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Attitudinal impact of sexual embedding in print advertising

Brammer, Stephen P.
Scope and Method of Study: The main objective of this study was the investigation of the attitudinal effects of embedding of sexual stimuli in print advertising. It differs from past efforts, in that it concerns itself with figure and ground embeds rather than subliminal stimuli. Because there has been little research in this area, a theoretical basis for the study was drawn from a review of three separate, relevant areas: (1) Subliminal stimulation, (2) Attention and perception, and (3) Figure and ground manipulation. The hypothesis drawn from this basis was that the figural embedding will have no effect on viewers of these ads. The experiment performed to test this hypothesis used 74 undergraduate students in a posttest only control group design. The students were randomly divided into groups, with males and females equally apportioned. They were then shown the embedded ads or the control ads with the embeds removed. The order of presentation was also varied. Seven point semantic differential scales provided the measurement of attitudes along four components: affective cognitive, behavioral, and sexual. Eight 2 x 2 x 2 analysis of variance were used to analyze the detail. The factors were version, sex, and order of presentation.
Findings and Conclusions: The hypothesis was supported in that no significant relationship was found between attitudes and embedding. These findings are contrary to certain advertiser 1s current practices of engaging in the liberal use of figural embedding. The implication of this study is that of a "warning flag" to advertisers to examine this practice carefully and to call for more critical research. There is also an ethical issue to be considered in this attempted manipulation of mass audiences without their conscious awareness. Is this figural embedding of sexual images worth the possible social outcry? The evidence from this study says no.