Effect of African American skin tone on advertising communication
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Although there has been much research regarding the portrayals of African Americans in Advertising, the central focus has been on categorizing this race as a physiologically homogeneous group. In other fields of research such as, psychology and sociology, there is a stream of study that investigates differentiations in how Blacks are perceived by others based on variations in skin tone within the spectrum of this race. This research suggests that examining skin tone within race may provide a more accurate insight into the effect that ethnicity plays on interacting factors. The focus of this dissertation, therefore, is to extend this research focus on skin tone to the field of Advertising. Specifically, this study examines whether the skin tone of a Black model in an advertisement affects specific outcome measures of advertising: attitude towards the ad (Aad), attitude towards the product (Aprod), attitude towards the model (Amod), and purchase intent (PI). In order to formulate predictions and explain the possible findings of this study, two competing frameworks, hegemony and ethnic identity, were examined. According to the framework of hegemony, people adopt the social standard set by the dominant group and in this case would, in turn, prefer a "lighter" Black model. However, according to research on ethnic identity, a person's level of ethnic identity dictates preference for members of their group. In other words, not all members of a group would necessarily prefer the "light" Black model. Specifically for African Americans, preference would hinge on their level of ethnic identity. This study employed three independent variables and four dependent variables. Skin tone served as the main independent variable of interest in this analysis. It was manipulated for the purposes of this study by featuring a Black model in an ad whose skin tone was altered to produce a "light" and a "dark" version of the same model. The products used in the advertisements were based upon the other two independent variables, realm of consumption and cultural relevance. These variables, which will be explained in further detail in this manuscript, provided a basis for understanding the role that reference group effect has on the resulting outcomes. The four dependent variables that were observed in this study were the advertising outcome measures. To determine if differences existed among the treatment groups, a two-way ANOVA was conducted, with eight condition groups in the 2x2x2 design. Approximately 480 subjects from two southwestern universities took a web based survey that was designed to gather the data analyzed in this study. The results of the study found a significant relationship between skin tone and attitude towards the model. According to the study, more favorable attitudes were formed when the Black model's skin tone was "light" as opposed to when the Black model's skin tone was "dark." In terms of the competing theoretical models presented, generally, people felt more favorable towards the "light" model, suggesting that hegemony dictates consumer attitude formation. Ethnic identity did, however, play a significant role in the attitude towards the Black model with Black participants, with strong ethnic identifiers feeling more positively towards the dark model than those Black participants lower in ethnic identification.