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

By Meyers, Yuvay Jeanine | Academy of Marketing Studies Journal, October 2011 | Go to article overview

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


Meyers, Yuvay Jeanine, Academy of Marketing Studies Journal


INTRODUCTION

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. Research done by Shyon Baumann (2008) has shown that people within our culture, regardless of race, have a set of ideals about how people should ideally look, including judgments regarding skin color. Lightness and darkness of skin tone have specific meanings attached to them and we subconsciously relate those meanings to those we encounter. This construct of race has yet to be examined by advertising literature.

Black consumers, generally, feel positively towards seeing black model in advertisements and strong ethnic identifiers feel more positively towards a model who looks more like themselves (Green 1999). The research on ethnic identity indicates that one's level of ethnic identity may dictate his/her preference for and judgments about their group (Phinney 1992). In terms of skin color, this stream of research suggests that Blacks who identify strongly with their ethnicity will feel more positively towards darker models than will Blacks who identify less with their ethnicity. This study will test the linkage between Black consumers and how that consumer's ethnic identification effects the reception of advertisements featuring Black models of different skin tones in a marketing context. The findings from this study will help marketers to further understand the dynamics present when targeting Black consumers with ads featuring Black models.

LITERATURE REVIEW

In the marketing communications field, there has been a lengthy stream of research regarding the depictions of African Americans in advertising and other forms of marketing communications (Bailey 2006; Cox 1970; Dominick and Greenberg 1970; Kassarjian 1969; Shuey, King, and Griffith 1953; Taylor and Lee 1995). …

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