Consumer responses to LGBTQ imagery in ads display a “homo-gender bias” that is heavily influenced by political ideology, according to a study published in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR).

The paper was written by Gavin Northey (Griffith University), Rebecca Dolan (University of Adelaide), Jane Etheridge (Shopper Media Group), Felix Septianto (University of Auckland) and Patrick van Esch (Auckland University of Technology).

And through a test featuring a series of mocked-up ads, the analysis confirmed previous research which found “that lesbian and heterosexual imagery generated comparable responses in consumers,” the authors wrote.

Consumer attitudes towards the fictitious product and brand in their analysis, they continued, “were dependent on their political ideology”.

For those consumers who “were politically conservative (versus liberal), the brand or product was less appealing when advertisements incorporated male-to-male homosexual imagery.”

These findings were published in a paper entitled, LGBTQ imagery in advertising: How viewers’ political ideology shapes their emotional response to gender and sexuality in advertisements.

This drew on two studies, the first of which included 859 participants – a panel that was 53% male and 47% female, with a median age of just under 38 years old – as recruited by a research agency based in the US.

Respondents – who answered questions about their attitudes on homosexuality prior to the study – viewed ads for a fictitious luxury-watch brand with a tagline, “Love is Love”.

The authors changed the gender mix in various ads to test how their sample responded to heterosexual and homosexual couples – and to different levels of explicit or implicit sexual imagery.

Contributors rated their emotional response and attitudes towards the brand and product on a sliding scale, while doing the same for their political self-identification (“extremely liberal” to “extremely conservative”) and party affiliation (“strong Democrat” to “strong Republican”).

A second study, featuring 157 participants – with the same gender split as the first round of analysis, and an average age of just under 36 years old – was conducted with a fictional bottled-water brand, and replicated the results.

Both rounds of analysis identified “political ideology as the key determinant” of a consumer’s emotional response to LGBTQ imagery in ads, with male-to-male homosexuality found to be the “source of this emotionally driven ‘homo-gender bias’”.

One guideline from the authors for marketers was to use “election data as a proxy for consumers’ political ideologies” and develop different creative content and messages depending on “geopolitical” consumer segments.

“As a result, they have the ability to move past typical stereotypes of homosexuality and communicate to a larger, geopolitically segmented audience, thereby increasing the potential for diversity and inclusion,” the authors wrote.

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