Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

The Effects of Homosexual Imagery in Advertisements on Brand Perception and Purchase Intention

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

The Effects of Homosexual Imagery in Advertisements on Brand Perception and Purchase Intention

Article excerpt

Homosexual imagery is becoming more common in advertisements and in the media in general (Tuten, 2006). Marketing professionals have taken notice of this group of potential consumers for good reason. Estimates by many marketing and academic experts state that gays and lesbians make up between 4% and 8% of the total US population, a group of 11 to 23 million people. To give some perspective on this demographic, it is potentially bigger than the Asian American population that is currently measured at 12 million or 4.2% (Gardyn, 2001).

Just as marketing firms target demographic factors such as race/ethnicity, age, gender, and education, a trend is developing to use sexual orientation as a factor that predicts attitudes and spending patterns (Gardyn, 2001). Several major automobile manufacturers such as Subaru and Ford have tried to tap into this potentially lucrative market by designing advertisements targeted specifically at the gay and lesbian population. Several years ago, Ford Motor Company launched a campaign to market its Jaguar brand to gay consumers (Prince, 2003). Manufacturers of other brands of cars such as Volvo, Land Rover, and Volkswagen have also attempted to break into this market by advertising in the gay media (Halliday, 2002). Even Wal-Mart has recently hired a marketing company known for its work in the gay and lesbian consumer market in an attempt to tap into this profitable group ("Wal-Mart after pink dollar", 2006). Overall, it appears that marketers are becoming more interested in selling to the gay and lesbian community (Atkinson, 2003).

However, targeting marketing at homosexual consumers could be perceived as controversial and potentially offensive to the heterosexual consumer. For example, a recent Ford campaign prompted a proposed boycott of Ford products by the American Family Association (Kiley, 2006). While many states were debating whether or not to recognize gay and lesbian marriages, former President George W. Bush declared that "marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman" and that he would "work with congressional leaders and others to do what is legally necessary to defend the sanctity of marriage" ("Massachusetts Court rules ban", 2004). In 2007, a Gallup Poll survey found that 50% of Americans would favor a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as being between a man and a woman, thus barring marriages between gay and lesbian couples. Also, 38% of those polled felt that homosexuality should be less widely accepted in the United States ("American public opinion", 2007).

With this degree of controversy and strong opinion over the gay and lesbian lifestyle, one might wonder whether it would be a wise decision for a company to specifically target this group of consumers through the use of homosexual imagery in advertisements. It is possible that aligning one's company with this minority group might alienate some of the other 92% of the population.

In the past, when a company has chosen a celebrity spokesperson who later turned out to be controversial, the spokesperson was usually quickly dropped from the advertising campaign. For example, celebrities such as Madonna, Mike Tyson, and Vanessa Williams were all removed from positions as endorsers after public exposure of their involvement in controversial activities (Watkins, 1989). After Kobe Bryant was charged with sexual assault in 2003, many of the companies he endorsed (McDonald's, Coca Cola, and Nike for example) became hesitant about keeping him as their spokesperson for fear of negative consumer reactions ("Advertisers worry", 2003). The avoidance of controversial topics could lead companies to disregard the gay and lesbian market in favor of a more mainstream audience. However, according to marketing executive Bob Witeck, CEO of WiteckCombs Communications, "we are in the business of business, not social policy" (Cribbs, 2003).

Bhat, Leigh, and Wardlow (1996, 1998) examined these issues in a study investigating how heterosexuals reacted to portrayals of homosexuals in print advertisements. …

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