TIME Research

Here’s How Sexy Advertising Backfires

Researchers say that titillating content can, in fact, hurt sales‚ not help them

The first nude print ad was published in 1936 for Woodbury Soap. It featured an undressed woman lazily lying at the beach, her arm positioned at just the right angle to shield her breasts from view. It followed the old advertising adage that sex sells.

But that no longer holds true, according to a new study released by the Psychological Bulletin. Brad Bushman, a communications professor at Ohio State University and a co-author of the study, says it’s not that sex and violence don’t grab our attention—of course they do. In fact, paying attention to such things are evolutionary responses that are necessary for survival (being attuned to safety threats prepares people to protect themselves; finding opportunities for mating keep the species going).

But just because they grab our eye doesn’t mean the ad translates into sales.

“[A]dvertisers think sex and violence sell, so they buy advertising time during sexual and violent programs, and in turn producers continue to create sexual and violent programs that attract advertising revenue,” the authors write. But when a person is being shown a product—say, laundry detergent—with a sexy backdrop, it’s not the detergent that’s capturing the attention so much as the action onscreen. Sex is distracting, Bushman says. “We have a limited capacity to pay attention to cues.”

Bushman and his co-author, Robert Lull, found 1,869 articles in two databases that had historically studied consumer response to sex and violence. Researchers weeded out studies that didn’t directly address consumer response, didn’t have a control group, and didn’t look explicitly at the effects of sex and/or violence on the consumer.

“In the best case scenario, sex and violence doesn’t work,” Bushman told TIME. “For advertisers, it can actually backfire, and people will be less likely to remember your [product]. They might report being less likely to buy your product if the content of your program is violent or sexual.”

No surprise, some demographics respond differently to sexy or violent ads. Women tend to remember products from provocative ads; men tend to be distracted by sex or violence and not remember the product. Older participants were turned off by violence and sex; younger consumers were more likely to respond to it.

Still, taken together, the researchers conclude this: “Brands advertised in violent contexts will be remembered less often, evaluated less favorably, and less likely to be purchased than brands advertised in nonviolent media.”

TIME Advertising

Microsoft Is Using Cute Babies to Sell Windows 10

And also Ethan Hawke

The launch of the latest Windows operating system is slated for July 29 – and Microsoft has enlisted the help of babies and Ethan Hawke to pitch the product.

Hawke, the actor and star of the Oscar-nominated film Boyhood, provides the voice-over for a series of ads that introduce the new Windows 10, an upgrade that will be offered for free to existing customers for the first time.

The ads tap into the film’s spirit of growing up in an ever-changing world, which for Microsoft, means one that is password-less, device-heavy and filled with helpful advice from voice assistant software Cortana. “They’ll do things their parents never even dreamed of,” narrates Hawke of the next generation of (Microsoft hopes) Windows 10 users.

“The first phase of the campaign is to just say, ‘Check out this new cool experience and what it means for Windows and Microsoft,'” Kathleen Hall, Microsoft Corporate Vice-President of Global Advertising and Media, told Adweek. “The next phase is about devices more going into the holidays.”

The Windows 10 launch comes at a critical time for Microsoft. The company’s stock fell 3.5% in after-hours trading Tuesday after investors responded pessimistically to the company’s latest earnings report, in which it posted its largest-ever quarterly net loss. While Microsoft’s fourth quarter revenue of $22.2 billion beat expectations, sales from its devices and consumer business dropped by 13%, with licensing revenue from its Windows software decreasing by 22% as its Windows XP nears the end of its product cycle.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella argued Tuesday that the launch of Windows 10 “will create new opportunities for Microsoft and our ecosystem.” Among the notable features of Windows 10 includes the welcomed return of the Start menu, the integration of Cortana into the operating system, and a new web browser called Microsoft Edge.

TIME Hulu

Hulu Might Be Introducing An Ad-free Option

2015 Hulu Upfront Presentation
Craig Barritt—2015 Getty Images Jerry Seinfeld speaks onstage at the 2015 Hulu Upfront Presentation at Hammerstein Ballroom on April 29, 2015 in New York City.

You'll be able to binge on Seinfeld, uninterrupted.

Hulu users who hate watching ads, you may be in luck. The streaming service may soon unveil a version that gets rid of advertisements. The catch: It’s for a price.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the new feature may be planned for as early as this fall, with it costing anywhere from $12 to $14 per month. The move comes as Hulu is attempting to become more competitive with Netflix, which currently enjoys the lion’s share of the television streaming market.

The option apparently has a codename of its own, “NOAH,” which stands for “No Ads Hulu, according to the publication, citing people familiar with the matter.

The number of Hulu subscribers pales in comparison to Netflix. The service, which is owned in part by Disney, 21st Century Fox, and Comcast, said it has about 9 million subscribers to Netflix’s 65 million. Meanwhile, Hulu may generate anywhere from $1.5 billion to $1.7 billion in revenue in 2015. Last year, Netflix garnered $5.5 billion, according to the newspaper.

Hulu did, however, make waves earlier this year when it announced it would start streaming all Seinfeld episodes.

TIME Retail

Google Is Making Shopping on a Smartphone Much Easier

US-TECHONOLOGY-GOOGLE
Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images Google's lead designer for "Inbox by Gmail" Jason Cornwell shows the app's functionalities on a nexus 6 android phone during a media preview in New York on October 29, 2014.

A new "buy button" is coming to search results

Google is finally rolling out a ‘Buy’ button in its search results. The new feature, first reported back in May, is an effort to get users comfortable thinking of Google as a shopping destination, not just a conduit to other sites.

At a press event on Wednesday, the company announced “Purchase with Google,” which will turn the ads that appear at the top of search results into cards that let users buy products from directly within Google’s interface. After clicking an ad marked with “Buy on Google,” a user will be taken to a special, Google-built page that shows information about the product and a checkout button to pay for the item using the credit card stored in a Google account.

Google isn’t actually selling these products itself, but instead partnering with retailers who will handle order fulfillment. Google makes money on these ads using the same cost-per-click ad auctions that power its traditional search ads.

With its new buttons, Google is aiming to make it easier for users to buy products on mobile phones’ screens. “There is too much friction when we try to make transactions on a phone,” says Jonathan Alferness, Google’s vice president of product management for Google Shopping. He notes that conversations rates to purchase items are still twice as high on desktop as they are on mobile.

Google is rolling out the buy button as a small test with about a dozen retailers in the coming weeks, with plans for a larger U.S. expansion by the end of the year.

At its event, Google also outlined some other recent tweaks to the mobile shopping experience. These include improved voice search that will provide users more detailed information when they ask questions about products, info cards that prominently show product reviews and improved “deep linking” capabilities that will let users open a purchase page within a retailer’s app directly from clicking a link in a Google ad.

TIME Advertising

Apple’s Very Different New Ads Throw Shade at Google

"If it's not an iPhone...it's not an iPhone"

Apple’s commercials have been renowned for decades, but every company misfires once in a while. That may be the case with the tech giant’s latest iPhone campaign, which breaks away from the heartwarming spots the company has become known for.

In the new commercial, Apple points out that it designs the “hardware part” and the “software part” of its phones. It’s a clear shot at Android phones, most of which run software designed by Google and hardware from a variety of manufacturers. “If it’s not an iPhone, it’s not an iPhone,” the spot concludes.

A second commercial in the same campaign points out that the iPhone comes with something “different.” The difference is that 99% of customers “love their iPhone”—implying that a smaller percentage of Android phone owners are satisfied with their devices.

The spots are unusual because Apple usually focuses on the functionality of its own devices, not putting down competitors. But with iPhone sales reaching record highs in recent quarters, the company seems eager to boast a bit.

TIME Advertising

5 More Ad Pitchmen Who Fell Out of Favor

The face of 'Subway' isn't the first to lose his employers' support

Correction appended, July 9

It’s been 15 years since Indiana native Jared Fogle lost 200 pounds by way of 6-inch Subway turkey subs, launching his fame as the face of the salad-and-sandwich franchise.

But on Tuesday, Subway suspended its relationship with Fogle faster than you can say “Eat Fresh” when federal law enforcement raided his house for evidence following the May arrest of the executive director of his foundation on pornography charges. The Subway pitchman has not been arrested, and is cooperating with authorities.

Unfortunately, Fogle isn’t the first face of a brand to fall out of their employer’s good books. TIME has put together a handful of the most notable, for reasons ranging from pot possession to off-color jokes:

“Dude, you’re getting a Dell” Steve

Now 35-years-old, Ben Curtis caught his big break in the early 2000s as Slacker Steve, the enthusiastic, stoner-esque star of Dell television commercials whose two foremost loves seemed to be Dell computers and the word “dude.” Curtis starred in 26 different commercials for the PC giant between 2000 and 2003—popularizing the catchphrase “Dude, you’re getting a Dell!”—at which point the then-NYU student was busted buying weed on New York City’s Lower East Side and fired from his acting gig.

The Voice of the Aflac Duck

Comedian Gilbert Gottfried had a famous eleven-year stint with insurance company Aflac as the voice of the company duck, whose most famous line was simply, “Aflac!” But when the notoriously boundary-crossing comedian took to Twitter in March 2011 to make jokes about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the Georgia-based insurance giant got into a flap and sacked him within the hour. In the 2005 commercial above, Gottfried tarred as both the Aflac duck and his owner.

The Geico Narrator

D.C. Douglas, a voiceover actor for Geico commercials, admitted to the Washington Post that he’d been a “doofus” back in 2010 after he left an inflammatory voice message for FreedomWorks, a Washington advocacy group closely tied to the Tea Party. Douglas was immediately fired from his most lucrative voice gig, and later made a spoof PSA entitled “Don’t Drunk Dial FreedomWorks.” In his voice message, Douglas asked FreedomWorks how many “mentally retarded” people they employed and what they planned to do when one of their members “does actually kill somebody.”

The “ShamWow” Guy

Israeli-American infomercial star Vince Offer, better known as the “ShamWow Guy,” rose to moderate fame in 2007 as the “jerky” face of a 8-for-$19.95 towel so absorbent it could hold ten times its weight in liquid. But when, two years later, Offer was arrested for striking a Miami prostitute who allegedly tried to bite off his tongue, audiences were less charmed by his rough-around-the-edges demeanor. Needless to say, Offer’s ShamWow days are over—but it seems he hasn’t given up on infomercials entirely.

Kevin Trudeau, Infomercial King

Motivational speaker and infomercial king Kevin Trudeau made big money over the past two decades as the face of his own brand, a range of self-help books including the 2005 bestseller “The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About.” But he also racked up some huge fines—$37.6 million, to be exact—for making false health claims, and in March 2014, landed himself a 10-year prison sentence for lying in his infomercials. Trudeau may have been the pitchman of his own products, but his face certainly won’t get much play from behind bars.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the name of the voiceover actor in Geico commercials. He is D.C. Douglas.

TIME twitter

Here’s How Twitter Plans to Capture Video Ad Dollars

Twitter Goes Public On The New York Stock Exchange
Andrew Burton—Getty Images

Feature comes days after Facebook ramped up its own video offerings

Twitter is making it easier for apps to advertise on Twitter through promoted videos.

The move, announced Wednesday, comes after Facebook started another option for those advertising through video: the ability to pay only after a video has played for at least 10 seconds.

Richard Alfonsi, Twitter’s VP of global business development and platforms, called the new feature “an immersive experience to have video directly in the tweet. It creates great performance and lets marketers convey a lot more about what the app does.”

The micro-blogging service said it will also allow advertisers to pay in different ways, too, called “optimized action bidding.”

“This new bidding type allows app install advertisers to optimize their bids according to install, while still paying by app click—offering another way to lower cost-per-installs and yield the highest possible ROI,” the company said in a statement.

Lyft, a ride-sharing service that rivals Uber, recently boasted about Twitter’s advertising capabilities: “Twitter has become our go-to channel for social media marketing,” the company said. “We’ve seen tremendous results with up to three times better performance than other social media channels.”

Twitter unveiled auto-play videos recently and started selling app-install ads last year, Adweek reported.

TIME facebook

Here’s Why Facebook Just Changed Its Logo

It's a more modern design

Chances are you missed a subtle change to Facebook’s logo Tuesday.

The company has refreshed the logo, which displays the full spelling of the brand. The most conspicuous amendment lies in the shape of the ‘a': it’s now rounded off to a single-story as opposed to its previous double-story version. The letters are also slimmer, and there’s also more white all round.

“We set out to modernize the logo to make it feel more friendly and approachable,” Facebook creative director Josh Higgins told Brand New.

The new logo is also apparently better suited to viewing on mobile devices. “This is actually a huge change and it’s much more than the ‘a,’” Howard Belk, co-chief executive and chief creative officer of branding firm Siegel+Gale, told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s driven by mobile.”

The result of a collaboration between Facebook’s in-house team and Process Type Foundry’s Eric Olson, the new Facebook logo will be showing up across Facebook sites and apps soon. The familiar ‘f’ stand-alone logo on the upper corner of Facebook’s main site – also called a favicon – will stay as it is.

MONEY privacy

The New Technology Advertisers Use to Track Everything You Do

155098353
vm—Getty Images

The FTC is currently accepting public comments on the tracking programs.

Several years ago, you may have reached the Internet through only a desktop or laptop computer, where advertisers could gather information on your activities and interests through cookies that tracked the places you visited online.

Today, you may be using a laptop, a tablet, a mobile phone and a desktop to roam the Web. Add a wireless fitness gadget or other connected device and it gets very challenging for companies to seamlessly track where you’ve been and to judge the effectiveness of their online advertisements.

To better keep tabs on your online movements in the multiple-device age, advertisers are turning to cross-device tracking programs, which help them determine if, say, you opened your laptop to buy the product that was advertised on your smartphone. While the technology may hold benefits for marketers and consumers, it’s also raising privacy concerns.

Cybersecurity and privacy attorney Michael Morgan, of counsel at Jones Day, says mobile advertising agencies are looking to cross-device tracking to better show clients the value of mobile advertising “and to be able to point to desktop purchases or purchases on iPads that may have been the result of advertisements that were first presented to consumers on a smartphone or other device.”

“As more of our lives migrate to the online world, companies are able to have a more clear picture and better understanding of their customers and potential customers,” says Morgan.

That could benefit consumers in certain ways. Say you start shopping at your favorite e-tailer on your home computer, then abandon your cart and later try to finish your purchase on your phone. The website may be able to tailor your experience so you don’t have to re-add items to your shopping cart or re-enter credit card information.

But to get that level of convenience, you will have to give up some privacy. “The privacy advocates have raised some concerns about the level of information, or the amount of information [that] currently can be known about a consumer from all of their various online activities,” says Morgan.

Sign of a post-cookie world
The Federal Trade Commission will hold a workshop Nov. 16 to explore privacy issues, security risks and potential benefits arising from cross-device tracking of consumers for advertising and marketing purposes. “With the advent of new tracking methods … it’s important to ensure that consumers’ privacy remains protected as businesses seek to target them across multiple devices,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a news release in March.

The agency noted the decreasing effectiveness of cookies in tracking consumers’ online activities. “A cookie may paint an incomplete picture of the consumer who switches between different Web browsers at home and at work. Further, a cookie stored on a consumer’s browser cannot provide insight into the consumer’s activities or preferences within the ‘sandboxed’ apps on the consumer’s phone,” the FTC said.

Attorney and data privacy expert Michael Whitener, a partner in the VLP Law Group in Washington, D.C., sees significance in the FTC’s decision to hold the workshop. “It reflects the fact that we’re entering a post-cookie world, and so the FTC is trying to get a handle on the privacy implications of the new cross-device tracking technologies,” he says.

The self-regulatory industry group Network Advertising Initiative, meanwhile, has said it will issue guidance on cross-device, interest-based advertising and has asked its members to provide comments on the relevant standards, according to Whitener. The NAI recently issued member guidance on use of non-cookie technologies but explicitly said it doesn’t cover cross-device identification or data collection yet, says Whitener.

Logins and ‘digital fingerprints’
The industry uses different approaches to try to follow consumers. It can be as simple as requiring you to log in to a site or service from whatever device you’re using. But there are also complex analytics programs that assemble user characteristics to try to identify you from one device to another.

This “probabilistic” tracking method involves the collection of such information as device type, operating system, fonts and Internet Protocol address “to create a digital fingerprint to link a user to different devices,” the FTC says. This kind of tracking “is generally invisible to consumers and, unlike tracking through cookies, the consumer has no ability to control it. Accordingly, this practice raises a number of privacy concerns and questions.”

Digital Advertising Association Executive Director Lou Mastria considers cross-device privacy an emerging area for the industry, which has been focused most recently on mobile-environment privacy issues. The group will conduct a review of what cross-device means and what privacy protections can be provided, he told CreditCards.com.

The Better Business Bureau, the DAA’s partner in applying industry self-regulatory policies, issued a compliance warning in 2014 noting that the DAA’s privacy principles are enforceable “irrespective of the technology employed to collect and use consumer web surfing activity to serve interest-based ads.”

Attorney Whitener says he agrees with the position that privacy principles should apply regardless of the tracking technologies being used. He thinks the industry’s self-policing may ward off any new regulations. “The FTC may well take the position it took after its workshop on the Internet of Things, which is that specific legislation would be premature and could stifle innovation in this area.”

Opting out
While there are a number of up-and-coming tracking companies, BlueCava, Tapad, and Drawbridge are the big names, Whitener says. The firms gather various pieces of information about Internet users to try to connect them to specific devices. They also offer opt-out mechanisms.

Tapad, for instance, says on its website that its proprietary technology “assimilates billions of data points to find the human relationship between smartphones, desktops, laptops, tablets, connected TVs and game consoles.” The firm says its algorithms provide “the highest possible probability that devices are related.”

Among the data it may collect is an “obfuscated user identifier, such as email address, but only to evaluate the probability and nature of connections between devices, never to identify the individual.” The firm says it’s involved in developing industrywide standards for consumer privacy, including clear notice and opt-out choices complying with the Digital Advertising Alliance program for advertising linked to consumer online behavior.

“Notice plus opt-out opportunity is the gold standard in the current environment,” says Whitener.

Consumers should keep in mind, however, that the clients of these technology firms — the websites you interact with — will have their own privacy policies, which could allow for data collection beyond what the vendor’s policy provides, according to Whitener. Ideally, the website will spell out both how it and its service providers collect data, he says.

Writing on the International Association of Privacy Professionals blog early this year, Whitener suggested that digital marketers be fully transparent regarding their data collection and consumer tracking practices; that they provide clear opt-out abilities; and that they be cautious about making no-personal-information-collected claims.

“Privacy policies commonly assert that cookies used by a website operator collect no personal information or that data collected is ‘anonymous,'” Whitener wrote. “That assertion may not be true of some cross-device ID methods, which enable identification of specific individuals.”

Consumers speak out
The FTC is accepting public comments on cross-device tracking, and several citizens have written to oppose tracking and call for the ability to easily opt out.

“I am opposed to any tracking by any entity,” wrote Blanche Wallace of Florida. “If I desire a product or service, I am quite capable of locating a provider. There should be a quick, easy, and obvious way to opt out of tracking.”

Jonathan Bernstein of Illinois wrote: “The most obvious thing to do would be to require any company that tracks any consumer to notify the consumer exactly who is tracking, what is being tracked, and where that data can be shared, each time the consumer logs onto a site that is party to tracking, either with a pop-up window or an email, in real-time at the point of tracking.”

The question, Whitener says, is how companies achieve meaningful notice and choice. “If the consumer has to dig through a long and jargon-filled privacy policy to learn how personal information is collected, how it’s used, and how to opt out of that collection and use, it’s not very meaningful,” Whitener says. “I like the ‘surprise minimization’ principle that California has endorsed: If consumer data is being collected and used in unexpected ways, the ad industry has an obligation to take extra steps to alert the consumer.”

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TIME Culture

Monica Lewinsky Slams a Society Where ‘Shame Is a Commodity’

Cannes Lions : Day Five
Marc Piasecki—Getty Images Monica Lewinsky attends the 'Cannes Lions Festival' on June 25, 2015 in Cannes, France.

Urges brands to help build a more "compassionate society"

Monica Lewinsky made a powerful speech at Cannes Lions festival conference Thursday about how public shaming, media and advertising are connected.

“The more we click on this kind of gossip, the more numb we get to the human life behind it,” she said, according to AdAge. “And the more numb we get, the more we click. All the while, someone is making money off of the back of another suffering.”

Lewinsky has re-emerged as a public figure two decades after she was thrust into the center of a media maelstrom over her affair with then-President Bill Clinton. In the last year, she’s come out as a vocal advocate of online compassion—she even gave a speech at TED2015 where she called herself “patient zero”of internet shaming.

“Violation of others is raw material, efficiently and ruthlessly mined, packaged and sold at a profit,” she said Thursday at Cannes. “Whether tallied in dollars, clicks, likes, or just the perverse thrill of exposure, a marketplace has emerged where shame is a commodity, and public humiliation an industry.”

But Lewinsky was quick to add that her focus on shaming wasn’t an indictment of advertising—it was a call to action.

“Building a more compassionate society is going to be a bilateral exercise between individuals and the brands that represent their aspirations, their values and their truths. People make brands. If people are compassionate, brands will be compassionate in return.”

[AdAge]

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