Viewers are constantly complaining about too much sex and violence on television (even though these shows have the highest ratings). Lots of sex and violence attracts viewers aged 18 to 34, which are the ones advertisers want to reach most.

But it turns out sex doesn?t sell?and neither does violence. Sex and violence-filled TV shows put viewers in the wrong mood to get interested in ads for laundry detergent, according to psychologist Brad Bushman of Iowa State University.

Bushman led a study that revealed that people who watch those types of shows remember less about the products being advertised than people who watch other kinds of programs. Sexual content actually seems to distract viewers from the products being advertised, Bushman says.

He paid 324 adult volunteers $25 each to watch programs he taped from cable channels. He replaced the broadcast ads with similar ads for ordinary products such as soft drinks and detergents.

The programs were in 3 categories, based on U.S. broadcast codes: those with an S rating for sexual content, those with a V rating for violence, and those with neither. In general, people who watched an innocuous program with little sex or violence remembered 83 per cent more of the ad content than those who watched shows like Howard Stern or Worldwide Wrestling. The difference persisted 24 hours after they saw the shows.

“These are pretty big differences,” Bushman says. “It’s a pretty strong effect and you get it for everybody,” regardless of sex or age. “They’re thinking about violence or sex instead of Tide or Coke or whatever is being advertised.”

Bushman wonders if ads will get more attention if they?re more geared to the shows being watched, such as ads for items like condoms or guns. He has a study about this in progress, but can?t comment on it yet.

He didn?t show any pornographic shows or any programs with nudity. If he had, he probably could have put in ads for free lotto tickets and nobody would have noticed.

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