June 2020 (Vol. 60, Issue 2): GENDER AND DIVERSITY
Feminism and Advertising: Responses to Sexual Ads Featuring Women
How the Differential Influence of Feminist Perspectives Can Inform Targeting Strategies
Research has shown that U.S. consumers’ feminist attitudes can have a positive influence on people’s evaluation of women being sexually depicted in ads. Authors Hojoon Choi (University of Houston), Kyunga Yoo (Korea Telecom), Tom Reichert (University of South Carolina) and Temple Northup (University of Houston) tested the generalizability of that finding in a country with a very different cultural background—Korea. The results reaffirmed the positive effect of feminist attitudes in general but also revealed something that goes against conventional wisdom: that consumers holding conservative and liberal feminist perspectives evaluated the ads more favorably—and deemed the ads more ethical—than consumers with a radical feminist perspective. “Feminist attitudes and their effects on responses to sexual advertisements are not monolithic and are somewhat counterintuitive—important information for marketers to consider,” the authors write.
The study employed what is known as the Feminist Perspectives Scale (Henley et al., 1998), which provides a more complex view of feminist attitudes than earlier scales, “including conservatism, liberal feminism, radical feminism, socialist feminism, cultural feminism and women-of-color feminism.” A national sample of 329 respondents showed that advertisers targeting Korean consumers “can use sexual appeals despite the conservative cultural background.” Individuals associated with “liberal feminism” showed positive perceptions of women in sexual ads, while higher levels of “radical feminism” sometimes led to negative reactions.
The authors believe that the use of “femvertizing” (which emphasizes female empowerment) can “embrace more explicit sexual appeals and could be applied to hedonic product segments, such as perfume and fashion accessories.”
Among the takeaways:
- Bucking conventional wisdom, people with positive attitudes toward third-wave (liberal contemporary) feminism gave positive evaluations of sexual images of women in advertisements.
- The finding is “generalizable across countries with different cultural backgrounds.”
- The Feminist Perspectives Scale is “useful for audience targeting and segmentation.”
- Understanding feminist perspectives more clearly provides a “useful key to interpret the source of negative feedback.”
- Feminism is dynamic: what is considered acceptable at one time may become questionable in the future.