The effects of sexual social marketing appeals on cognitive processing and persuasion

Tom Reichert, Susan E. Heckler, Sally Jackson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Increasingly social marketers are using sexual information in public service announcements and collateral material for a wide range of causes. This study builds on previous research to explain how sexual appeals can affect cognitive processing and persuasion for "help-self" social marketing topics. It also goes beyond traditional single-message research designs by testing matched pairs of appeals (sexual / nonsexual) for 13 social marketing topics. The major finding was that sexual appeals were more persuasive overall than matched nonsexual appeals for social marketing topics. Sexual appeals also stimulated more favorable ad execution-related thoughts but had a negative effect on cognitive elaboration (e.g., support and counterarguments). Respondents also reported that sexual appeals were more attention getting, likeable dynamic, and somewhat more apt to increase their interest in the topic than were nonsexual appeals. These findings suggest that persuasion is largely the result of peripheral processing and distraction from somewhat unpleasant messages when receivers are expected to counterargue the message or be resistant to change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-27
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Advertising
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Communication
  • Marketing


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