Overcoming Cultural Barriers in Advertising
RUNNING HEAD: Perceptions of African American Images in Ads
"Beyond the Looking Glass:"
Thoughts and Feelings of African American Images in Advertisements by Caucasian
Cynthia M. Frisby, Ph.D.
Department of Advertising
University of Missouri-Columbia
76F Gannett Hall
Columbia, MO 65211
(573) 882-6232 (office)
(573) 446-8071 (home)
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A manuscript presented to the Minorities and Communication Division of the
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication for possible
presentation at the AEJMC Convention, August 4-7, 1999, in New Orleans, LA.
Perceptions of African American Images
Perceptions of African American Images
Advertisements with "all-black" actors are often placed in "black media" to
reach African American markets. The main purpose of this study is to determine
if certain African American images could be used to reach other target markets
in mainstream media (i.e. Caucasians). Seventy-six Caucasian female and male
undergraduates were asked to list any and all thoughts concerning Caucasian and
African-American female images. Content analysis of the thoughts revealed that
when considering Caucasian images, comments focused primarily on the model's
beauty and physical image. Conversely, when Caucasian participants in this study
were confronted by African American images, focused on and thoughts centered on
obtaining information about the product the model was advertising before making
attributions concerning her beauty and/or physical features. In addition,
ethnicity of the image was not found to affect purchase intent. The implications
of the study's findings in terms of theoretical development of cross-cultural
journalism are discussed.
Perceptions of African American Images
Beyond the Looking Glass:
Perceptions of African American Images in Advertisements
by Caucasian Consumers.
"Personal beauty is a greater recommendation than any letter of introduction"
Presently, few advertisements featuring African Americans in leading roles or
"acceptable professions" can be found in mainstream media. According to Bowen
and Schmid (1997), "for those black models pictured in mainstream advertising,
the roles are often limited or demeaning" (p. 134). Minority group actors and
models receive less time and air space in major media than members in the
majority group do. There are few advertisements in mainstream advertising in
which minorities appear alone, and, when minorities do appear, "they are
outnumbered by Whites" (Bowen & Schmid, 1997, p. 144). While research
continues to discover that the number of African American portrayals in the
media is on the rise (Zinkhan, Qualls, & Bisaws, 1990), the increase in number
is largely due to placement of these images in "all-black" media vehicles (i.e.,
Jet, Essence, "Living Single," etc). Thus, the main research question guiding
this study is to determine if the use of minorities in single-ethnic
advertisements is and can be effective in mainstream media.
Research suggests that the under representation of ethnic minorities in
mainstream media is largely a reflection of some advertisers' concerns with how
Caucasians might respond to the ads (refer to Barban, 1964; Bush, Gwinner, &
Solomon, 1974; Cagley & Cardozo, 1970). Therefore, advertisers may feel that
using minorities in mainstream media may cause some consumers to associate the
with a particular minority group (Barban, 1969).
To determine how people respond to sole-race ads, an exploratory study was
conducted. The purpose of the exploratory study is to provide a basic
understanding of how Caucasians respond and react to images in which African
Americans are dominant, leading characters. The study identifies how members
within a majority group process information following exposure to African
American images. It is possible to speculate that reactions to ethnic images is
not demographically related or driven as ethnic target marketing assumes, but
may be driven by other factors such as one's values or beliefs (i.e. group
identity; physical attractiveness; self-esteem; self-perception). Thus, it is
likely that certain images (i.e. attractive models) have a more positive
influence on consumers than does ethnicity of the model.
OVERALL SIGNIFICANCE AND CONTRIBUTION
"What many companies and advertising agencies don't seem to realize is that they
do not have to use minority media to reach minorities. For advertiser's to
assume that minorities do not [attend to] mainstream [media] is na ve, and from
a marketing standpoint, economic suicide given the size and financial resources
of many minorities. If minorities do not ignore mainstream media, why should
Lawrence Bowen and Jill Schmid, 1997, p. 142
Mainstream media does attract minorities. According to Simmons 1994 Study of
Media and Markets, many of the major media (magazines such as Cosmopolitan and
Time) attract at least 10 - 15% of the ethnic population. Even broadcast
television programs attract African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asian individuals.
Market research reveals that ethnic minority groups are regular consumers of
many popular "cross cultural" media. Research shows that, with respect to
attracting minorities, the following broadcast programs could have a
"cross-cultural" appeal. For example, a) soap operas have an ethnic audience
rating of 21.6% ; b) evening news shows garner a rating of about 15%; c)
primetime serials like "Beverly Hills 90210," "Dawson's Creek," "The Practice,"
"Ally McBeal," and "Friends," to name a few, have been found to reach up to 34%
of the ethnic audiences in the United States (Mediamark Research Report, 1995).
And, in addition, market data on broadcast audiences reveal that compared with
Caucasians and other segments, African-Americans watch television more than any
other group during the hours of 7:30 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. Careful reflection on
this audience data still leave this question: why are there so few, if any,
advertisements in which African-Americans appear found in prime-time, mainstream
Much of the research in the area of mainstream advertising and how whites and
blacks respond to advertising stimuli was conducted in the late to mid 60s, a
time in which our society as a whole was overcoming controversies and problems
in civil rights (refer to Barban, 1964 & 1969; Bush et al., 1974; Cagley &
Cardozo, 1974; Pitts, 1989). The present study seeks to contribute to and
enhance previous literature on the subject of mainstream media and minorities by
identifying how Caucasians in the 90s and in the new millenium feel and
respond to African American images in ads, especially given societal changes and
influences. Have things changed since the 1960s? Have people become more
tolerant for and accepting of cultural differences?
With information obtained in this study, network programmers, mass media
scholars and researchers, advertisers, as well as media planners buyers might be
able to at least begin considering the idea of creating ads with ethnic people
as main characters in commercials and place these ads during mainstream media.
It is hoped that exploratory studies such as this one might begin to media
planners and network professionals with data and other audience information that
encourages and allows them to feel to comfortable (or less anxious) about
placing "ethnic" ads during shows or in print media that attract a variety of
subcultures (i.e. Ally McBeal, Friends, Cosmopolitan, Time, etc)." Thus, data
obtained in this exploratory study might be used to identify, or at least begin
identifying effects of unfamiliar and unknown African American images on a
general, broad audience.
A BRIEF REVIEW OF RESEARCH AND LITERATURE ON ETHNIC MARKETING
The African American subculture represents approximately 12% of the U. S.
population (Pear, 1992; Reese, 1997). In the United States, African-Americans,
Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, and the elderly are important market
segments because these subcultures presently account for more than $500 billion
in purchasing power (Edmonson, 1985). The African American population has
impressive buying power, is increasing in size faster than the general
population, and is rising in socioeconomic status (Edmonson, 1985; Reese, 19987;
Thompson, 1990). Therefore, based on market research, it seems as if placement
of images in mainstream media may or could reflect current and important
African-Americans and the Media
Historically, African Americans have been underrepresented represented in
mainstream advertising. "The large number of appearances of African Americans
in minor and background roles and the converse-their relative infrequency of
appearance in major roles-suggest an unwelcome tokenism" (Taylor, Lee, & Stern,
1995). In a study of portrayals of Blacks in magazine and television
commercials, Zinkhan et al. (1990) found an upward trend in portrayals of
African American characters and actors in both magazine and television
advertisements. This upward trend was also confirmed other related studies
which show that African Americans presently account for approximately 25% of
characters or actors depicted in advertisements (Bowen & Schmid, 1997; Wilkes &
Valencia, 1989). Thus, it appears as if the frequency of African-American
portrayals in the media is improving.
According to Bowen and Schmid (1997), the increase in African American
portrayals in ads is not a major advance in society because, they contend, there
is still room and need for improvement. "It's easy for an advertiser to simply
add minority models to diffuse criticism; and, if one were to simply count the
number of times minorities appear in advertisements, the increase could be
viewed as progress" (Bowen and Schmid, 1997, p. 144). In order to make
improvements in the portrayal of African-American images, it is argued,
enhancements are needed, not in the number of portrayals, but in how the images
are portrayed. Thus, advertisers and advertisements need to begin to show
African-American images alone in major roles particularly in the major media.
Some believe that the increase in the number of African Americans images is due
in large part to an increase in the number of African American celebrities and
sports figures used in endorsements. The proliferation of these role models
appears to aid the reduction of racial distinctions, particularly those
distinctions found in advertising. Minority spokespersons such as Bill Crosby,
Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, to name a few, are used more because, it could be
argued, that these celebrities are more "integrated," or, tend to have a more
general audience appeal (Pollay, Lee, & Carter-Whitney, 1992). For example, in
categorizing African Americans, many White Americans are more likely to identify
with these spokespersons because of their likability, physical attractiveness,
and more importantly, their occupational role rather than with their ethnicity
(Devine & Baker, 1991). Could physical attractiveness help other, less famous
images attain a similar general audience appeal? Or are there other variables
and factors (e.g., exposure to and/or familiarity with the image) that might be
used to explain why ethnic celebrities can transcend cultural barriers while
images that are just as attractive and likable can not?
Ingroup Bias and Ethnic Target Marketing
Advertisers who use cultural segmentation hope to reach the African American
segment by using images and other executional elements that consumers can and
will relate to and identify with. For that reason, advertisers use
African-American images to sell to African-American target markets, Hispanic
images to sell to Hispanic markets, and Caucasian images to sell to Caucasians
because membership in these various ethnic groups, research suggests, shapes a
consumer's needs and wants. According to research, group membership is often
predictive of consumer related variables such as level and type of media
exposure, food preferences, wearing distinctive apparel, and product usage
(Barth, 1969; Costa & Bamossy, 1995; Wallendorf & Reilly, 1985). Consequently,
advertisers interested in targeting specific ethnic segments employ various
strategies to better match the psychology and interests of individual
Desphande and Stayman (1994) discovered that group membership affects and
influences perceptions of advertising stimuli. These researchers discovered
that members of minority groups are more likely to find an advertising
spokesperson from their own group to be more trustworthy than a spokesperson
from another ethnic group. Other work in this area continues to document and
provide support for this general tendency for people to engage in what social
psychologists have termed ingroup bias in evaluating others (Tajfel & Turner,
1986). Consider the following example: An individual is afforded an
opportunity to observe and make assessments of two people performing the same
job. Let's suppose that one of the individuals is a member of the same ethnic
(majority) group. Research on in-group bias predicts that performance
evaluations of the two individuals will be biased in favor of the ingroup
According to Tajfel and Turner (1986), ingroup bias manifests itself when people
selectively remember the ingroup persons' "good" performance and the outgroup
members' "bad" behavior. Or, they argue that people may selectively forget the
ingroup persons' "bad" performance and the outgroup members' "good" performance.
This type of "ingroup" favoritism helps to explain why target marketing is
effective: It is possible that people's identification with their particular
ingroup causes them to selectively process information contained in the ad and
eventually lead to biased emotional responses. Why does this bias in response
Social identity theory asserts that people have more positive ratings for
members who share similar ingroup membership (Tajfel & Turner, 1986). Thus, it
is possible that group membership (Caucasian) may cue White consumers' group
identity in a particular way and the expression of this identity should be
manifested in a relative expression of liking for Caucasian Support for social
identity theory can be found in recent research conducted by Coover and Godbold
(1998). Results obtained in the study revealed that Whites respond positively
to representations of Blacks, particularly when the representation is in terms
of political group affiliation.
H1: Caucasian participants will indicate the strongest liking for Caucasian
images over African American images.
Overall, this hypothesis proposes that representations of ethnicity (African
American or Caucasian) may cue Caucasian consumers' racial identities in a
particular way. The expression of a cued identity, therefore, is the biased
Effects of Ethnicity on Purchase Intention
Whittler (1990) conducted two studies focused on examining the effects of
actors' race on viewer attitudes and purchase intentions. Data revealed that
some white viewers are unaffected by the presence of black actors while other
white participants are not as positive to black actors as they are to white
actors. In another related study, Whittler and DiMeo (1991) found that
regardless of attitudes toward blacks, white adults are less likely to purchase
the products and hold less favorable attitudes toward the products and
advertisement when the ad features a black rather than a white image.
H2: Caucasian adults will report being less interested in and likely to purchase
the product when the ad features an African American rather than a Caucasian
Advertisers in the mid 1960s were hesitant about the possibility of including
blacks in advertisements. A lot has happened, however, since the 1960s. Forces
such as desegregation and affirmative action have cut across cultures to create
similarities and cultural changes. The first research question deals with
acceptance of African Americans in advertisements by examining whether or not
attitudes toward black images are changing. It is possible that Caucasian and
African American people of today are more willing to accept and are more
tolerant of individuals of different races. Evidence of this tolerance might
be found, for example, in purchase intent and the image's ability to encourage
the participants to seek more information about the product.
1: Are Caucasian adults more or less likely to be interested in a product when
the ad features an African American image?
Attractive Women Images in Advertising
Analyses of ads in magazines that are read by both males and females such as
Time, Newsweek, and People, show that a large majority of women included in the
ads are physically attractive (Ferguson, Kreshel, & Tinkham, 1990). Research
shows that women are now as likely as men to be central characters in television
commercials are (Harris & Stobart, 1986). Thus:
2: What reactions or types of thoughts do Caucasians have when viewing a
physically attractive African American female models?
This exploratory study was conducted to generate new theoretical insights with
respect to how consumers respond and react to ethnic images. The main purpose
of this study is to answer questions that are implied or unanswered by prior
research. A content analysis was developed to accomplish three research
objectives: 1) test the hypothesis that people respond favorably to "ingroup"
images, 2) quantify thoughts and feelings, and; 3) identify or categorize the
thoughts and feelings people have when exposed to African-American images.
Design and Procedure
The researcher was primarily interested in identifying instances in which
African American models appeared alone and were the focus of the advertisement.
All advertisements selected for the sample were removed from magazines,
numbered, and catalogued by the researcher and two research assistants. Two
judges (not the author) coded the advertisements. The ads were coded based on:
a) the product being advertised (i.e., perfume, make-up, lingerie, diet
products, health and fitness, and food); b) the exposure or layout of the image
(i.e. full body or full-face exposure); and c) model's ethnicity (i.e.,
Caucasian or African American). Each coder received training in the use of the
coding categories. Both judges worked independently in coding the ads.
Next, another process was used to further select appropriate advertisements for
study. Selection of the advertisements was made based on whether or not the
product or brand name could be easily removed from or cropped out of the ad.
This procedure was conducted so that the participant's familiarity with or
liking for a particular brand would not contaminate results obtained in the
Twenty-four color print ads were randomly selected from the sample of 40. The
researcher recreated the ads and designed them in such a way that participant's
were unable to easily recognize the product being advertised. A small sample of
judges rated the images on (a) model attractiveness and beauty; (b) how
interesting the ad was; and (c) the ads' persuasiveness and believability. 10
ads (5 with Caucasian models and 5 with African American models) were identified
and selected for further experimentation. Refer to Appendix A provides for
examples of the images that were employed in the study.
A random numbers table was then used to identify and determine order of
appearance of the ten images. Two ads featuring pets and two for children were
included to eliminate or reduce hypothesis-guessing effects. While the study's
main objective is the thoughts or feelings elicited by African American models,
information regarding the Caucasian models also was recorded so that comparisons
of the two groups could be reported.
Sample and Procedure
Approximately 100 students were recruited for the study. Students are
considered appropriate for the present study because they are: a) homogeneous,
b) a popular target audience for advertisers; and c) as research suggested, may
express and be more open to and tolerant of cultural differences.
Participants were upper-division students enrolled in courses at a large
mid-western university. All respondents received additional course credit in
exchange for participation in the study. After consenting to participant in the
study, each individual was asked to report to a "meeting" so that they might add
to a discussion of two very "hot topics" in advertising--whether or not
advertising manipulates consumers to buy unnecessary products and the issue of
overexposure to advertising messages and images.
Upon arriving, participants were told that the researcher was interested in
designing an ad campaign for a local research and needed to assess attitudes and
opinions from young, college students concerning the hot topics. Participants
were told that the information t hey provide would be used to help identify
images that consumers in their age group found or believe to be most
"effective." Instructions further explained that the "winning" image--the
image that a majority of the group decided was by far the most attractive and
did not or would not communicate deception (e.g., a manipulation attempt or
evidence for subliminal exposure)-- would then be used to design a major
promotional campaign for similar college adults aged 18 -34.
Next, participants were allowed to evaluate each of the 10 ads for 2 and
one-half minutes. Thus to ensure that data obtained would reflect spontaneous
thoughts and opinions, the images stayed on the screen while participants
reflected upon and answered questions about the ads. After 2 the + minutes were
over, the image automatically disappeared from the screen. A black screen
appeared for approximately 1 minute and the next image appeared. This procedure
was repeated until all 14 (10 experimental ads and 4 non-experimental ads) ads
Participants were asked to list every thought that occurred while looking at the
ad. While this procedure did yield information that was not of interest to the
researcher, it was believed that it was better to lose some detail than to risk
the possibility of priming or having participants censor themselves and their
true thoughts, feelings, and attitudes. And to ensure honest responding, the
investigator informed participants that responses and opinions were completely
THE VARIABLES OF INTEREST
Items were used to assess background and demographic information of the sample.
One open-ended item was used to obtain information concerning age. Other
variables included in the research booklet were: Gender (1=Male, 2 = Female);
Ethnicity (1= Caucasian, 2= African American, 3= Asian American, 4= Indian, 5=
Hispanic, 6= Other); Household income (1= Less than $15,000, 2= $15,000 -
$24,999, 3= $25,000 - 49,999, 4= $50,000 - $99,999, 5=-$100,000 - $149,999, and
6= $150,000 or more), and one open-ended item to assess age. Participants were
also asked to identify their involvement level with advertisements for certain
products or services (1 = a lot of attention 7 = little attention). The
products included on the survey were: cosmetics, diet products, clothing,
toiletries, lingerie, food, drinks, music, shoes, medicine, exercise equipment,
perfume, fast food, soft drinks, snack food, jewelry, automobiles, sports
equipment, computers, movies, books, and electronics.
To assess attitudes toward the image, three open-ended items were used to
capture thoughts while viewing the images. In addition, a 6-item scale
measuring purchase intent and model attractiveness was also used. The six-item
scale was comprised of items that measured the following: a) the extent to which
the image "encourages me to learn more" (1=strongly disagree to 5 = strongly
agree); b) inspires "interest in the advertised product" (1 = strongly interest,
5 = strongly uninterested); c) "attractiveness of the model," (1 = very
attractive, 5 = very unattractive); d) familiarity with the model (1 = very
familiar, 5 = very unfamiliar); e) how likely would the image encourage your
purchase and purchase intent, if placed in an advertisement for your favorite
product (1 = very likely to 5 = not very likely); and f) to what extent the
image in the ad influenced purchase intention (1 = a very large role 5 = a very
Participants were also asked to respond to questions concerning level of
familiarity with the image. Responses to the items, "I have seen this model
before," (1 = strongly agree, 5 = strongly disagree) and "I am familiar with the
model," (1 = strongly agree, 5 = strongly disagree) were used identify the
extent to which familiarity with the image influences liking and affect.
In order to classify thoughts and opinions of the African American and Caucasian
models, a separate analysis was conducted on one open-ended item.
Participants were asked to "list all the thoughts you have about the image."
Guidelines and procedures for coding the open-ended item will be discussed in
the following section.
Thought Analysis Codebook and Procedures
Four independent individuals (two males and two females) of similar background
were selected to code participant reactions and thoughts. Coders were trained
in the coding procedure. Explanations of categories, category definitions, and
dimensions listed in the codebook were provided to each coder during a training
session. Verbal instructions were enhanced by practice coding sessions in which
examples of thoughts and reactions were shown to the coders and coders were
asked to code the data according to their understanding of category definitions.
Coders were asked to discuss any problems or questions they may have had
regarding coding the data and thoughts.
To ensure reliability, all coders independently content analyzed thoughts.
Coders were told as little about the purposes of the study. Disagreements were
resolved in consultation with the principal investigator. Negotiation of
disagreements was not allowed: In the absence of unanimity, the majority verdict
was taken; when there was no agreement, the thought was excluded from analysis.
Conceptualization and Operationalization of Thought-Listing Categories
Affective Response: Refers to the extent to which viewers expressed positive or
negative feelings about the ad. There were three dimensions associated with the
affective response category and they were:
1. Positive - the extent to which the participant favors or expresses liking for
2. Negative- the extent to which the participant expresses extreme dislike for
3. Other - Any expression or description not described above.
Type of Thought/Response
Individuals were asked to "list any and all thoughts that you have about the
image." Responses were coded based on the following 5 dimensions:
1. Physical Attractiveness- refers to comments listed that describe or refer to
the model's physical beauty, features, or physique. (Examples of thoughts
classified in this category are: "She is a beautiful model," "She is
attractive," "She has a beautiful smile and nice teeth," "Nice body.") These
comments include descriptions of the model's physical features, beauty, and body
2. Self-definition refers to those thoughts or comments that related an
attribute of the product with an aspect of the self. This concept assumes that
there was some cognitive matching between product attributes and the consumer's
self-image (Claiborne & Sirgy, 1990). (Examples of participants thoughts that
were placed in the category were: "I need something like that for [my problem],"
"I want to look like that," "If they could promise me that the product, I would
buy it in a heartbeat," "If only I were that beautiful.")
3. Execution style - comments related to peripheral cues such as the
illustration, design, and layout of the image or ad. Thoughts such as, "why is
she laying upside down?," or "there is too much white space and it is ugly," "I
don't like the fact that they used so much purple" are examples of thoughts
coded with this dimensions.
4. Product - Responses placed in the product-type dimension of this category
must make reference to the features or benefits of using the product. Examples
of comments coded with this dimension are: "What type of product is that?" "I am
not sure if I am familiar with product she is advertising," "I don't use that
product," "I don't need to wear make-up," and "If she were advertising some
exercise equipment, I would buy it." For a response to be assigned this code,
comments must show that the participant was thinking about some specific
attribute of the product and think about how well this product matches some
aspect of the self.
5. Other- Comments made that did not center on any of the above categories.
Coders were instructed to assign only one code. For example, if an individual
made comments that related to the image's physical beauty, but also talked about
executional elements of the ad, coders were instructed to code the first thought
listed. This was done in order to maintain the mutual exclusivity of the data
Coding was a problem because it was often difficult to tell what a person meant
by a particular thought. If a subject wrote, for example, "natural,"
"disgusting," "pleasant," or dirty, the coder had to decide if these were
statement reflecting negative affective responses toward the image, or toward
the execution of the ad. Comments and statements such as these were classified
Reliability in the coding was evidenced by the extent to which the four coders
independently assigned the same code to the same response. Holsti (1969)
recommends that intercoder reliability for nominal data be calculated to reflect
percentage of agreement. Percentage agreement figures for all reported
categories were in excess of the 80% agreement standard recommended for content
analysis of nominal data. Reliability of the categories are as follows;
affective response 96.9%; type of thought 87.9%; relevance of image 91.7%; and
reason or explanation 90.4%.
Data Analysis and Procedure
Measurement of the dependent variables used in the content analysis took the
form of a nominal scale. Using SPSS, a statistical software package, and the
number of occurrences falling into each dimension was counted. For example:
there were three dimensions within the affective response category, positive,
negative, and other. Coders examined the responses, assigned a code for the
affect. The thought was then analyzed and coded based on the type of thought
the person had about the image. Five dimensions were associated with the type
of thought. A code was also assigned for this variable and so on. After all
the data were entered, SPSS was used to count the number of occurrences of each
dimension within each category.
Categories were mutually exclusive because thoughts and responses to an image
could only be placed into one and only one dimension. In cases where thoughts
were given more than one code, categories were separated into smaller, mutually
A 2 (ethnicity of model: Caucasian, African American) X (5 portrayal: 5 poses of
different models) within-subjects analysis of variance was initially conducted
on the data to assess main effects of gender on model attractiveness. This
analysis was conducted to ensure that males and females did not differ in their
perceptions of attractiveness. The analysis revealed no significant main
effects of gender on model attractiveness, F (1, 65) = 1.7, p = .19). An ANOVA
was also conducted for purchase intent and other items appearing on the six-item
scale. Results of this statistical analysis will be reported in the next
Data analysis of the thought-listing task began with a review of the descriptive
statistics such as calculated percentages and means for the categories that
appeared on the code sheet. The next step involved cross-tabulations of the
data. Cross-tabulations were conducted within the categories (affective
response, type of thought, relevance, and explanation) to help uncover patterns
in the data that contributed to significance in the Chi-square test.
Initially, a total of 99 people participated in the study. Sixty-three percent
of the respondents were female and 36.8% were male. Data from twenty-three of
the 99 were excluded from subsequent analysis because these people identified
themselves as belonging to different ethnic groups. Thus, of the remaining 76
Caucasian participants, sixty-three percent (N = 48) were females (N=48) and
thirty-seven percent (N=28) were males.
H1: Caucasian participants will indicate the strongest liking for Caucasian
images over African American images (not supported)
Insert Figure 1 About Here
Cross-tabulation results show that a majority of the responses to both Caucasian
and African American images were positive, (2, 1,6 = 19.5, p < .01. However,
it was interesting to discover that responses were more positive toward the
African American models than for the Caucasian models. Further Chi-square
analysis did not reveal differences in affective response between males and
females, (2, 1,6 = 4.9, p > .5. Refer to Figure 1.
While data reveals that, overall, participants responded favorably to both
Caucasian and African American images, it is worth noting some of the
thought-provoking comments received. For example, one respondent, after viewing
an African American model wrote: "it is about time we see positive images of
Blacks." Another respondent expressed this same positive sentiment and stated
that, "it is really good to see positive images of blacks, especially to know
that images like this one is being seriously considered to be used in media or
ads" And yet another participant said, "She is beautiful. I wish I had her body.
I am glad to see that an advertiser is considering using an African American
image that is real and not Halle Berry or somebody else just as famous." Thus
it appears as if young people are more tolerant and accepting of cultural
differences in media images.
Insert Table 1 About Here
Table 1 contains the data for the affective responses of the images, together
with the results of the overall analyses for each category. Cross tabulation
results of each of the categories and the calculated responses represents the
total number of thoughts identified for each dimension.
H2: Caucasian adults will report being less interested in and likely to purchase
the product when the ad features an African American rather than a Caucasian
image (not supported).
An analysis of variance was run for the purchase intent variable. Data analysis
did not reveal a main effect of ethnicity or ethnic background of the image on
purchase intent. Males and females were not found to differ with respect to
purchase intent, F (4, 61) = 1.3, p =.27. Main effects of model's ethnicity
(Caucasian, African American) also was not found, F (1, 64) 3.3, p =. 08. The
effect was not qualified by an interaction of ethnicity or of gender, F (1, 1) =
.39, p = .81.
Examining specific cross tabulation results for responses categorized by
specific type of thought suggests that the participant's employed in this study
thought about the two racial images in two different ways. For example, data
show that when confronted with and asked to think about Caucasian images, most
comments were related to thoughts about and considerations of the image's beauty
or physical attractiveness. For a large percentage of the sample (83%), the
first thought that came to mind was about Caucasian image's physical beauty.
However, when exposed to and asked to comment on the African American images,
cross tabulation of the data show that the first thought that came across the
minds of most people (85.9%) was a thought or concern about the product and its
relevant attributes and/or features. Analyses were also conducted on the
gender variable to determine if gender affected the type of thought. Cross
tabulations did not reveal significant differences in the responses provided by
males and females (all p'' > .6).
Insert Figure 2 About Here
The researcher then analyzed the ratings of all 10 models attractiveness scores
to determine if level of attractiveness might have influenced the thoughts and
responses. A comparison of the means revealed that, on a scale from 1 = very
attractive to 5 = very unattractive the mean for Caucasian models was 2.3 (n =
74). The mean attractiveness score for the African American models was 2.4
indicating that, in fact, the participants found both groups of models to be
fairly attractive (p > .7)
Data analysis revealed the following:
y Caucasian responses to representations of African American females in
advertisements were significantly more positive than responses to
representations of Caucasian females in advertisements.
y Gender was not found to influence affective response, type of thought,
purchase intent, or the image's relevance.
y When confronted by images of Caucasians in advertisements, males and females
made remarks that focused upon the model's physical beauty and other attractive
features. However, when confronted by images of African Americans, males and
females were most interested in the product category or in specifically
obtaining more information about the product the model was advertising.
y Ethnicity of the image (Caucasian versus African American) does not influence
or play a role in determining purchase intent.
Why would Caucasian consumers respond more positively to African American
images? According to Coover and Godbold (1998), the higher ratings for the
African American images may reflect an "aversive racism" or an unwillingness to
indicate dislike for an African American image. Or, it is possible that their
responses of the images may reflect a preference for the images that accommodate
a "white identity" (Coover & Godbold, 1998). Future research should test an
older and perhaps a larger sample of ethnic groups to rule out the possibility
that this effect was due to the sample employed in this study. Other studies
could for example, reverse the sample and determine if African American
consumers will respond more positively to Caucasian images or African American
images. It is possible that showing the images devoid of a product affirmed a
"nonracist identity" for many of the participants and that this self-affirmation
may have caused participants to respond more positively toward the "outgroup
Hypothesis 2 suggested that Caucasian adults would report being less interested
in and likely to purchase the product when the ad features an African American
rather than a Caucasian image. However, data did not reveal significant
differences in ethnicity of the model and purchase intent. Recall that brand
names were not visible or were removed from the ads. Many of the images were
simply images without any mention of the product or representation of the
product category. This, of course, explains why differences were not found.
However, it should be noted that respondents were asked to respond to the
question, "if the image appeared in an advertisement for your favorite product,
I would, without a doubt purchase the product? 1 = strongly agree, 5 = strongly
disagree. Future studies could further test the influence of ethnicity on
purchase intent by using images advertising specific products and after the
experimental manipulation, researchers could ask participants to "select' or
pick a product of choice. The "selected" product would then be used to
determine how ethnicity of an image affects purchase intentions and product
Results of this study further indicate that, by far, the most dominant thought
in response to Caucasian models was about her physical beauty and the most
dominant thought in response to African American models was thoughts related to
product qualities and characteristics. This finding suggests that it is
possible for some ethnic images to have a general audience appeal, but the
magnitude of the appeal primarily depends upon the product. Or it might suggest
that some Caucasians have come to EXPECT black models to advertise black
products and that is why they needed information about the product first. This
data suggests that using black models to advertise black products and placing
these ads in "all-black" media may be creating a new stereotype or heuristic cue
for consumers-a stereotype that communicates that African-American models are
only able to sell to other African Americans. While this may be true of some
products (i.e., hair relaxer), it is certainly not true of most of the products
blacks use and consume (i.e., soap, detergent). Future research might attempt to
discover whether or not people have developed schemata or conceptualized images
and scripts about images, endorsers, and their associations with products.
Using the meaning transfer model, research could determine if an ethnic endorser
encodes particular meanings that have been transferred to the endorsed product.
Since most Caucasians in this study did not immediately dismiss the ethnic
models, but seemed concentrate on the product, it could be hypothesized that
some type of meaning has been transferred by ethnic images to the advertised
products and this meaning communicates an idea to majority members "this is an
ad for black people only." Considering data obtained in the present study, it
appears as if this meaning and message might be communicated more powerfully
than other forms of communication (e.g., Caucasians selling products for both
blacks and whites).
Data obtained in this study suggests that when confronted by unfamiliar African
American spokespersons in ads, most people look for information regarding the
product before making judgments as to whether or not to attend to the
advertisement. Given the data and information in the present study, future
research should continue to explore the multiple roles of Caucasian and ethnic
images. For example, surveys could be conducted using a standardized rating
scale to discover brands and product categories that achieve wide spread appeal
and rate high among a culturally diverse audience. The survey could then
identify endorsers or images that might be used to draw cross-cultural appeal as
well as attract attention to the ad and encourage repeat purchase.
"Minorities read mainstream magazines and buy mainstream products. It's time
they receive mainstream treatment"
Bowen & Schmid (1997), p. 144
The results of the present study suggest that placement of minority images in
minority media may not be necessary, for some particular products. The fact
that people thought about the product first when exposed to African American
models suggests that people may not look to the image to decide if a product
matches some aspect of the self, but may use information about the product and
product features to influence decision-making. Since this is an exploratory
study, it is suggested that the findings be interpreted with some caution.
Future research should determine and identify the relationship among ethnic
product and media usage, purchase patterns, self-definition, and types of
message appeals. It is possible that the way something is said can be just as
significant as who is saying it. Research in this area might examine how
consumers of various ethnic groups process various advertising messages. Other
studies might center on understanding how motivation to think about the image
effected the results of the present study.
For example, data obtained in the present study seem to suggest that
participants in the relied on peripheral cues when processing or thinking about
the Caucasian images. However, when confronted by African American images,
people seem to have not only thought about the image differently. And, in
addition, it appears as if they elaborated on the image longer in order to
determine if the image was associated with a relevant, high-involvement product.
Future research could, for example, measure participants' reaction time and see
if they do in fact take longer to process advertisements with ethnic images than
they do for the ads with Caucasian images. Longer time spent with an ad may not
only signal high involvement, but may suggest that, holding the product
constant, people use two different information processing routes when
elaborating on or thinking about advertising images and messages.
Studies on ELM suggest that the peripheral route is taken when a person is not
motivated to really think about the message. Instead consumers use cues to
determine "appropriateness" of the message. Cues used include, the
attractiveness of the source or the manner (or the execution) in which the
message is presented. The fact that one person thought about Caucasian images
in one way and African American images in a different way seems to suggest that
different information-processing routes were taken. ELM posits that the same
variable can be both a central and a peripheral cue, depending on the variable's
relationship to the attitude object. This might explain why the physical
attractiveness of Caucasian models served as a peripheral cue in the ads used in
the study, but why beauty of the African American model might have been a
central cue for the product. According to Petty, Cacioppo, Sedikides, and
Strathman (1988), product benefits are directly tied to enhancing
Research could also explore how variables such as involvement, physical
attractiveness, values and beliefs, self-definition, and group identity affect
attention to ads, and ultimately product purchase intentions. Studies in this
area could determine how each one of these variables affects other ethnic, or
subculture populations like Asian Americans, Hispanics, and other segments in
society like, religious subcultures, age cohorts, teenagers, Generation Xers,
baby boomers, college students, and senior citizens.
The variables introduced in this study appear to have generated some interesting
findings, with those concerning affective response, purchase intent and how
people responded to the images being particularly intriguing. Purchase intent,
it seems, is not influenced by the image; although males and females employed in
the sample found the images to be relevant, both ethnic and Caucasian images did
not affect the participant's purchase intentions. This finding is worthy of
further investigation. Indeed, given the widespread use of physically
attractive images to sell or influence product liking, images do not seem to
affect consumers as much as knowing how well the product features match with
aspects or features of one's self-identity.
Overall, the findings of the present study extend our knowledge of the effects
of intercultural or cross-cultural advertisements. It seems, in fact, that the
picture is somewhat more complicated because of the fact that images of ethnic
and Caucasian people are processed differently. This, of all the findings, is a
subject especially worthy of further investigation because understanding how
people process images may indicate and identify other significant factors that
encourage immediate response(s) to an advertisement. It may be that when
processing advertisements of sole-African American images, people are able to
look beyond the "looking glass," to go beyond conventional stereotypes, and make
decisions based on other more rational features.
Table 1: Cross-Tabulation of Thoughts and Responses by Ethnicity of Image in
ETHNICITY OF MODEL
(2 = 19.5, d. f. = 6. **b
(2 = 4.3, d. f. = 6, n.s.
(2 =34.4, d. f. = 6, ****
Type of Thought
(2 = 38.1, d. f. = 7 ***
(2 = 6.6, d. f. = 7, n. s.
(2 = 9.9, d. f. = 6, n. s.
(2 = 22.9, d. f. = 5****
(2 = 6.4, d. f. = 6, n. s.
Note: a Numbers reflect the total number of observations occurring for each
dimension within a category; b) Indicates statistical significance at the * p <
.05 ** p < .01, *** p < .001, and **** p < .0001 levels.
Figure 1: Emotional Response as a Function of Exposure to Caucasian and
African American Images.
Note: Participants were more likely to respond positively to the African
American images than Caucasian images, (2 = 19.5, d. f. = 6. **b
Figure 2: Frequency of Thoughts Reflecting Instantaneous Reactions to Caucasian
and African American Images.
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