Sex and Violence Really Don't Sell, Argues Prof. Jeff McCall '76

Sex and Violence Really Don't Sell, Argues Prof. Jeff McCall '76

December 7, 2013

According to Jeffrey M. McCall and Tim Winter, "In the world of advertising there has been an accepted wisdom that has gone unquestioned for decades: 18 to 34-year-old consumers are the most desirable demographic, and if you want to reach them, include lots of sex and violence in your ads, or at the very least, advertise on programs that contain a lot of sex and violence. But what if that entire paradigm is wrong?," they ask in a column published in the Indianapolis Star.

McCall is a professor of communication at DePauw University; Winter is president of the Parents Television Council, a nonpartisan organization advocating responsible entertainment. They write, "Marketers deemed the 18 to 34 demographic desirable in part because of their elusiveness: young adults are more likely to be out with friends than home watching TV, which in the distorted view of youth-obsessed marketers, makes them a hot commodity. They are also sought-after because for years companies assumed that if you can get customers while they are young, they will be customers for life -- but recent research shows this is seldom the case. An AARP survey found the relationship between brand loyalty and age is exaggerated, and that an individual’s consumer experience, not his age, will dictate brand choices. And it’s not merely that advertisers are going after the wrong demographic, it’s that they are employing an ineffective strategy to reach their audience."

The authors add, "Networks’ underlying assumptions that young viewers are reflexively drawn to sex- and violence-laden programs has not been proven. But even if we accept the premise, recent research suggests that buying ad time on such programs is a waste of money. A study from the department of psychology at Iowa State University suggests that programs with high levels of violent or sexual content can actually repress the viewers’ ability to recall advertised brands. Moreover, violence and sex impaired memory for males and females of all ages, regardless of whether they liked the programs containing violence and sex. By contrast, subjects who watched 'neutral' programming were better able to recall the ads the following day."

Read the complete text at

Jeff McCall is a 1976 graduate of DePauw and the author of Viewer Discretion Advised: Taking Control of Mass Media Influences.  A former journalist, he serves as faculty adviser to DePauw's student radio station, WGRE, where he worked as an undergraduate. Dr. McCall has been quoted in more than 100 newspapers in articles examining media matters and wrote another recent newspaper column on America's declining media literacy.

Source: Indianapolis Star