Consumers respond to androgynous models in ads in very different ways depending on an individual’s own gender and sexual orientation, according to a paper published in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR).

Kelly Cowart (University of South Florida) and Phillip Wagner (College of William & Mary) discussed this topic in their article, “An investigation of androgyny and sexual orientation in advertising: How androgynous imagery and sexual orientation impact advertisement and brand attitudes.”

Key findings

  • In one of two studies informing the paper, an ad with an androgynous model generated “more opinions” from research participants, possibly because this imagery more effectively captured attention,
  • A “preponderance of negative opinions” was noted among male participants, while heterosexual subjects also “formed significantly lower attitudes” towards this ad – but registered more favourable views of an equivalent ad with a female model.
  • Contributors to the research often “conveyed strong negative evaluations” for an ad they did not like, rather than strong positive evaluations for an ad they liked.
  • “Marketers also may find the most effective use of androgynous imagery in the advertisement of luxury goods to nonheterosexual, nonbinary consumers,” Cowart and Wagner wrote.

How the research was done

  • The first study behind the research involved 130 subjects, who were randomly exposed to three versions of an ad for a high-end UK fashion brand. Each ad featured one model – androgynous, female, or male – and used similar aesthetics.
  • A second study involved 150 participants, who were randomly exposed to ads for luxury brand Versace or retailer Target, both of which featured an androgynous model.

Sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by WARC staff