The Effect of Physical Attractiveness of Models on Advertising Effectiveness for Male and Female Adolescents

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INTRODUCTION

People often compare themselves with others in their daily lives. Even when watching TV commercials, there is a tendency to make comparisons with the models used (Martin & Kennedy, 1993). Richins (1991) indicated that 50% of the young adult female respondents in his study frequently compared themselves with models in regard to clothing, personal care, and cosmetics. Some studies have also indicated that female college students, adolescents, and pre-adolescents compare their physical attractiveness with that of models in ads (Richins, 1991; Martin & Kennedy, 1993, 1994).

Physical attractiveness is a very sensitive issue for many women (Gustafson, Popovich & Thomsen, 1999). With some research indicating that it is strongly associated with females' global self-esteem (Harter, 1992; Mathes & Kahn, 1975; Rosenberg, 1986). Lerner, Orlos, and Knapp (1976) found that the self-concepts of many female adolescents stem primarily from the sense of their physical attractiveness.

In advertising, the use of highly attractive models is believed to be effective in increasing sales. However, support for this view is inconsistent in the marketing literature. For example, Bower and Landreth (2001) noted positive effects of employing attractive ad spokespersons. Patzer (1983) also suggested that it resulted in better advertising effectiveness. However, Bower (2001) noted that highly attractive models could decrease advertising effectiveness because it deflated the self-image of potential customers when they compared themselves to models.

This subject has received a considerable amount of attention, but most of past research has focused on adults. Physical attractiveness is considered very relevant by adolescents and also a very significant factor in determining the levels of males' and females' global self-esteem (Harter, 1992; Mathes & Kahn, 1975; Rosenberg, 1986). Less attention has been paid to the impact of physical attractiveness on advertising effectiveness for adolescents, especially males. This study considers the effects of advertising on male adolescents as compared to females.

In addition, since self-perception of physical attractiveness is more negative among females than males (Harter, 1992; Rosenberg, 1986), we sought to determine if there is a difference in effect of physical attractiveness in advertising between males and females.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Social Comparison

Festinger's (1954) social comparison theory postulates that humans have a drive to evaluate their opinions and abilities--that they best serve this need for self-evaluation by measuring their attributes against certain standards. However, when objective standards are unavailable, individuals compare themselves with other people--social comparison. Wood and Taylor (1991) also indicated that people are motivated to evaluate themselves in this way. Suls (1986) asked college students (ages 16-25), government office workers (ages 16-50), and seniors in a retirement community (ages 65-72) to evaluate a number of their skills (e.g., reading, remembering, make conversation). After reporting their evaluations, respondents indicated that they had used comparisons with older, younger, or similarly aged people. It was revealed that they made these social comparisons frequently.

Social Comparison of Physical Attractiveness by Adolescents

Bers and Rodin (1984) pointed out that children increasingly focus their comparisons on attributes they regard as personally important as they grow older, with physical attractiveness considered a very important attribute by adolescents (Harter, 1992; Rosenberg, 1986; Mathes & Kahn, 1975). This concern about physical attractiveness has been found in adolescents in general, but especially in females (Dion, 1977; Langlois & Stephan, 1981).

Due to the unstable self-perceptions of adolescents, social comparisons have become increasingly important and efforts have been made to stabilize these perceptions regarding physical attractiveness (Martin & Kennedy, 1993). …