<%@ Language=VBScript %> <% CheckState() CheckSub() %> Differing Reactions to Female Role Portrayals in Advertising
Journal of Advertising Research

Journal of Advertising Research


Advertising Research Foundation
641 Lexington Ave., New York, NY 10022; (212) 751-5656

September/October 1993


Differing Reactions to Female Role Portrayals in Advertising

John B Ford and Michael S LaTour

In a nationally known Cambridge Documentaries film Still Killing Us Softly (1987), the advertising industry is accused of serious misconduct, including the glorification of violence against women, the unrealistic inferiority of anything less than 'ideal beauty,' women's inferiority to men, and an increased emphasis on women as sex objects. In 1988, Ferrante, Haynes and Kingsley claimed that advertisers were still guilty of incorrectly portraying women in society.

A recent Wall Street Journal article discussed the severity of the resulting dilemma for advertisers (Lipman, 1991). As a result of feminist pressures, Madison Avenue agencies are bringing in feminist consultants to pass judgment on advertisements which may be considered to be offensive to women. Lipman (1991) makes the point that advertisers are finding it difficult to predict whether ads featuring alluring female models will be perceived as 'sexy' or 'sexist.' Previous research has shown women's perceptions of such female role portrayals to have consequences upon purchase intention and the corporate image (Lundstron and Sciglimpaglia, 1977). This raises the issue of how advertisers can proceed to effectively promote their clients' products while at the same time avoiding negative reactions from female-interest groups.

It is the contention of this paper that advertisers should examine the general perceptions by women from different interest group populations with regard to female role portrayals in advertising. General perceptions are important for analytical purposes in this case because of theoretical research in feminist literature which focuses on the development of the perceptual mindset known as 'feminist consciousness' (Offen, 1988; Alcoff, 1987; Chernin, 1987; Cott, 1987; Bartky, 1975). This perceptual mindset does not motivate women to focus on different social stimuli but rather to adjust their perceptions of the same, social Stimuli observed prior to consciousness-raising (Offen, 1988; Bartky, 1975). What becomes particularly important for advertisers is the accompanying vigilance and sensitivity to the treatment of women in society that comes with this consciousness-raising (Alcoff, 1987; Bartky, 1975). The sensitivities of specific women's interest groups may remain undetected in too general a sampling frame. It is the contention of this paper that advertisers must identify different constituencies of female consumers for sampling and ad testing so that they minimize the potential for alienation. In order to examine this issue, a comparison of the general perceptions of a sample of members of the National Organization for Women (NOW) will be compared to a sample of the League of Women Voters (LOWV) and a general area sample, and the potential impact of feminist consciousness will be assessed.

REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE

During the past two decades, the portrayal of women in advertising has been an active area of study (Soley and Kurzbard, 1986; Lysonski, 1983; Kerin et al, 1979; Lundstrom and Sciglimpaglia, 1977; Weiss, 1972; Dominick and Rauch, 1972). While research findings in the 1970s indicated some perceived improvements in advertising's treatment of female roles (Schneider and Schneider, 1979) the use of traditional female stereotypes (eg, women as primarily domestic types, sex objects, subservient to men, etc) continued in the 1980s (LaTour, 1990; Loudon and Delia Bitta, 1988; Soley and Reid, 1988).

According to a number of researchers (Leigh et al, 1987; Bartos, 1982; Venkatesh, 1980; Lundstrom and Sciglimpaglia, 1977) perceptions of these portrayals appear to vary by demographic factors (ie, feminists tend to be more educated than traditionalists) as well as by feminine role orientation (eg, traditionalist versus feminist). These studies indicate that feminists, in particular, are more sensitive to the portrayal of women in advertising and expect a greater emphasis on contemporary working women in ads. In contrast, an earlier study reported in The Marketing News (1981) revealed that many traditionalist women thought current advertising focused too much on the working, 'liberated' woman. According to Whipple and Courtney (1985) the appropriateness of role portrayals for the product and particular market segments is also an important factor. For example, traditional role depictions may be better tolerated for household goods, while ads for women's personal grooming products would more likely require a career-orientated female model.

Kerin, Lundstrom, and Sciglinipaglia's 1979 comprehensive literature review predicted that due to an increasing proportion of women in the professional workforce and social pressure on advertisers from growing strength in the women's movement, the 1980s would see an increasing emphasis on contemporary roles for women in ads. In particularly, they forecast that advertising would contain the use of more role blending (scenes in which no sex dominates), role switching (purchase or use of product is portrayed by persons of the opposite sex of the stereotype), and dual roles (portrayal of women in both traditional and nontraditional roles simultaneously).

Recent content analyses have shown some changes in advertising practices in this predicted direction, although the results have been mixed. Both the evaluations of content analyses as well as perceptions of female role portrayals are necessary to understand the 'perceptual base' of Current advertising practice being viewed by potentially diverse groups of females.

Content analyses

At least five studies in the 1980s focused upon content analysis of women's portrayals in advertisements. One of the earliest studies (D'Amico and Hummel, 1980) evaluated portrayals of women in television commercials. While D'Amico and Hummel indicated more contemporary roles reflected in a comparison between 1971 and 1976, this trend appeared to reverse itself when compared to a 1980 sample.

In 1983, Lysonski examined the portrayal of women in magazine ads. He found that advertisers between 1974/75 and 1979/80 had responded by portraying women more often as career oriented as well as in nontraditional activities. He also found that women were being portrayed less often as dependent upon men while men were being portrayed less often as dominant over women and as authority figures. In contrast, however, little reduction was noted in the portrayal of women as housewives and as being concerned with physical attractiveness.

A later study (Soley and Kurzbard, 1986) compared the depiction of women in 1964 print ads with 1984 print ads in general interest magazines (Time and Newsweek), women's magazines (Cosmopolitan and Redbook), and men's magazines (Playboy and Esquire). The authors found an increase in the overtness of illustrations of women used as sex objects, in particular, for general interest magazines.

A 1988 study (Ferrante et al) evaluated prime-time television commercials during a three-week period in October of 1986 in a replication of a 1972 study (Dominick and Rauch). This study found, in comparison to the 1972 study, that advertisers had made some changes in their advertisements with more use of female voice-overs and more use of female on-camera product representatives, but women were still being predominantly portrayed in the home while men were more often portrayed in a business setting.

Mays and Brady (1990) compared portrayals of women in seven general readership magazines, Life, Newsweek, The New Yorker, Saturday Review, Time, Reader's Digest, and US. News and World Report, for the years 1955, 1965, 1975, and 1985. Between 1975 and 1985 women were shown less in the home and more in social and business settings as well as in 'decorative' depictions. In contrast, however, and somewhat consistent with Soley and Kurzbard's 1986 study, the authors found that the number of women in 'alluring' sex-object roles had not decreased.

In summary, these recent content analyses indicate that role portrayals of women are still quite diverse. Specifically, while less traditional depictions are now more common, some stereotypical female portrayals (eg, overt sex-object roles) may have actually increased (Soley and Kurzbard, 1986). Yet content analyses only indicate changes in advertising practices over time. Key to evaluating the impact of female sex-role portrayals is understanding the heterogeneous mindsets or 'consciousness' of women as they perceive advertising portraying their gender.

The perceptual formation associated with 'raising' of 'feminist consciousness' has been an all important part of the women's liberation movement and the women's studies literature. 'Feminist consciousness' incorporates unique perceptions of the social environment along with motivational focus on social change (Cott, 1987). Key to 'feminist consciousness' is a personal manifestation of autonomy from traditional society (Bartky, 1975: Offen, 1988). Therefore, the stronger a woman's sense of self-declared autonomy, the more critical she should be of the general nature of social stimuli (such as advertising) and associated role expectations (Ford and LaTour, 1992).

PURPOSE OF STUDY AND HYPOTHESES

The purpose of this study was to examine the general perceptions of women from different interest groups to find out just how heterogeneous women's organizations are. The first major research hypothesis sets expectations of differences in perceptions among three groups of women which were felt to represent a viable, strategically important array of diverse views. These mutually exclusive samples consisted of a general area sample, a sample of women who are members of the League of Women Voters (LOWV), and a sample of members of the National Organization for Women (NOW). According to our preliminary analysis incorporating a focus group of feminist scholars, the LOWV is perceived to be more liberal and critical than the general population of females on issues surrounding women's lives; however, NOW is perceived to have even more liberal and critical views (Barringer, 1992; Wickendon, 1986). Our first research hypothesis thus is as follows:

H1: There are significant differences in the general perceptions of role portrayals in advertising, company image, and purchase intention among female members of NOW, the League Of Women Voters LOWV, and a general area sample.

Specifically, given the history and reputation of NOW, this sample was expected to be the most critical, followed in turn by the LOWV sample, with the general area group being the least critical. Associatively, NOW members were expected to be the most 'self-declared' liberal, followed in turn by the LOWV members, and then the general area sample.

A secondary research issue involved an examination of female autonomy because it is a key element of feminist consciousness. The second research hypothesis then is:

H2: Female autonomy should be significantly positively associated with criticism of role portrayals in advertising and criticisms of company image as well as negatively associated with intention to purchase.

In addition, the NOW sample was expected to have the highest level of self-declared female autonomy, followed by the LOWV sample with the general area sample expected to be the lowest on this measure.

In Lundstrom and Sciglimpaglia's 1977 study 150 women, selected from the telephone directories of Dallas and Denver, were surveyed concerning their general perceptions of women's portrayals in advertising. The strongest critics of female role portrayals were women who had higher incomes, were younger, better educated, and more liberal (as measured on a single-item, self-declared 'conservative-liberal' scale). Given the apparent changes that have taken place in the portrayals of women in advertising since 1977 (as revealed by the recent content analyses) and the growth of social and political activism over feminist issues, along with the potential diffusion of the perceptual mindset known as feminist consciousness, the timing is appropriate for an extension of the previous work. Specifically, current perceptions of women's portrayals in contemporary advertising, perceived sponsor image, and purchase intention assessments were measured in this study as well as salient demographic variables and self-declared female autonomy. The primary research question which is being focused on here is in the level of heterogeneity of women's perceptions between different interest groups. The results presented in this research suggest the need for prescriptive actions for those advertisers engaged in communicating with today's diverse female customers.

METHODOLOGY

The survey instrument, which is identical to one used in a 1977 Journal of Marketing study by Lundstrom and Sciglimpaglia, employed 17 attitude statements (see Table 1) related to perceptions of advertising sex-role portrayals, perceived image of firms using traditional advertising practices, and intention to buy products of such firms. Responses to the statements were measured using a 7-point Likert-type scale with the anchors being 1 – strongly disagree to 7 – strongly agree. A series of 10 statements designed to assess feminine role orientation were also included in the survey instrument. This role-orientation-summed scale, known as the Female Autonomy Inventory was developed by Arnott (1972) and utilized in past marketing research (Venkatesh, 1980; Green and Cunningham, 1975). For a discussion of the history of the content and construct validity of this instrument see Venkatesh (1980). Again, the same Likert-type scaling was used to measure responses. (See Table 2 for a list of the specific items and pertinent statistics.)

TABLE 1: COMPARISON OF SAMPLE PERCEPTIONS OF ROLE PORTRAYALS IN ADVERTISING, COMPANY IMAGE, AND PURCHASE INTENTION

 

Mean responses*

Statements

NOW
n = 130

LOWV
N = 94

AREA
N = 150

GLM
p-value

Statements regarding role portrayals        
1. Ads which I see show women as they really are. 2.81 2.54 2.89 NS
2. Ads suggest that women are fundamentally dependent upon men. 4.07 4.34 3.45b .0021
3. Ads which I see show men as they really are. 4.21 2.68a 2.80a .0163
4. Ads treat women mainly as 'sex objects'. 4.91 4.79 4.56 NS
5. Ads which I see accurately portray women in most of their daily activities. 2.70a 2.72a 3.60 .0002
6. Ads suggest that women make important decisions. 3.17a 3.22a 3.81a .0188
7. Ads which I see accurately portray men in most of their daily activities. 3.92 3.16b 3.68 .0230
8. Ads suggest that women don't do important things. 4.60 4.50 3.62b .0019a
9. Ads suggest that a women's place is in the home. 4.75 4.35a 3.24b .0001
10. I'm more sensitive to the portrayal of women in advertising that I used to be. 6.20 5.06a 4.49a .0000
11. I find the portrayal of women in advertising to be offensive 5.28 4.62 3.75b .0024
12. Overall, I believe that the portrayal of women in advertising is changing for the better 4.37 4.54 4.68 NS
         
Statements regarding company image        
13. Companies that portray women offensively in their advertising are more likely to discriminate against women and other minorities in job promotion and advancement, compared to other companies in the same business or industry. 5.09 4.72 4.76 NS
14. I believe that how women are portrayed in ads merely reflects the general attitude of that company toward women's place in society 5.42 4.66a 4.64a .0415
         
Statements regarding purchase intention        
15. If a new product is introduced with ads that I find offensive, I might still buy it if it offers me benefits which I find attractive. 3.09a 3.26a 3.59 .0029
16. If a new product or service which I use adopts an ad campaign which I find offensive, I'll discontinue using it. 6.42 4.90a 4.42b .0000
17. Even though I may see an ad which is offensive for one product, I would continue to purchase other products that I have been using from the same company. 2.87b 3.84a 4.66 .0000
         
Responses based on Likert-type scaling with 1 = strongly disagree and 7 = strongly agree.
a = Significant difference between the indicated mean and highest mean in the column using the Tukey HSD Range Test (0.05 Level).
b = Significant difference between the indicated mean and the second highest mean in the column using the Tukey HSD Range Test (0.05).

TABLE 2: COMPARISON OF SAMPLE POPULATIONS ON ARNOTT FEMALE AUTONOMY INVENTORY AND ConLib ITEM

Arnott item

NOW
mean

LOWV
mean

AREA
mean

Significance
GLM mean

Take out of the marriage service

6.46 5.66c 5.25d .0843

Girls should be trained as homemakers**

1.30a 1.60a 2.36 .0195

Men should initiate courtship*

2.78a 2.67a 3.56 .0319

Women should be as free as men to make decisions

7.00 6.13c 6.04c .0997

Women should not subordinate their careers for their husband

5.83 5.61 4.93d .0802

Motherhood is an ideal career for most women**

2.62a 2.32a 3.39 .0005

Women should be allowed to withhold or initiate sex

7.00 5.79a 5.51a .0442

Husband should be legal family representative**

1.14b 2.17a 3.10 .0000

Wife should make abortion decision

5.83 5.46a 4.18b .0000

Women should not be disqualified from occupations because of sex

6.83 6.45a 6.04b .0316
         

Summed scale

63.67 59.42a 61.62b .0001

Conservative-liberal scale
(Single item measure, 1 = conservative, 7 = liberal)

5.67 5.24b 4.12b .0007
         
*Scalar extremes were 1 = strongly disagree and 7 = strongly agree.
** While actual means are shown here, these items were reversed scored prior to summing the 10 items.
The 10 items of this scale exhibited a high degree of internal reliability with a Crobbach Alpha Coefficient of 0.8731.
a = Significant difference between the indicated mean and the highest mean in the column using the Tukey HSD Range Test (0.05 Level).
b = Significant difference between the indicated mean and the second highest mean in the column using the Tukey Range HSD Test (0.05).
c= Significant difference between the indicated mean and the highest mean in the column using the Tukey HSD Range Test (0.10 Level).
d = Significant difference between the indicated mean and the second highest mean in the column using the Tukey HSD Range Test 0(.10 level).

The League of Women Voter (LOWV) respondents were adult females residing in a large MSA in the mid-Atlantic region. It was believed that this sample population would effectively access the more-educated, less traditional, and higher-income females who tended to be sensitive to female role portrayals (Leigh et al, 1987; Bartos, 1982; Venkatesh, 1980; Lundstrom and Sciglimpaglia, 1977). The League of Women Voters, a long-standing, politically active, roots' organization, claims no political party affiliation and exists primarily for the purpose of promoting women's participation in the voting process (Young, 1989; Ridings, 1985; Beck and Borger, 1980). The League of Women Voters was chosen for this research due to its high profile and long history of political representation of women's interests.

From a mailing list of 276 members of the League Of Women Voters 37 questionnaires were returned with addresses unknown. 94 usable responses were obtained for an effective response rate of 39.3%. According to Kerlinger (1973), response rates of less than 40 to 50% on mail surveys are common. The mean income for respondents was $53,264.29 (s.d. = $35,536.74), the median income was $40,000.00, the mean age was 50.9 years (s.d. = 16.0), and the average number of years of formal education (with high school = 12) was 16.8 (s.d. = 2.4). The racial mix included 87% white, 11% black, and the remaining 2% was comprised of Hispanic, American Indian, and Asian. A broad array of occupations were represented with 42.0% being nonmanagerial white-collar professions (ie, teachers, health-care professionals, and clerical staff, 6.5% housewives, 20.4% retirees, 20.4% administrative, 3.2% students, and the remaining 7.5% blue-collar workers. The sample was balanced in terms of marital status with 54.3% married, and the residual comprised of 12.8% never married, 20.2% divorced, and 12.7% widowed. In terms of employment, 55.9% reported full-time employment, and the remainder was divided between part-time (12.9%) and not employed (31.2%). While generalizability from these results may be limited, this cross section represents an important segment of upscale women with significant political and buying power. This sample fits the general demographic profile of the League of Women Voters.1

The NOW sample involved adult women from the same large mid-Atlantic MSA. Out of a membership list of roughly 300 members, 130 usable responses were received for an effective response rate of 43.3%. 86 were obtained in a first mailing and 44 were obtained after a second mailing. In order to collapse the two mailing waves together, a two sample Kolmogorov-Smirnov test was run for evaluation of distribution differences between the summed scales for the role portrayal 12-item scale, the company image 2-item scale, and the purchase-intention 3-item scale. No significant differences were found, therefore the samples from each wave were combined. The membership list was not made available from the NOW officials, and the individuals who participated requested a questionnaire in response to a call for research participants in their monthly newsletter. The mean income for the respondents was $38,649.45 (s.d. = $22,487.32) with a median of $38,000. The mean age was 33.8 years (s.d = 4.48), and the average number of years of education was 17.1 years (s.d. = 1.32). 'File racial mix was 100% white, and the major occupation category (62.6%) was nonmanagerial white-collar professions as previously described. The remainder were 18.6% administrative, 14.8% students, and 4% undeclared. In terms of marital status, the largest category chosen was divorced/separated (48.6%), followed by 16.8% married, and 34.6% never married. Finally in terms of employment, 51.4% reported that they were employed on a full-time basis, with the remainder made up of 16.4% part-time and 32.2% not presently employed. While the demographic profile of this sample is well matched to the demographic profile of the local NOW chapter membership, it should be cautioned that all of these convenience samples were selected for exploratory research into potential group differences on general perceptions of female role portrayals.2

One hundred and fifty respondents were obtained in a random area prenotification 'drop-off-pickup' survey. The respondents were selected from a population of 355,900 adult females residing in the same large mid-Atlantic MSA. Random-digit-dial prenotification was employed using telephone prefixes coded to census tracts with proportional sampling used to match population figures. Once an identified respondent declared intent to participate, the questionnaire was dropped off at the residence and retrieved after 30 minutes. Using Wiseman and McDonald's (1980) response rate calculation formulae, as cited in Lehmann (1985), the effective response rate for the survey was 41.3% and the completion rate was 54.0%. The response rate was calculated by dividing the household refusals (38), rejects (0), ineligibles (42), terminations (19), refusals (29), and completed interviews (150) by the total numbers dialed (673) . The completion rate was calculated by dividing the completed interviews (150) by the household refusals (38), rejects (0), ineligibles (42), terminations (19), refusals (29), and completed interviews (150). The mean age for the area sample was found to be 42.5 years (s.d. = 17.3), the mean income $28,042.65 (s.d. = $13,825.53), the median income $25,000.00, and the mean number of years of formal education 14.1 (s.d. = 2.8). the racial mix was found to be 71.8% white, 23.9% black, and 4.3% Asian, Latin-American, or American Indian. Again a broad array of occupations were presented with 37.6% nonmanagerial white-collar professions, 9.4% housewives, 10.4% retirees, 8.7% administrative, 6.2% sales, 9.8% students, and the remaining 20.9% blue-collar workers. In terms of marital status, 62.3% were married, 16.9% never married, 15.1% divorced/separated, and 5.7% widowed. The last area represented was employrnent status with 48.7% reporting full-time, 12.0% reporting part-time, and 39.3% reporting not employed. As can be seen, this sample displayed a different demographic profile than either the NOW sample or the League of Women Voters sample. This sample is, however, very well matched to the demographic profile of the area's female population.3

RESULTS

In order to compare the sample populations with different sample sizes, the General Linear Model approach was used to test each of the survey items to evaluate between group differences. There were significant differences found for 13 of the 17 items examined (see Table 1). Between-group differences on the Arnott Female Autonomy Inventory scale were also pronounced. Tukey's Honestly Significant Differences Range Tests were also run for all of the items. Generally, the results indicated support for both hypotheses.

FINDINGS

Attitudes toward ads

From an examination of the means to the 17 attitudinal statements, it is apparent that the NOW respondents and the League of Women Voters respondents are significantly more critical of the way women are characterized in ads than the general area sample respondents. For purposes of comparison each item will be examined with differences across samples discussed (see Table 1).

In terms of the 12 attitudinal statements relating to role portrayals, the League of Women Voters and NOW samples were significantly less in disagreement with item 2 ('Ads suggest that women are fundamentally dependent upon men') and in significantly greater agreement with items 8 ('Ads Suggest that women don't do important things') and 11 ('1 find the portrayal of women in advertising to be offensive') than the general area sample. In the case of item 9 ('Ads Suggest that a women's place is in the home'), the NOW sample was in significantly greater agreement than the League of Women Voters sample, which was in significantly greater agreement than the general area sample.

The NOW sample was in significantly less disagreement with item 3 ('Ads which I see show men as they really are') than either the League of Women Voters or the general area samples. While seeming like somewhat of an exception to the pattern of the other item response group differences, the fact that these items dealt with perceptions of male portrayals may reflect stronger feelings on the part of NOW members that men receive a 'fairer shake' or more realistic treatment than women in advertising role portrayals.

It was also found that the NOW and League of Women Voter samples were in significantly greater disagreement with items 5 ('Ads which I see accurately portray women in most of their daily activities') and 6 ('Ads suggest that women make important decisions') than the general area sample. Finally, the NOW sample was found to be significantly more in agreement with item 10 ('I'm more sensitive to the portrayal of women in advertising than I used to be') than the League of Women Voters sample, which in turn was significantly more in agreement than the general area sample.

Regarding the three nonsignificant items, all samples were in disagreement with item 1 ('Ads which I see show women as they really are') and in slight agreement with items 4 ('Ads treat women mainly as 'sex objects' ') and 12 ('Overall, I believe that the portrayal of women in advertising is changing for the better').

Attitudes toward sponsors

When examining the effect of women's role portrayals in advertisements on company image and purchase intention, some of the same kinds of similarities were found across the samples. The NOW sample was found to be significantly more in agreement with item 14 ('I believe that how women are portrayed in ads merely reflects the general attitude of that company toward women's place in society') than either the LOWV sample or the general area sample. All three of the samples were found to be in agreement with item 13 ('Companies that portray women offensively in their advertising are more likely to discriminate against women and other minorities in job promotion and advancement, compared to other companies in the same business or industry').

Impact on purchase intent

Both the NOW and LOWV samples were found to be significantly more in disagreement with item 15 ('If a new product is introduced with ads that I find offensive, I might still buy it if it offers me benefits which I find attractive'). Some interesting differences between the NOW and League of Women Voter samples were encountered when examining the responses for items 16 ('If a new product or service which I use adopts an ad campaign which I find offensive, I'll discontinue using it') and 17 ('Even though I may see an ad which is offensive for one product, I would continue to purchase other products that I have been using from the same company'). Compared to the NOW sample, the League of Women Voters sample was significantly less in agreement with item 16 and significantly less in disagreement with item 17. The general area sample again demonstrated its apathetic reactions to the statements with slight disagreement with item 16 and slight agreement with item 17. As expected in Hypothesis 1, the NOW sample average on a single-item, self-declared 'conservative-liberal' measure was 5.67 and significantly larger (more liberal) than the LOWV mean of 5.24 which, in turn, was significantly larger than the general area sample mean of 4.12.

Differences in female autonomy

In order to examine the differences in self-declared autonomy across the three sample populations, the General Linear Model was again used for the Arnott Female Autonomy Inventory Scale. The results are found in Table 2. Congruent with Hypothesis 2, significant differences among all three sample groups were found. The most critical group, the NOW members, have an Arnott summed-scale mean of 63.7 (out of a maximum score of 70) that is characterized by Arnott (1972) as 'liberal' in Female Autonomy Orientation. In comparison to the NOW sample, the League of Women Voters sample mean is on the lower end of the Arnott 'liberal' classification (59.4) from the NOW sample. Finally, the area sample has an Arnott summed-scale mean of 51.6 in the range classified as between 'moderate' and 'liberal.'

Pearson correlations between the Arnott scale and summed measures (with appropriate items reverse coded and all summed-scale Cronbach Alphas of greater than .80) representing the twelve 'criticisms of advertising role portrayals' items, the two 'criticisms of company image' items, and the three purchase-intention items were .3865, .2906, and -.4493, respectively. All of these correlations were statistically significant at the p < .01 level. This lends additional support for Hypothesis 2.

MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS AND CONCLUSIONS

Although the results presented here were obtained from limited samples, it nevertheless lends credence to the idea that advertisers must be careful to examine the perceptions of different women's interest groups. Activist females were identified as the most critical by Lundstrom and Sciglimpaglia in their 1977 study, and it would certainly appear that this has continued when examining the perceptions of the League of Women Voters and NOW samples. The general area sample here was less critical and less sensitive to the issues raised. It certainly may be possible that the subjects in the area sample are more satisfied with or perhaps apathetic about their role portrayals in advertising.

This study's findings indicate that the NOW sample differentiates its responses by indicating the potential for overt action against advertisers who use offensive ad campaigns. This leads to a concern that advertisers may not have sufficiently communicated their female-role-portrayal improvements to this segment, and while it is the most significantly negative sample in terms of perceptions (particularly in terms of purchase intention), there are also some serious concerns with regard to the perceptions of the League of Women Voters sample. It may be that this higher-income, and politically savvy group might take overt action against advertisers if properly motivated. The level of criticism seen in these two sample populations argues for the need for advertisers to tap, on a regular basis, the perceptions of different women's interest groups. Lipman (1991) discussed the recent change by Madison Avenue to solicit the advice of consultants from NOW to address the potential for 'sexy' ads to cross the boundary into 'sexist.' This type of involvement may also be needed from other women's organizations as well. A key element in avoiding alienation would be a greater focus on tapping the perceptions of particular women's interest groups. Discovering and avoiding negative perceptual effects would far more than outweigh the expenses associated with tapping these women's interest groups.

In regard to these points we offer the following managerial recommendations. First, advertisers should be particularly wary of stressing the wrong 'elements' in their advertising. Especially, the sensitivity of more socially and politically aware females needs to be considered. According to Kilbourne (1987), these wrong 'elements' include the sexual objectification of women and its relationship to violence, the negative attitude toward mature physical features in women, and an unrealistic 'skinny ideal beauty' standard.

Second, we feel that advertisers cannot risk alienating market segments like the League of Women Voters and the National Organization for Women. These women often are key opinion leaders for a variety of products, eg, time-saving high-quality appliances, expensive furniture, and household services (Ford, LaTour and Lundstrom, 1991; Lazer, 1984).

Thirdly, the advertising industry must realize that perceptions of women, in particular those of the more-educated and socially conscious groups, may be directly impacted by the growing focus on feminine literature and important documentary films such as Still Killing Us Softly. Due to the growth in awareness and sensitivity on these issues, ad portrayals which may have worked well in the past may not be so well received in the present 'climate.' Advertisers should not necessarily continue to rely on past successful role depictions without subjecting proposed ads to testing upon various demographic and lifestyle/value system categories of females.

Finally, future research should address the limitations of the present study. The sample groups were selected for the exploratory purpose of testing file sensitivity and heterogeneity of women's perceptions on these role-portrayal issues. Future research needs to select geographically diverse, probabilistically based samples for the purposes of clear generalizability and a more accurate focus upon key segments of the female population. In addition, because perceptions are affected by general 'consciousness raising,' this study focused upon general advertising perceptions only; future research should extend this knowledge into specific product categories.

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Endnotes

  1. The sample is generally well matched to a general description of the 'League's ' demographics obtained from a telephone conversation with an administrator at the National Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
  2. The sample is generally well matched to a general description of NOW's local chapter membership obtained from personal discussions with the local chapter president.
  3. The sample is generally well matched to a demographic profile of the area's female population for the market studied done by the major area newspaper in 1991.


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