Ads that use sexualised images of women elicit similar responses from people with liberal and conservative perspectives on feminism, a study in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR) has found.

The paper was written by Hojoon Choi (University of Houston), Kyunga Yoo (Korea Telecom), Tom Reichert (University of South Carolina) and Temple Northup (University of Houston).

And their analysis distinguished the responses to sexualised images of women in ads among consumers with various attitudes related to feminism.

The groups included: liberal feminists, who view equality through the lens of a woman’s individual choices and actions; radical feminists, who seek a radical transformation of patriarchal society; and conservatives, who support traditional gender roles.

“Despite the conventional wisdom, consumers with positive attitudes toward third-wave (or liberal contemporary) feminism positively evaluated sexual images of women in advertisements,” the scholars reported.

The study found, perhaps surprisingly, that conservative participants also reacted positively to sexualised images of women in ads.

“It can be interpreted that the positive influence is not caused by consumers’ motivation of sexual liberation, but occurs because the sexual objectification fits within consumers’ conservative notion of treating women as subordinates and available for objectification in advertising,” the study said.

The paper – entitled Feminism and advertising: Responses to sexual ads featuring women: How the differential influence of Feminist perspectives can inform targeting strategies – included an online survey undertaken by 347 adults in South Korea, with a balanced gender ratio and a median age of 42 years old.

Each respondent viewed two of six “sexual advertising stimuli” for a fashion brand from Tom Ford, which was selected in part as it is known to use “sexually explicit advertising appeals”, and also is well-known in South Korea.

An advertising designer edited two original Tom Ford ads that featured nudity of a single female model to create four additional ads that represented three levels of sexual stimuli: demure, partially clad and nude.

Participants rated their “ethical judgement and advertising attitudes towards the stimulus”, the ad’s perceived sexual explicitness, and their brand interest, each of which was measured on a seven-point scale.

Contributors also provided inputs that helped the authors rank them on the Feminist Perspectives Scale, which uses a variety of questions to identify attitudes regarding this subject.

It was hypothesised that consumers with a radical feminist perspective would have a negative response in their attitude about sexualised ads, their interest in a brand using this approach, and their ethical judgement of this strategy.

By the study discovered that a radical feminist belief system was only a reliable predictor of ethical judgement, whereas that relationship did not reliably hold for the other criteria.

Sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by WARC staff