual appeals in the memory process

Elaboration likelihood model

“The elm of persuasion is a theory about the processes responsible for yielding to a persuasive communication and strength of the attitudes that result from those processes,”

The ELM provides ground work for the different ways that an advertisement can persuade. There are two ways in which an advertisement can appeal to a consumer, either factually or emotionally. Factual messages focus on informational reasons to buy and are likely to be effective if the consumer is motivated to pay attention to the advertisement. Motivation to process the message depends upon the relevance of the product advertised, the need for cognition and the responsibity of the consumer to process the advertisement (Berkman et al., 1997). When the factual aspects of the advertisement are what appeals to the consumer, the central route to persuasion is taken.

Sexual appeals generally take a peripheral route to persuasion. Consumers who are not motivated to process the advertisement information respond instead to the feeling the advertisement arouses. Berkman et al .(1997) noted;

“Given a highly motivated audience of consumers who are willing to expand cognitive effort to process marketing information, factual messages work best. Low motivation and low cognitive ability mean emotional appeals will be more effective.”

Both traditional and new theories of how brand learning works seem to suggest that sexual appeals will increase the attention paid to an advertisement.

Sexual appeals as an attention grabbing device

The most common method of attracting attention to an advertisement is to use creative devises, such as sexual appeals. Creative devises are used not only to get attention but also to “make an ad sufficiently interesting and appealing” for the message to be registered and memorized (heath, 2001). It has been widely quoted that sexually oriented ads are successful in gaining the consumers attention, (Alexander and Judd, 1978 cite baker, 1961; Richman and Hartman, 1982).

The next section will examine how sexual appeals gain attention.


Howard (1977) cited in Wilson and Moore (1980) described arousal as;

“Usually the degree of tension in the body ….. Which gave rise to attention and search in the consumer decision process?”

It is thought that arousal is a form of consumer motivation. Sexually explicit ads shown that if the stimuli used is too explicit it will lead to a decrease in the cognitive capacity available for message elaboration (Engel et al., 1995). Thus, a consumer would be paying attention to the sexual appeal but not necessary the other elements of the advertisement, like the product and the message that the ads is trying to covey. The theory of perceptual filtering explains this research.

Perceptual filtering

Sexually oriented advertisements are a popular method o attention grabbing. The problem with this method is that attention is divisive, we use a mechanism called perceptual filtering.’ heath (2001) cited Rose (1992);

“Perceptual filtering…. Ensures that, of all the information arriving tab ones eyes or ears at any given time, only a small proportion is actually remembered….”

This in turn means that the more attention is paid to the attention is paid to the attention getting device the less attention is being paid to other aspects of the advertisement, such as the brand name and product information.


In this chapter the author has out lined the theoretical knowledge necessary to understand how information in advertisements is processed by consumers how sexual appeals influence this process.


The methodology chapter will show how the data was collected in order to find the answers to the research questions and in that way fulfil the purpose of my dissertation. The chapter starts by stating the research purpose. It continues by presenting the research approach and the research strategy used. After that, a presentation of how the data collection was carried out follows


The purpose with the research is to state what is to be accomplished by conducting research can be used (Eriksson and Wiedersheim-paul, 2001). According to Yin (2003), research can be classified as exploratory, descriptive or explanatory. It is also possible according to Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2000) to have more than one purpose.

Exploratory studies are valuable means of finding out, what is happening, to look for new insights, to ask questions and to evaluate phenomena in a new light (Saunders ET. Al, 2000). According to the authors’ exploratory research is a particularly useful approach if u expects to clarify the understanding of a problem. There are three principle ways of conducting exploratory research (ibid).

  • a search of the literature
  • talking to the experts in this subject
  • conducting focus group interviews

The objective of descriptive research is to accurately portray of profile of persons, situations or events (Saunders et al, 2000). According to Eriksson and Wiedersheim-paul (2001) descriptive research involves the choice of perspective, aspects, level, terms and concepts. It is also necessary to observe, register, systematize, classify, and interpret (ibid). The authors further state that good description is often a necessary foundation when the researchers want to explain, understand, predict, and/or decide.

Studies which establish casual relationships among variables may be termed explanatory studies (Saunders ET. Al, 2001). To explain means to analyze cause-effect relationships (Eriksson and Wiedersheim-Paul, 2001). It has to be explained what causes produce what effects (ibid). The emphasis is on studding a situation or a problem in order to explain the relationship between different variables (Saunders et al, 2000).

The research purpose and questions of our dissertation indicate that initially my dissertation exploratory. In the beginning it is aiming to formulate and precise problems, to give us as researchers an orientation in the question to be invested. When the data is analyzed it becomes descriptive, as I document, register, and identify the finding of my research. Finally, when answering the research questions in the final chapter it will become slightly exploratory, though a quantitative approach and a larger sample would have ascertained this to a greater degree.


Studies can be of two types, qualitative and quantitative research, based on the researcher’s type of data. Qualitative research involves numerical data that usefully can be quantified (Saunders ET. Al, 2000). It could range from simple counts such as the frequency of occurrences, to more complex data such as test scores or prices (ibid).

The conclusions of qualitative research are based on non-quantifiable data, such as attitudes, values or perceptions (Lundahl & Skarvad, 1992). Qualitative research is characterized by the opportunity to explore a subject in a real as possible (Saunders ET. Al, 2000). The authors further state that the nature of qualitative data has implications for both its collection and its analysis. To be able to capture the richness and fullness associated with qualitative data it cannot be collected in a standardized way, like quantitative data (ibid). Instead the purpose with the qualitative approach is to gain a deeper understanding of studied area (Holme & Solvang, 1991).

The choice of approach in my dissertation will be based on the purpose of research. I find that it is of great importance to reach a closer contact with my studied objects in order to gain a better understanding of my stated purpose in chapter one. Since I am studding people’s attitudes and perceptions towards different advertisements that I will show, the choice fell on a qualitative approach for my thesis.


The selection of research strategy depends on three conditions (yin, 2003). These three conditions are; the type of research questions posed, the control an investigator has over actual behavioural events, and the focus on contemporary in contrast to historical phenomenon. Yin (2003) states that there are five primary strategies in the field of social sciences: experiment, survey, archival analysis, history and case study. The relation between the three conditions and the five different research strategies can be found in the table below:


Forms of research questions

Requires control of behavioural events

Focus on

Contemporary events


How, why?




Who, what, where, how many, how much?



Archival analysis

Who, what, where, how many, how much?




How, why?



Case study

How, why?



The most important condition for differentiating between the various researches strategies is to identify the type of research questions being asked (yin, 2003).

The most common types of questions are formulated as “who,” “what,” “how,” “why,” (ibid). yin (2003) claims that, in general “what”- questions may either be exploratory, where all strategies can be used or about prevalence, in which surveys or the analysis of archival records are favoured. “How” and “why”- questions are likely to be more suitable in case studies, experiments or histories (ibid).

As the research questions in this study is based on “how” questions, I shall have no control over the actual behavioural events and our focus on the study will be on a contemporary event. The choice I have is either to conduct a survey or a case study (or studies). As previous stated in our research I shall have a qualitative approach, a survey is not appropriate. Therefore, my choice of research strategy is to work with case studies. In addition, the qualitative approach requires a more in-depth understanding of my purpose, which can be best attained by adopting this strategy. The characteristics for a case study are that it involves a large amount of details, which a survey usually not are capable of (Denscombe, 2000).

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When collecting data for the research it can be either primary (collected for the first time) and/or secondary (information that already exists) data. It is often more convenient to use secondary data in the beginning of the study (Eriksson & Wiedersheim-Paul, 2001).

According to yin (2003) evidence for case studies can be collected in six different ways; documents, archival records, interviews, direct observation, participant-observation, and physical artefacts. No single source has complete advantage over the others (ibid).

A good case study wants to use as many sources as possible (yin, 2003). According to yin (2003) a major strength of case study data collection is the opportunity to use several different sources of evidence. This method of using different data collection methods within one study is called triangulation (Saunders ET. Al, 2000). The reason why using triangulation is to ensure that the data is telling you what you think it is telling you (ibid).

Of the six data collection methods available I shall use four of them. The one we will not use are archival records and physical artefacts. Archival records are characterized as precise and quantitative (yin, 2003). Since this study is qualitative this method is not suitable for this study. Concerning physical artefacts is described as insightful when it comes to cultural features and technological operations (ibid). My study is focused on attitudinal questions and therefore the use of physical artefacts is not appropriate for my dissertation.

The data collection methods that will be used for this study are interviews, documentation, and observations. The documentation will be our secondary data and observations will function as our primary data. The major source of our primary data collection will however be interviews. The reason why I chose interviews is because of its strength to focus directly on the topic of the case study (yin, 2003). The potential disadvantages with an interview are that it can be biased due to poorly constructed questionnaires and also there is a risk for reflexivity, where the interviewed person tells the interviewer what she/he wants to hear (ibid).

When conducting the interview there are three different methods to choose from according to yin (2003). These are open- ended, focused, or structural interview (ibid). Concerning open-ended interviews yin (2003) states that there is the possibility to ask key respondents about the facts of a specific manner as well as their opinions about certain events. In focused interviews the respondent is interviewed for a short period of time (yin, 2003). The interviews may still be open ended and assume a conversional manner, but it is more likely to follow a certain set of questions (ibid). The third method of interview, survey is built on structural questions, along the lines of a formal survey (yon, 2003). The structural interview mainly produces quantitative data (ibid).

The type of interview that is used for this thesis is the focused interview. The focused interview is used to verify or dismiss the theories of this study. There are different ways of how a focused interview can be done. According to Lundahl and Skarvad (1992) a focused interview can generally be conductive in person or by telephone. Telephone interviews are less costly and also time consuming which makes them useful when the interviewed is far away, however personal interviews can be longer and involve much more complex questions (ibid). The personal contact during a personal interview also enables the interviewer to receive more feedback from the respondents (ibid). The type of focused interview used for this thesis will be focus group and it will be conducted through the use of two group interview sessions.

Focus group consists of an interviewer or moderator and six to ten participants who discuss a single topic (Zikmund, 2000 and cooper & Schindler, 2001). The reason for using six to ten people in the focus group is if the group is too small, one or two members may intimidate the others while groups that are too large may not permit participation from each group member (Zikmund, 2000). The moderator starts the interview by introducing the topic and encourages the group to participate in the discussion (Zikmund, 2000). Ideally the discussion continues from the group’s initiative (ibid). Our aim is to have at least six people in each group.

The goal of the focus group is to give the researchers as much information as possible about how people regard the topic of interest (Hair, Bush & Ortinaw, 2000). Focus group research is not restricted to just asking and asking questions posed by an interviewer (ibid). The success of focus group relies heavily on the group dynamics, the willingness of group members to interact in the discussion, and the moderator’s ability to keep the discussion on the right track (hair et al, 2000). The job of the moderator is to make sure that everybody gets the chance to speak (Zikmund, 2000). A focus group can also be run by a moderator team (Mitchell & Branigan, 2000). In that case the principal moderator is concerned with facilitating the discussion, keeping conversation flowing and taking a few notes (ibid). The assistant moderator takes more comprehensive notes, operates the recording equipment, and deals with other factors such as noise distraction and latecomers (ibid).

Followings are the strengths and weaknesses of the focus group interviews


  • It stimulates ideas, thoughts and feelings that may not be raised in one to one interviews.
  • Ability to quickly and inexpensively grasp the core issues of topic.
  • Observe reactions to the research questions in an open ended group settings.
  • Participants respond in their own words, rather than being forced into a formalized method, and they can freely react to each other’s responses.
  • Spontaneous and unrestricted.


  • Hard to generalize the result, because it lacks representative ness with regard to the target population.
  • Possibility of moderator interpretation bias which can reduce the credibility and trust worthiness of the data.
  • The data are more difficult and subjective to analyze.
  • Less likely than interview to produce quantitative data.

The reason why I have chosen to work with focus group interviews is because it allows people to discuss their true feelings, anxiety and frustrations about a specific topic. Also participants can respond in their own words and can freely react to each other’s responses.

The secondary data for this study is based on documentation in the form of print advertisements and television advertisements that will be shown to the participants in the focus groups in order to stimulate discussion. As these advertisements are produces by someone else and for a different purpose, the documentation is regarded as secondary data.

According to yin (2003) an opportunity for direct observations is created when making a field visit to a case study. When conducting participant’s observation the observer is not only passive, instead he may participate in the discussion (ibid). Both direct observations and participants observations will be used when collecting primary data. The assistant moderator will observe the focus group and take notes, which can be referred to as direct observations. The principle moderator will guide the discussion and then therefore be a participant observer. After the focus group interviews the two moderators will analyze the observation and find out the conclusion.

Sample selection

In this section we elaborate how we went along when sampling respondents for the focus group interviews, as well as the advertisements, both television and magazines, shown during the focus group session.

Choice of respondents

I have chosen students from Northumbria University of almost same age (19 – 21) and culture (Asians). The choice of respondents is based on my own preferences. I believe that this target group is interesting, because not much research in the area of our topic has been conducted on that group of people. Furthermore, that group of people is not very young and not very old and they are also in an age where advertising easily influences them.

Hair ET. Al, (2000) state that a homogenous focus group in which participants are aware of their common factors and feel comfortable with each other is likely to create more natural and relaxed group environment than having a heterogeneous group. This type of homogeneous group tends to promote more intense discussion and freer interaction (cooper & Schindler, 2001). Many people can feel intimidated or uncertain to voice their opinions, feelings, or suggestions to strangers (hair ET. Al, 2000). Zikmund (2000) states that if a different type of people is used, for example men and women, they can be divided into two focus groups and in that way, a diverse sample can be obtained even though each group is homogeneous. Based on these facts we will bring people together that are comfortable to discuss with each other. Another aspect for that, is that the topic somewhat tend to be sensitive and therefore it is of importance that the students know each other and can speak freely in the focus group.

Choice of documentation

We have chosen to show three print advertisements from different magazines and one television advertisements. All these advertisements we perceive as sexual. The purpose of showing these advertisements is to stimulate the focus groups’ discussion.

Data analysis

Yin (2003) states that each case study should start with a general analytical strategy. A strategy will help to treat the evidence fairly, produce compelling analytic conclusions and also rule out possible alternative interpretations (ibid). According to yin (2003) there are three different preferable analytical strategies;

  • Relying on theoretical propositions, yin (2003) states that this is the most preferred strategy. The researcher collects data with the research questions and previous studies as basis (ibid).
  • Thinking about rival explanations, especially useful when doing case study evolutions (yin, 2003). This strategy tries to define and test rival explanations (ibid).
  • Developing a case description, according to yin (2003) this means that the researcher uses only when there is little or no previous research.

After choosing one of the three strategies, and data has been collected, the researcher can start to work through the data in an analytical manner (miles & Huberman, 1994). According to miles and Huberman (1994) the qualitative analysis consists of three simultaneously occurring flows of activity.

  • Data reduction, the reason for making this is to make the data sharp, sorted, focused, discarded, and organized so that the researcher can draw and verify conclusions (ibid). At this phase a within-case analysis is often conducted in order to compare the collected data with the theories used (ibid).
  • Data display, in this phase the researcher, according to miles and Huberman (1994), takes the reduced data and displays it in an organized and compressed way in order to make it easier to draw conclusions.
  • Conclusion drawing and verification, at this phase the researcher begins to decide what things mean by noting regulatory, patterns, explanations, possible configurations, casual flows, and propositions (ibid). However these findings should be held lightly and some scepticism should be maintained (ibid).

This thesis will rely on the theoretical propositions that provided the material for the first two chapters. The analysis of this thesis will follow the three steps suggested by miles and Huberman (1994).

Validity and Reliability

When conducting empirical studies it is important that questions and data collections are well prepared in order to avoid errors and to increase the quality of the research. Two important concepts when it comes to this are validity and reliability. Validity is a measure instrument’s ability to measure what it is supposed to measure (Wiedersheim-Paul & Eriksson, 2001). Validity is the most important requirement on a measuring instrument (ibid). Reliability refers to that if a later researcher should follow the same procedures as described by an earlier researcher the conclusions and findings should be the same (yin, 2003). To judge the quality of an empirical research four tests can be used (ibid). These will be presented in table below.

Case study tactics for four design tests:


Case study tactic

Phase of research in which tactic occurs

Construct validity

- use multiple sources of evidence

- establish chain of evidence

- have key informants review draft care study report

- data collection

- data collection

- composition

Internal validity

- do pattern-matching

- do explanation-building

- address rival explanations

- use logic models

- data analysis

- data analysis

- data analysis

- data analysis

External validity

- use theory in single case studies

- use replication logic in multiple-case studies

- research design

- research design


- use case study protocol

- develop case study database

- data collection

- data collection

Source: yin, 2003, p.34.

Construct validity means to establish correct operational measures for the concepts being studied (yin, 2003). As seen in the above table there are three ways to increase construct validity; the use of multiple sources, establish chain of evidence, and having key informants review a draft of the case study report. To gain multiple sources of evidence we will use triangulation.

The sources will be; focus groups, documentation, and observations. Furthermore we let other people read the interview guide before the focus group interview was conducted, which increases the construct validity. However the focus group interview was conducted in Hindi to make it more comfortable and convenient for the focus group. This was done so that the respondents could interact with each other freely and without any hesitation and later were translated into English which slightly decreases the validity.

Internal validity is only a concern in casual or explanatory case studies (yin, 2003). Due to this, it is mostly applicable at the end of our study where conclusion is drawn. The internal validity in our thesis is strengthened by the use of pattern matching where the empirical based pattern is compared with the conceptual theories.

External validity deals with the problem of knowing if the case study results are generalizable beyond the case study results (Yin, 2003). Since we conducted focus group interviews, which has the weakness that the results are not generalizable as stated in the table above, the risk is that the external validity is low. This due to that it would be very difficult to replicate the case study by collecting data through two focus group in the exact way as we have.

Concerning the problem of reliability we tried to increase it by avoiding leading and subjective questions in our focus group interviews. The same question guide will also be used for both focus groups. In addition to this we also kept all notes from the interview in order to develop a case study database. However, it is hard to achieve the same results for another researcher because people’s perceptions and views may change over the time.

Empirical data

This chapter will present the data collected in order to answer the research questions. The data collection was conducted through two focus focus group sessions. The two focus group session will be presented separately, starting with the male students, followed by female students. The interview will follow the order of the conceptual framework. The topics in the interview guide will be used as sub headings in this chapter in order to help the reader understand the way in which respondents answered the questions.

Interview: (Asians, age (20))

Our case study was conducted through a focus group interview, a group including 5 people. In this interview five students of Northumbria University all Indians were selected. Three of them were the students of BA (Hons) in international finance final year, one was the student of BA (Hons) in International business management final year and one was the student of BA Engineering(Hons) electronics and communication second year. The male students participating in the focus group interview were of the age between (19 to 21). The interview was conducted at my home in Heaton. Before the interview took place refreshments were served in the form of cold drinks and chips. The reason for this was to make the participants relax and while they were eating I presented the purpose of my study and how the focus group session was not to make them agree upon one solution, but to bring forward their individual perceptions and attitudes. The focus group interview started with us showing them one television advertisements and three magazine advertisements. The reason for doing this was to awaken their minds in order to improve the forthcoming discussion.


Respondents define sexual appeal in advertising

We initially asked some general questions from them about use of sexual appeals in the advertisements like ’what do u think sexual appeals in the advertisements is and do u think it sells etc.’. Initially the male students claimed that sex sells. The major part of the group stated that if an advertisement is to be considered of sexual content the women had to have a physical attraction that was way over the average looking women. The looks of the models in the advertisement was also of great importance if it was considered to be sexual. Most of the people in the group said sexual appeal in advertising is more effective when seduction technique is used rather than nudity. One respondent said:

“Advertisements in which sexual appeals are used often distract the attention of the viewer from the actual product or the brand to that sexual appeal used in the advertisement.”

But most of them were agreed that they always talk about the advertisements in which sex is involved in any form.

After this small discussion we showed them all the print advertisements and the television advertisements and discussed the questions from them there after

  • Have you seen these advertisements before?

I have chosen four print advertisements out of which three of them contain sex appeal. And most of the group members have seen and able to recognize all the three advertisements which contain sex appeal and none of them have seen the fourth print advertisement.

  • You show tense reaction when u see nude women/man in advertisements.

The conclusion for the discussion on this statement was that sometimes respondents get tensed especially when they are watching these kinds of ads which contain nudity in it with their family. But nowadays this is so common that most of the people do not feel tensed while watching nudity.

  • You react with energy arousal when you watch a nude male/female model in ads

Respondent’s opinion for this statement was that they do react with energy arousal when they see a nude man or women but it depends on certain things like how beautiful the model is.

  • An advertisement with erotic appeal changes your attitude toward a brand

Some of the respondents were agreed upon this statement but some said it doesn’t pursue us to buy any product or not to buy any product.

  • It is necessary for the models to be more attractive than the normal women

All the respondents agreed upon this statement. They said that being more beautiful is the utmost important thing for the models. Only beauty attracts viewer’s attention.

  • It is all right to use sexual appeal in advertisement at every time.

This statement led to the conclusion that it is not okay to use sexual appeals in advertisements at all times. It really depends on the nature of the product and the brand. It is all correct to use sexual appeals for the products it is relevant to.

Data analysis

In this chapter the data from the empirical data and theory will be presented and analyzed in the order of the research questions. A within-case analysis will be conducted for our two focus group sessions, by comparing the empirical data with the conceptual framework, which was presented in chapter two.

Definition of sexual appeal in advertising

The respondents believed that sexual appeal is not the same as nudity. The students all agreed on that the models in the advertisements are above average of what is considered good looking, and it plays a great role how the models look if the advertisement is believed to be characterized as sexual. According to Lambiase and Reichert (2003) there are different types of sexual information in advertising; nudity, sexual behaviour, psychical attractiveness and sexual referents. As stated above, the respondents agreed on that these different types have to in one way, or another be fulfilled if the advertisement is considered to be sexual. We found out from our empirical data that men believe that physical attractiveness is more important factor than women thinks. Men claimed that if an advertisement is to be of sexual content the women had to be way over average in looks. This is in accordance with what Ramirez and Reichert stated in their theory. According to the authors men believe that physical attractiveness is an important factor twice more often than women did. The group went on it their discussion and claimed that an advertisement does not have to include naked people to be sexual, only words and images can make it sexual. That is in order with the theory from Lambiase and Reichert (2003). According to the two focus groups sexual behaviour such as making eye contact and using different facial expressions can be of sexual characteristics as long as it is in accordance with the product that is promoted. Lambiase and Reichert (2003) did not mention anything about that the behaviour has to be in accordance with the product, however they mentioned that sexual behaviours, like eye-contact, can make an advertisement sexual.

According to Ramirez and Reichert (2000) there are five different characteristics an advertisement may have to be defined as sexual. The most common are psychical attractiveness, movement and light and music. Psychical attractiveness we discussed earlier, furthermore movement and light and music. Psychical attractiveness we discussed earlier, furthermore movement includes flirting, dancing, moaning and groaning. In accordance with the theory the respondents agreed that it means a lot how they move, especially the women mentioned this, and the way models’ eyes are working with the camera. The respondents felt that if the light is softened and if there is music in the advertisement, then they perceive it as sexual and this is all in accordance with what Ramirez and Reichert (2000) stated in their theory.

People’s reaction to sexual appeal in advertising

Respondents said it is okay using sexual appeals in advertisements, but they said too much sex is sometimes irritates them. They said it is fine to use sexual appeals in the advertisements if it is relevant to the product.

Majority of the respondent believe that they get tensed when they see nude male or female models in advertisements especially if they are watching these advertisements with their parents or family. Most of the respondents agreed that most of the people act with energy arousal when they watch nudity in advertisements. It was also brought up to the discussion that nudity has now a days become a common thing, not only in advertisements but also everywhere, that is why people don’t get exited while watching advertisements containing nudity. The theory Lambiase and Reichert (2003) state that men do not react tense when seeing explicit female nudity instead they react with energy arousal is supported by the collected data.

This is also brought up to discussion that nudity in advertisements does not affect the purchase decision because nudity has now a days become so common thing that it doesn’t effect. But some times it does put negative effect on the minds of the viewer especially if it contains either unnecessary nudity or nudity in excess. The theory from Lambiase and Reichert (2003) claims that nude erotic appeals in advertising are negatively influencing the attitude towards the brand advertised. According to Treise and Weigold (1994) a large number of consumers are troubled by the use of sexual appeals in advertising, but if tastefully done it is nothing wrong. The respondents were agreed on this statement.



In the final chapter main conclusions and findings will be drawn based on the research (primary and secondary) conducted for the dissertation. The purpose of these conclusions is to answer the four questions that were mentioned in chapter one and finally implications for future research.

In a nut shell we can conclude that no doubt sex does sell. Decorative, attractive, partially clad models do facilitate recognition of an advertisement, and can create favourable attitude ratings. On the other hand, brand recall may not increase brand information processing, as in most cases the attention is diverted to the detriment of brand name and copy recall. Too much reliance on sex for advertising, especially if it is not relevant, can be counterproductive. Thus, we believe that sex is effective so long as it is used in a relevant context and within the appropriate level of explicitness.

On the basis of findings following conclusions can be made:

  • People believe that there is too much sex in advertisements now days.
  • People are exposed to so much nudity in advertisement that it takes extreme nudity or extreme beauty for them to get exited.