Revisiting the Myths: Sex Sells!

Obinna Obilo

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Sex sells! This phrase has pervaded the English language, and has become as commonplace as “no pain, no gain.” In everyday use, the phrase has been accepted by marketing practitioners; thus ‘sex’ or ‘sexiness’ is continually used in promotional campaigns in order to induce purchase. Previous marketing research endeavors have attempted to test the ‘sex sells’ notion, but have instead focused on whether using ‘sex’ in advertisements induces higher recall for the advertisement, or affects consumer attitudes towards the advertisement. While both research endeavors are to be commended, neither really shows whether ‘sex’ can be used to induce consumers’ purchase intent. This author analyzes the sex sells notion on the process level, by employing the concepts of the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM). The ELM is a dual-process model that postulates that consumers process information using one of the two possible routes; the central or the peripheral route. Consumers that process message information via the central route are hypothesized to focus on the ‘central’ theme of the message; whereas those that process the message via the peripheral route are hypothesized to focus on the ‘peripheral’ cues such as the accompanying music, attractiveness of the spokesperson etc. Both ELM routes are predicted to produce attitude change, but while the attitude change induced by the peripheral route is purported to be short-lived, attitude change induced by the central route is predicted to be more long-lasting, and more predictive of consumers’ purchase intent. This author thus postulates that consumers will focus on the peripheral ‘sexual’ cues and not the central theme of such positioned messages. Thus, messages that use sex are hypothesized not to induce attitude change ergo behavioral intent. A caveat exists however, as consumers who are highly involved with the product being advertised are hypothesized to focus on the central theme of the message and not the peripheral sexual cues. Hence, even though exposed to the sexual message, highly involved consumers’ attitude change is a consequence of their high-involvement and not the sexual content.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDevelopments in Marketing Science
Subtitle of host publicationProceedings of the Academy of Marketing Science
PublisherSpringer Nature
Number of pages1
StatePublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameDevelopments in Marketing Science: Proceedings of the Academy of Marketing Science
ISSN (Print)2363-6165
ISSN (Electronic)2363-6173


  • Attitude Change
  • Central Theme
  • High Recall
  • Research Endeavor
  • Sexual Content


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