Sexual Orientation: A Peripheral Cue in Advertising?

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Virginia Tech

Although advertising featuring gay male and lesbian models can be an effective means of targeting the significant gay and lesbian market, few empirical studies examine how consumers respond to gay-themed advertisements. To address the absence of message-processing research dealing with heterosexual responses to gay-themed advertising, this thesis examines how sexual orientation of model couples featured in magazine advertisements affects heterosexual viewers' responses using the elaboration-likelihood model as a guiding framework. A 3x2x2x3 experiment tested the effects of model couples' sexual orientation (heterosexual, gay male, or lesbian), argument strength (strong or weak), involvement (high or low), and participants' attitudes towards homosexuality (high, medium, or low) on White heterosexual participants' attitudes toward the couple, attitudes toward the advertisement, attitudes toward the brand, attitudes toward the product, purchase intentions, and recall.

Results indicate that heterosexual consumers were accepting of ads with lesbian portrayals.  Participants showed more negative attitudes toward gay male portrayals, but attitudes towards heterosexual and lesbian ads were similar. This effect was moderated by participants attitudes toward homosexuals. Regarding message processing, low involvement consumers showed more negative attitudes toward homosexual portrayals than toward heterosexual portrayals, providing some indication that models' sexual orientation in ads may have served as a peripheral cue negatively impacting attitudes toward the couple and ad in situations where elaboration is low. However, such effects on attitudes toward couples and ads did not appear to carry over to attitudes toward the brand and product, purchase intentions, or recall. Implications, limitations, and areas for future research are also discussed.

Gay Males, Advertising, Lesbians, Social Identity Theory, Media Effects, Elaboration Likelihood Model