Skin Tone as the Signifier of Race: The Effect of Consumer Ethnic Identity on Targeted Marketing

Article excerpt


Although there has been significant research regarding ethnically targeted marketing and the portrayals of ethnic minorities in Advertising, the central focus has been on categorizing race as a physiologically homogeneous group without considering other variables such as skin color. When targeting the Black consumer, the role that the visual identifiers of race play has been omitted from extensive examination. Using the consumer's ethnic identity as a framework for this study, the reception of advertisements featuring Black models of different skin tones was tested in this research. The specific outcome measures of advertising effectiveness examined in this study were attitude towards the ad (A^sub ad^), attitude towards the product (A^sub prod^), attitude towards the model (A^sub mod^), and purchase intent (PI). After the analysis of the data collected in this study, it can be stated that the ethnic identity of a Black consumer does play a significant role in how Black models are received in advertisements based upon their skin color. Black study participants that were stronger in ethnic identification felt more positively towards darker skinned models than those Black study participants that were weak in ethnic identification. This research suggests that examining skin tone within race may provide a more accurate insight into the effect that ethnicity plays on visual reception of ethnic marketing. The findings from this study will help marketers to further understand the dynamic present when targeting Black consumers with ads featuring Black models.


In spite of the fact that images and portrayals of African Americans have been extensively studied in advertising research, the common variable in those studies has been race without accounting for variance that may result from skin tone differences within race (Bailey 2006; Cox 1970; Dominick and Greenberg 1970; Kassarjian 1969; Shuey, King, and Griffith 1953; Taylor and Lee 1995). As minority spending power and social interactions of different racial groups in America have increased over time, advertisers have increasingly been concerned with reaching minority ethnic groups through visual inclusion. With minority purchasing power increasing (Selig 2010), research in this area is more important than ever before. However, many companies were initially leery of offending the White majority that was their consumer base (Surlin 1977). In a 1953 study (Shuey, King, and Griffith), only 0.6% of ads contained African Americans. By 1980 (Humphrey and Schuman 1984), that frequency had increased to approximately 5.7%, indicating that the country was becoming more comfortable with the use of Blacks in advertisements. Researchers took interest in this phenomenon of using ethnic faces in ads and desired to gain greater insight into both how Blacks in ads were received and the roles that they played in these ads. The studies illuminated the potential impact and effectiveness of these portrayals. However, in these studies, skin tone was rarely addressed.

In other fields, such a psychology and sociology, skin tone as a factor of race and racial identity has been examined. Skin tone, defined as the color of a person's skin, has been acknowledged as a specific variable at the root of racially related issues. It has been correlated with feelings of self worth, attractiveness, self control, satisfaction, and with quality of life (Keith and Thompson 2003; Bond and Cash 1992; Boyd-Franklin 1991; Cash and Duncan 1984; Chambers, et al 1994; Okazawa-Rey, Robinson, and Ward 1987). The study of skin tone has also led to a focus on colorism, which is the process of discrimination that gives privilege to people of a lighter-skin tone over their dark-skinned counterparts (Hunter 2005). In general, African American's tend to feel more favorable towards Black models with lighter a skin tone (Meyers 2008).This phenomenon is not exclusive to African Americans because colorism is concerned with actual skin tone, as opposed to racial or ethnic identity. …