The researchers examined how depictions of gender and sexuality combine to influence consumer attitudes. Participants in the study evaluated different print ads that the authors created for a fictitious luxury watch brand, with alternating images of male and female gay models. They used a tagline “Love Is Love” which is synonymous with the LGBTQ movement. Then, the authors replicated the study using a different product: bottled water.
Measures of attitude toward the brand included item questions such as “I like the watch in the advertisement,” “The watch would fit with my life” and “It would be embarrassing to be seen wearing that watch.” Items measuring political ideology asked participants descriptive questions (e.g. “Politically, I would describe myself as 1 = ‘extremely liberal,’ 7 = extremely conservative’ / ‘strong Democrat’/’strong Republican’).
Disgust measures (1 = not at all/9 = extremely) also included emotional measures such as anger, happiness and love, all validated by previous scholars. Finally, the authors included measures of prior attitudes toward homosexuality, with items ranging from “Sex between two people of the same sex is just plain wrong” and “I think homosexuals are disgusting,” to “Homosexuality is a natural expression of sexuality” and “Homosexuals are just as likely to be good people as anyone else.”
Among the outcomes:
- Lesbian and heterosexual imagery generated comparable responses in consumers.
- Consumer attitude toward the product and the brand, when it depicted male homosexuality in ads, was dependent on political ideology.
- For politically conservative consumers (versus liberal), the brand or product was less appealing when ads incorporated male-to-male gay imagery (versus lesbian imagery).
- Of all the negative emotions, disgust was the outlier: conservatives (versus liberal) experienced a high level of disgust when viewing ads with male-to-male ads, but the same effect didn’t occur with ads containing lesbian or heterosexual couples.
What does this mean for marketing? The simple answer is to “avoid the use of male-to-male homosexuality (… to avoid…) alienating politically conservative viewers,” the authors wrote. Although some brands are open to using such imagery, they risk incurring “a negative effect on sales and market share.”
But marketers can combat such events by using “geopolitical segmentation to guide marketing and media strategy.” Previous research has suggested that “election data affords managers an objective means to develop tailored campaigns for different geographical regions,” the authors noted.
By using election data as a proxy for consumers’ political ideologies, marketing managers “can develop and run different creative content and messages on the basis of geopolitical segments. As a result, they have the ability to move past typical stereotypes of homosexuality and communicate to larger, geopolitically segmented audience, thereby increasing the potential for diversity and inclusion.”