Current Issue Summary
Sept 2021 (Vol. 61, Issue 3)
An Investigation of Androgyny and Sexual Orientation in Advertising: How Androgynous Imagery and Sexual Orientation Impact Advertisement and Brand Attitudes
Despite more than 50 years of scholarship on gender in advertising—including studies focused on imagery and messaging about (and for) the LGBTQ+ segment—little to none exists on nonbinary/androgynous individuals—even in the health field. In a groundbreaking study, Kelly Cowart (University of South Florida) and Phillip Wagner (College of William & Mary) explore consumers’ reactions to the use of androgynous images in ads, in terms of their perceptions about the brand and the advertisement. This is the first study to “experimentally test the relationship between androgynous portrayals and consumer responsiveness to advertising,” the authors write.
Cowart and Wagner modeled their work on earlier research that examined attitudes toward the ad and the brand. “Because androgyny is neither explicitly an organizational statement on LGBTQ+ alignment nor a dissent on traditional representations of masculinity and/or femininity, research must explore what inferences are made by consumers,” they note. “These attitudes are directly tied to purchasing intent and marketing outcomes.” Study 1 involved showing versions of the same ad featuring a female, male or androgynous model for a high-end British clothier that most participants were not familiar with. The majority of participants were heterosexual and Caucasian (both males and females), with a small percentage of nonbinary (identifying as genderqueer). Results showed that the heterosexual participants had “significantly lower evaluations” of the androgynous ad and “significantly higher evaluations” of the female ad, compared to other viewers—both in terms of attitude toward the ad and toward the brand.
Study 2’s ads with androgynous models representing known brands—one luxury (Versace) and one nonluxury (Target)—also drew a mixed response. Males offered “significantly lower evaluations” than the other research participants. But “subjects who identified as binary and who viewed the Versace advertisement exhibited the highest evaluations of all gender groups.” The Target ads received the lowest evaluations from all respondents.
A key implication is that gender presentation in an ad “clearly attracts the attention of potential consumers in distinct, perhaps inconsistent, ways,” the authors write. “Sexual orientation and gender identity are important factors to consider when planning advertising content.” Study 1’s more positive reactions to female models reinforced earlier findings that North Americans generally prefer highly feminine models.
“Androgynous imagery has been proposed as a happy medium between heterosexual and non-heterosexual depictions, yet it may not be holistically accepted by members of the mainstream population compared with traditional male or female models,” the authors add. “A paradigm shift, nevertheless, is occurring with an audience that is primed to embrace new gender schemas and definitions of beauty. These consumers are apt to form positive attitudes toward companies that display cultural competence and sensitivity.”
Among the takeaways:
- When creating ads, “marketers must be mindful that consumer sexual orientation and gender identity can influence the formation of advertising and brand attitudes when androgynous imagery is used.”
- Brands must make “conscious and informed decisions on the ever-changing connotations associated to gender identity, presentation and representation.”
- Ads featuring androgynous images “may be well received by nonmale, non-heterosexual audiences.”
- “Use of androgynous imagery may be most effective in” ads of luxury goods to non-heterosexual, nonbinary consumers.
- “Marketers of nonluxury brands would be wise to limit their use of androgynous models in advertising at this time.”
Read the full article here.