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Does sex really sell? George mention

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Does sex really sell? George mention

Post by Katiedot on Fri Jul 01 2011, 16:29

This article caught the attention of my magpie mind. There's just something I find really appealing about George selling tequila shots to pregnant women:

From smart money

Does Sex Really Sell?
Yes. But not always -- and not for the reasons you'd think..

Sex sells. That's the conventional wisdom, anyway. It's why Andie MacDowell is in so many shampoo ads. It's why George Clooney could sell tequila shots to pregnant women. And it's why beer commercials are, well, beer commercials.

But as with celebrity endorsements, it turns out we know very little about why -- or even whether -- pitches from attractive people actually work. The research on the topic is rather mixed. Some studies show attractive endorsers boost products' ratings among consumers. Others show no effect at all.

A new study, however, seeks to pull things apart by examining just what makes attractiveness persuasive and in what cases do we simply ignore it. In a forthcoming study in the Journal of Consumer Research, Janne van Doorn and Diederik A. Stapel of Tilburg University in the Netherlands exposed student test subjects to various mocked-up advertisements for products with fictional brand names, testing various permutations of endorsements by attractive (non-celebrity) models.

One way attractiveness works, they found, is simply as a cue. That is, showing people a picture of an attractive model, even when he or she isn't attached to a product in any way, makes people more favorably disposed toward any product they're shown.

In one part of the first experiment, participants were shown a magazine ad with a picture of an attractive woman with lustrous hair. They were then asked to rate three products -- shampoo, a couch and a lamp -- on a numerical scale on three measures: did they like to product, would they buy it, and how much would they be willing to pay? All the products were rated higher overall by people who saw the picture of the attractive woman, compared to a control group that was shown a picture of a tree.

In another part of the first experiment, the subjects saw an ad where the woman was pictured with the couch. This ad was meant to test what the authors call a "link" between an attractive model and a product. The ad links the woman to the couch, but it presents no argument to the consumer -- the couch, lovely as it may be, isn't going to make you beautiful or give you nice hair. So does the simple mental link between her image and the product result in higher couch ratings? Yes.

But where things get interesting is when the authors look at how we react when an ad tries to use an attractive model to make an implicit argument: Look at this woman with beautiful hair; if you buy our shampoo, you can look like her and have hair like her. Of course, no words are used to convey this, but this is advertising's stock and trade.

Here they found that people's reaction to the argument was dependent on something both logical and a bit surprising: Did they believe that they were capable of being improved? To prime the subjects toward believing that they either were or were not capable of change, the subjects were presented randomly with one of two texts: One told them that "our personalities are transient and malleable"; another told them "the structure of your personality will always constitute a solid background factor."

What the researchers found, then, is that when people were primed to believe that they were malleable, they were far more susceptible to the "argument" of the attractive woman in the shampoo ad. They believed they could have her hair and better themselves by buying the shampoo; and thus they rated it higher. If they didn't believe they were malleable, the shampoo's rating saw no boost. (In a quirk similar to one that's been observed in other experiments, the people who didn't believe the shampoo could help them appeared to transfer an excess of positive feelings spurred by the image of the attractive woman into higher ratings of the other products.)

So even when it comes to sex, it appears we're capable of some rationality. Sex is a powerful seller. But cynicism exerts its force as well.

Katiedot
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