Thursday, November 08, 2012

How Do Sexy Ads Affect Consumers' Desire for Immediate Rewards?

Wharton marketing professor Gal Zauberman and USC Professor B. Kyu Kim, have written a working paper called "Can Victoria's Secret Change the Future? A Subjective Time Perception Account of Sexual-cue Effects on Impatience."   The scholars conducted a series of experiments in which they showed "sexually suggestive and non-suggestive photographs to self-identified heterosexual male students."  The suggestive photos came from the Victoria's Secret catalog.  Geesh... I imagine that students flocked to sign up for this study!  

After seeing the images, subjects had to assess the value of items, such as a $65 Amazon gift card, that were received immediately versus a year later.  The research found that viewing the suggestive photos tended to enhance the value of the immediate reward and diminish the value of rewards provided a year later.  In other words, the subjects' discount rate rose substantially. 

Zauberman argues that, "Part of the reason why people discount future events, more or less, is their perception of duration [of time]."  The suggestive photos may "lengthen the perceived temporal distance to delayed rewards. That is, sexual cues make the wait seem subjectively longer, resulting in greater impatience."  In other words, consumers may not only be compelled to buy an item, but they may be much more likely to buy NOW even if it is not the most prudent financial decision. 

The scholars conducted other experiments as well.   They also showed subjects photos "designed to elicit physical symptoms similar to arousal -- increased heartbeat and respiration, for example -- that weren't actually sexual in nature."  Interestingly, people showed the same impatience that occurred when they had viewed the suggestive photographs.   In sum, "Sex may not be the only driver of this temporal response."

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