Does “Hot” Lead to “Not So Hot?” Sexy Images, Indulgent Consumption, and the Impacts of Gender and Self-Construal: An Abstract
The cliché “Sex Sells” is apparently held in high esteem by advertisers who rely on the use of the sexy images as a marketing strategy not only in commercial marketing but also in social marketing. Previous research on the use of sexual imagery focused on its impacts on advertising persuasion, ignoring the consumer’s subsequent behaviors following exposures to sexual imagery. This article not only investigates how exposure to sex cues may evoke indulgent consumption/choice in an unrelated context but also explores the influences of gender differences and self-construal.
Four studies were conducted. We found that simple exposure to sexy images may enhance an individual’s indulgent tendency in a subsequent, unrelated context. Before examining such causal relationship, Study 1 demonstrated a positive correlation between sex cue and indulgence through a secondary data, suggesting valid phenomenon in reality. Study 2 incorporated gender as a moderator and uses a choice between utilitarian and hedonic gift voucher as the dependent measure. Sexy images are presented through jean catalogs. Study 3 considered both gender and self-construal as moderators and employs chocolate consumption as the dependent measure. Sexy images were manipulated through video stimuli. Self-construal was assessed through a self-construal scale. Study 4 distinguished two types of sexy images (gratuitous sex and romantic love) and employs a choice between two types of auto expo tickets as the dependent measure. Self-construal was manipulated through a priming task. Sexy images were presented in perfume ads. Across four studies, we demonstrated the existence of the priming effect of sexy images, in which exposures toward sexy images are associated with the increased indulgent consumption in a subsequent unrelated context behavior. Impacts of sex cues are boosted when people who are exposed to sex cues are men and/or independent self-construal. Women with interdependent self-construal also demonstrate strong indulgent behaviors after exposures to sex cues with romance.
This research contributes to the sex literature by (a) demonstrating subsequent indulgent consumption after sex cue exposure and (b) identifying the boundary conditions in which this effect might occur. This investigation also contributes to the reward processing literature, which has received recent attention, by demonstrating that motivational mindsets such as sex can have unique effects on consumer choice. Furthermore, this research contributes to the indulgent consumption literature by identifying another important factor in indulgent consumption and showing its effects across multiple contexts. Finally, it shows that different sexual imagery may have the dual impacts of both decreasing and increasing indulgent consumption, depending on individual differences in gender and self-construal. This research integrates three important research streams to provide new insight on sexual imagery and its incidental effect on indulgent consumption.