(NaturalNews) Advertisements featuring beautiful female models and celebrities may actually make women less likely to purchase those products, according to a study conducted by researchers from Warwick Business School.
"We found that the way the picture of the perfectly shaped model was used was very important in determining a positive or negative effect on women's self-perception," researcher Tamara Ansons said.
Even when such marketing succeeds, the study found, it does so by making women shoppers feel bad about themselves.
The prevalence of advertising featuring sexually related content continues to increase. For example, a 2012 study by researchers from the University of Georgia found that while in 1983, only 15 percent of magazine ads used sexual content, 27 percent did so by 2003. But even though studies have found that women control 80 percent or more of household consumer spending, so far most of the research conducted on sexual advertising has focused on men.
"There is a lot of interest in how these ads affect men," Ansons said. "We thought it was important to see how women were reacting and to look at the difference between a subtle and blatant presentation."
The few studies looking at women's reactions to such advertising have had contradictory results, Ansons said. According to the new study, that's because women's reactions depend on the context in which sexual images are used.
"We found that a woman's self-perception and consequent effects on product evaluation depend on the degree of attention paid to the idealized image of a woman in advertisements," she said.
Sexualized images hurt self-image
The researchers exposed women to three different types of advertisements: one a full-page ad featuring a model in a bikini (representing a blatant use of sexual imagery), another featuring a model on the opposite page (representing a subtle use), and one not featuring a model at all.
The researchers then interviewed the women to determine their reactions to the model (if applicable), their reactions to the ad, their self-image and their opinions of the product being advertised. They found that when women were subtly exposed to sexualized images, they began to compare themselves to the models and experienced a drop in self-image.
"But that led to a more positive attitude towards the brand," Ansons said.
"Yet when the exposure to the idealized image of a woman is blatant, a conscious process is activated and consumers employ defensive coping strategies, i.e., they belittle the model or celebrity to restore a positive perception of themselves."
"In those cases, the women tended to rate the product negatively," Ansons said. "They experience the model as a threat."
Notably, the women interviewed were not aware that they were forming an opinion about the brand based on how the picture of the model made them feel about themselves.
"It's automatic," Ansons said. "I think it's just the natural way that we deploy defensive strategies to restore our positive self-perceptions. It was only after they were asked to evaluate the models did we see that they were having negative associations."