With Super Bowl 50 just days away, there’s already speculation about which ads will stand out as the most memorable. Dozens of companies will be paying millions of dollars (last year, a 30-second spot sold for $4.5 million) to have the attention, if only for a few moments, of the largest TV audience they’ll be able to reach all year for a single broadcast.
With such a competitive field, and given the size of the financial investment you’ll be making, you would do well to familiarize yourself with the findings of a recent study by researchers at Ohio State University.
The study, a meta-analysis of 53 past experiments involving 8,489 subjects, recently published by the American Psychological Association, found that sex and violence in ads doesn’t help sell products. In fact, such content in the ads often produces the opposite effect.
According to study co-author Brad Bushman, professor of communications and psychology at OSU, “It never helps to have violence and sex in commercials… It either hurts, or has no effect at all.”
The reason that sex and violence aren’t as effective as we thought is not that they fail to grab the public’s attention. In fact, it’s just the opposite. According to the study, images of sex and violence are so intense, they distract the viewer from the most important thing in the ad, the product.
These findings only reinforce what you should already intuitively know to be true. The ads that really leave a lasting, favorable impression are seldom the tacky, hyper-sexualized ads like those run by burger chain Carl’s Jr. Those ads, in fact, have been shown to backfire.
A survey by the Ameritest company found that 52% of viewers found Carl’s Jr.’s 2015 Super Bowl ad — featuring a nearly nude model — offensive, while almost as many said it was “irritating and annoying.” Further, 32% said they felt negatively toward the chain after watching the ad, while only 27% said they would visit Carl’s Jr. in the future. (Typically, after seeing an ad for fast food, almost 50% say they plan to go to the restaurant.)
So, dear Sponsor, if you want to get the biggest bang for your Super Bowl buck, pass on the sex and violence. You’ll be doing yourself a favor, and families watching at home will thank you.