July 17, 2019
HOW LGBT SEXUAL IMAGERY INFLUENCES THE EFFECTIVENESS OF LUXURY BRAND ADVERTISEMENTS
While LGBT themes have increasingly been portrayed in advertising, little research investigates the influence of such themes on consumer attitudes. This research examines how a consumer’s political ideology affects their attitudes toward an advertised product. The findings demonstrate when politically conservative consumers view advertisements that include LGBT imagery and male models (vs female models), they report more negative attitudes toward the advertised product; however, such polarization does not occur among liberal consumers. This research also sheds light on the underlying process driving these findings. Specifically, conservatives experienced higher levels of disgust after evaluating an LGBT-themed advertisement that included (what appear to be) gay male (vs. female) models, leading to more negative attitudes towards the advertisement and the product. These findings provide theoretical and managerial implications by identifying the factor (political ideology) that might influence the acceptance of LGBT themes in advertising and establishing the mechanisms driving the predicted effects.
The difference between male and female is a common, recurring theme that transcends both plant and animal kingdoms (Gochfeld, 2007). In the human species, such differences are magnified because not only does human gender involve the standard male/female dyad, it has the potential to influence an individual’s self-identity. Consider the typical human as an example. In such a case, gender and masculinity/femininity not only define manhood/womanhood, but serve as “the primary building blocks of sexuality” (Fracher & Kimmel, 1995; p. 367). As such, sexuality is seen as a powerful expression of masculinity or femininity and this can manifest itself in the form of acceptance/non-acceptance of imagery that doesn’t conform to an individual’s self-perception. That is why ‘straight-looking’ gay men are used to portray gay males to heterosexual audiences. Such an assimilationist appeal is designed to include everyone, albeit within the confines of mainstream heteronormative ideals (Tsai, 2004). Yet, while GoM may be a factor when LGBT imagery is present, it may be that an individual’s political ideology guides any influence.
The role of political ideology: In addition to gender, political ideology has been identified as an important factor that may affect attitudes towards advertising (Crockett & Wallendorf, 2004). In fact, evidence suggests individuals of either conservative or liberal political ideology will respond depending how the viewed advertisement aligns with their values or moral foundations (Winterich, Mittal, & Ross Jr, 2009). As a result, those who conform to a conservative political ideology have been shown to have negative attitudes towards homosexuality (Whitley Jr & Lee, 2000). Thus, when evaluating an advertisement containing LGBT imagery, conservatives may be more strongly motivated to adhere to social norms than liberals (Fernandes & Mandel, 2014), be less prosocial or accepting of homosexuality (Van Lange, Bekkers, Chirumbolo, & Leone, 2012) and have distinct moral foundations (Haidt & Graham, 2007). As a result, the following hypothesis is proposed:
H1: For politically conservative consumers, the presence of (supposedly) gay male (vs. female) models in an advertisement will have a negative influence on attitudes towards the advertised product.
Disgust – The influence of emotions: Disgust towards social groups may occur when the group is believed to either be dangerous or have values differing from those of the in group (Cottrell & Neuberg, 2005). When viewing LGBT imagery in advertisements, disgust has been found to be the most prevalent emotion experienced for those who have a negative attitude to homosexuality (Hester & Gibson, 2007). Thus, for politically conservative consumers, their prevailing (negative) attitude toward homosexuality is likely to affect their attitude toward any ad featuring (what appear to be) gay models (Angelini & Bradley, 2010), particularly when models are male, as opposed to female (Lim, 2002). As such, the following hypotheses are proposed:
H2a: For politically conservative (vs. liberal) consumers, the presence of gay male (vs. female) models will cause higher levels of disgust.
H2b: For politically conservative (vs. liberal) consumers, the presence of gay male (vs. female) models will have a negative influence on attitudes toward the ad.
H2c: For politically conservative (vs. liberal) consumers, the negative influence of gay male (vs. female) models on attitude towards the product will be mediated by disgust and attitude toward the ad in a serial mediation.
METHODOLOGY AND RESULTS
The study employed a 2(gender: male/female) x 2(race: same/mixed) x 2(level of sexuality: implicit/hyper) between- subjects design. While the influence of gender was the focus of the study, race and level of sexuality were included to test the effects of gender in the presence of other factors, thereby adding to the robustness of the findings. For the 8 conditions, separate advertisements were created for a fictitious product and brand (luxury watches) by manipulating the images of the models.
The tagline ‘Love Is Love’ was included adjacent to the product and brand name, as it is synonymous with the LGBT movement (Nichols, 2014). Participants (n=546) were recruited from an online panel in the United States. A moderated regression analysis was run using existing scales for attitude toward product (Aggarwal & McGill, 2011), political ideology (Kaikati, Torelli, Winterich, & Rodas, 2017) and attitude toward the advertisement (Lawrence, Fournier, & Brunel, 2013).
Additional variables (respondent gender; sexual preference; age, education, religion, nationality) were recorded as controls. As predicted, a significant effect was observed between gender (of models) and attitude toward the product. Consistent with the hypothesis (H1), spotlight analyses revealed conservatives reported more negative attitudes toward the product when the ad included male (vs. female) models (B=.52, SE=.26, t=1.99, p<.05). By contrast, politically liberal consumers reported similar attitudes toward the product, irrespective of the gender of the models in the advertisement (B -.40, SE=.25, t=-1.59, p>.10).
Similar analyses were conducted to test H2a and H2b. Results provide support for the hypothesis (H2a), such that conservative viewers showed higher levels of disgust when viewing advertisements that included male (vs. female) models (B=-1.28, SE=0.30, t=-4.26, p< 0.01). Likewise, results provide support for the hypothesis (H2b), whereby conservative viewers reported a more negative attitude towards advertisements featuring male (vs. female) models (B=1.56, SE=0.34, t=4.5, p< 0.01).
No significant effects were shown for politically liberal viewers. To test for the mediation effects (H2c), a moderated serial mediation analysis was conducted using PROCESS (model 85) where separate bias-corrected bootstrap models were created, with 5,000 bootstrap samples taken from existing data. Results show a significant indirect effect for politically conservative viewers (B=.21, SE=.065, CI: .0938-.3523). These results provide support for the hypothesis (H2c).
DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS
This research set out to investigate how LGBT imagery, GoM and political ideology influence consumer attitudes. According to existing literature, the findings provide what appears to be the first evidence an individual’s (conservative) political ideology will have a negative influence on their response to LGBT imagery involving male models. In addition, this study identifies ‘disgust’ as the causal mechanism that results in negative consumer attitudes towards the advertisement and negative attitudes towards the product, in a serial mediation model moderated by an individual’s political ideology. The findings also demonstrate – contrary to existing literature – even implicit LGBT imagery that doesn’t include hypersexualized models will generate a level of ‘disgust’ in conservative viewers. Managerially, this research provides important implications for marketers, more specifically in the context of LGBT-themed print advertising. In particular, while consumers are more than ever familiar with the LGBT movement and its imagery in advertising, marketers must be cautious using such imagery among politically conservative consumers. Overall, this research draws attention to the importance of LGBT themes in advertising and the effects these can have on consumers’ product attitudes.
Gavin Northey, The University of Auckland, New Zealand
Rebecca Dolan, The University of Adelaide, Australia
Felix Septianto, The University of Auckland, New Zealand
Patrick van Esch, Central Queensland University, Australia
Michael Barbera, Clicksuasion Labs, United States
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