Advertising Educational Foundation
  • Diversity and Multicultural Issues in Advertising: A Literature Review and New Research Directions
Abstract

With the increasing diversity of the population in the US and around the world, research on multicultural issues in advertising needs to be updated. A review of research articles published in advertising journals from 2011 to 2020 suggests that only 8.03% used diversity and multicultural variables in their conceptualization. Based on an overview of the recent scholarship, six key topic areas are identified in this paper: (1) gender roles and minority women in advertising, (2) racial representation and advertising effectiveness, (3) marginalized group-targeted advertising, (4) media behavior among multicultural consumers, (5) advertising education and industry diversity, and (6) LGBTQ consumers. These key topic areas along with theoretical and methodological observations from the literature help identify knowledge gaps in the field. Through the lens of the changing society and new technological advances in advertising, this article presents five directions for future research: (1) marginalized consumers’ response to brand activism, (2) targeting marginalized consumers through artificial intelligence (AI) and computational advertising, (3) diverse and ethnic influencers in social media, (4) multicultural research that is inclusive, and (5) the responsibilities of brands, advertising agencies, and scholars to consumers and society.

Keywords

culture, diversity, ethnicity, gender, LGBTQ+ identities, minorities, multicultural advertising, race

With the growth in visibility of historically marginalized groups, and their increasing buying power, market segments in the United States have changed from Caucasian-dominant to ethnic minority-dominant.1 At the same time, recent social events such as the Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights, and Stop Asian Hate movements require advertisers to pay more attention to marginalized groups in society and rethink their advertising strategies. Advertising has long been recognized as a powerful social and cultural force that mirrors and shapes societal values and norms in American society.2 Advertising and marketing scholars Wei-Na Lee, Jerome D. Williams, and Carrie La Ferle argue that diversity should include people with all types of racial, ability, gender, and sexual identities.3 As the demographic profile of the United States continues to change, it is the advertising industry’s responsibility to reach and engage with an increasingly diverse population.4 While advertising has been criticized for propagating racial stereotypes,5 it provides a powerful venue for brands and marketers to develop culturally relevant messages. Recent changes in the demographics of marginalized populations within the US population overall, along with the current social trends, have created opportunities for conducting research that targets historically marginalized groups.6

As multicultural marketing becomes mainstream, it is imperative to examine how evolving advertising technologies provide opportunities and challenges for brands to better represent and engage multicultural consumers. For example, the rapid development of artificial intelligence (AI) and computational advertising has changed the ways marketers reach and influence consumers7 by making it possible for companies to foster engagement and enhance consumer-brand relationships through personalized advertising.8 In addition, social media platforms have become an important part of brand communication in today’s digital environments.9 Nevertheless, consumers’ responses to and coping with brands’ use of new technologies (e.g., AI-based advertising) and ethnic targeting strategies in social media may vary among different historically marginalized populations.10 Thus, examining diversity in advertising through the lens of new technology and digital media is timely and necessary.

The changing media landscape and the current social environment call for researchers to re-examine diversity issues in advertising and identify an agenda for future research in multicultural marketing. While advertising journals have published special issues on gender, diversity, and multicultural issues in advertising11 and advertising education,12 research on how diverse representations are created by ad professionals and how diverse workforces in the ad industry are recruited and mentored has been limited over the past decade. Research pertinent to inclusion in advertising is also scarce as it is a relatively new yet important concept. Given the enormous need for research focusing on contemporary diversity issues, the objective of this article is twofold. First, this article will provide an overview of the current state of research on diversity and multicultural issues in advertising. Second, new research directions will be formulated from a contemporary societal and technological perspective. The research is focused on the United States, although global issues will be discussed in terms of future research directions.

From a theoretical perspective, the goal of this paper is not to provide a definition of each theory or conceptualization, but to highlight important theoretical rationales that help identify new research directions. The ultimate goal of this article is to raise advertising researchers’ awareness of the issues and call for updated research to advance diversity, multiculturalism, and inclusion in advertising. From a practical standpoint, this article aims to help brands, marketers, and advertising agencies identify issues in diversity, multiculturalism, and inclusion and provide useful strategies to implement the needed change.

BACKGROUND

Multicultural marketing refers to “strategic and tactical approaches to target one or more audiences of a specific minority ethnicity or race through marketing communications.”13 It has become an important aspect of advertising in the United States. According to the US Census Bureau, as of 2019, nearly 40% of Americans identify as a race or ethnicity other than White, and more than 50% of all Americans are projected to belong to a marginalized group (other than non-Hispanic, single-race Whites) by 2044.14 These estimates suggest that the United States is becoming a more racially and ethnically diverse nation.15 Indeed, the period from 2011 to 2020 was the first decade in US history that featured a decline of the White population. Historically marginalized groups are expected to be the majority in the coming decades, with the Hispanic population projected to be the biggest group in 2050, followed by African Americans and Asian Americans.16

The increasing diversity of the US population and recent social events have contributed to the important role of the advertising industry. The brutal death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, at the hands of Minneapolis police fueled emotions and outrage that were displayed in global protests and mass demonstrations for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.17 The proliferation of COVID-19 as well as the rise of racist incidents against the Asian American community have also sparked the Stop Asian Hate movement.18 These social movements have challenged advertising’s role in society and triggered a reexamination of equity, diversity, and inclusion in advertising. At the same time, these events also triggered White backlash. In other words, it is a volatile and complicated moment. Many brands have joined the conversation by taking a public stand in their advertising campaigns. For example, ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s started a podcast on racism and discrimination,19 and a furniture brand, Room & Board, created a social media campaign to stand with the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.

Along with societal changes, technological advances in advertising have offered advertisers new opportunities to build relationships with diverse consumers and provided scholars with directions for future research. Among the new technologically supported advertising forms, artificial intelligence (AI) advertising and computational advertising have received increasing attention in recent years. Professor of strategic communication Shelly Rodgers pointed out that “AI is becoming less an option and more a necessity to be on the cutting edge.”20 In a similar vein, computational advertising that is data-driven has created “a significant paradigm shift”21 in the advertising field. The current article argues that new research directions in diversity and multicultural issues in advertising should be understood in the context of technological as well as social and cultural revolution, as the revolution has implications for ethnic and marginalized population targeting, message creation, and media placement. More importantly, new technologies such as AI have been shown to exhibit racial and gender biases.22 Thus, it is critical to identify new research directions on diversity issues in advertising through a technological perspective.

KEY LITERATURE

Defining Diversity and Multicultural Advertising

In general, diversity refers to “understanding individual differences” and “is a reality created by individuals and groups from a broad spectrum of demographic and philosophical differences.”23 According to Independent Sector, “diversity includes all the ways in which people differ, encompassing the different characteristics that make one individual or group different from another.”24 While exact definitions of diversity vary and there is no consensus on the definitions of the term, scholars over the years have endorsed a broad definition of diversity.25 Contemporary brands realize that diversity and equitable representation play essential roles in how they should conduct business,26 yet many struggle with the knowledge of how to achieve the representation they strive for.

In Journal of Advertising’s special issue on gender and multicultural issues in advertising, professor of marketing Barbara B. Stern defined the term “multiculturalism” broadly, referring to the study of “non-majority populations within, between, and across cultures.”27 Stern described non-majority populations as those other than White, heterosexual men, including historically marginalized groups such as African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans and sexual minorities. Lee, Williams, and La Ferle28 suggest that the definition of diversity should go beyond race and gender to incorporate all citizens. They believe that advertising professor Marye C. Tharp’s29 use of a salad bowl as a metaphor for multiculturalism provides a broader and more inclusive view that can help advertisers better define their target segments. Following this definition, groups within a multicultural society can maintain their identities while their value systems and cultures are being integrated into the society as a whole.

Business professors Guillaume D. Johnson, Roger M. Elliott, and Sonya A. Grier defined multicultural advertising “as that type of advertising that aims to simultaneously reach a culturally diverse target audience through the use of cultural representations (e.g., advertisement sources, symbols, traditions beliefs, values, attitudes, and/or objects from multiple cultural backgrounds)” and contend that it is a strategic tool of multicultural marketing.30 Furthermore, these consumer segments are determined not only by cultural characteristics but also by subcultural traits. Overall, broad definitions of diversity and multicultural advertising allow researchers to tackle complex, diverse populations within contemporary American society. Therefore, guided by previous research, this article proposes that diversity includes gender identity, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ people, ability (i.e., physical ability and neurodiversity), religious belief, age, and so on.

Method: A Review of Recent Scholarship

To assess recent scholarship in the field of advertising and diversity, a systematic search was conducted to identify articles published during the 10-year period from 2011 to 2020. Following prior literature review articles in advertising, the search focused on seven major journals in advertising: Journal of Advertising (JA), International Journal of Advertising (IJA), Journal of Advertising Research (JAR), Journal of Interactive Advertising (JIA), Journal of Current Issues & Research in Advertising (JCIRA), Journal of Advertising Education (JAE), and Advertising & Society Quarterly (ASQ). These journals were selected based on their long history and importance in the field.31 For example, the three journals (JA, JIA, JCIRA) owned and published by the American Academy of Advertising (AAA) were included to provide a complete view of recent research (see the AAA website at https://www.aaasite.org/journals). Articles published in JAE and ASQ were also searched because these journals publish particularly relevant research.

The search was conducted using Business Source Premier and Communication and Mass Media Complete, as these two social science academic databases include comprehensive research in the fields of business and communication.32 The search fields included the titles, abstracts, and subjects and the following terms or combinations of keywords to select articles: “diversity,” “multiculturalism,” “race,” “minority,” “ethnicity,” “religion,” “gender,” “disability,” “sexual orientation,” and “LGBTQ.” This search strategy identified relevant articles on diversity, multiculturalism, and advertising to include in the review. Following previous review-based articles, the World Advertising Research Center (WARC) database was used to access articles published in the JAR.33 For ASQ, the ANA Educational Foundation’s database was used to select articles. Titles, abstracts, and subjects were also included as a search field. The literature search was performed in April 2021. In addition to empirical articles, conceptual papers and literature reviews were included as they provided theoretical insight and helped identify directions for future research.34 Articles with little relevance (e.g., only using race as a covariate) were deleted. Book reviews, interviews, and editorials were also excluded. Based on these criteria, a total of 139 articles were selected for this review.

Articles by Journal and Year

Research in diversity and multicultural issues in advertising has explored the depiction of gender and race in advertising as well as historically marginalized consumers’ response to targeted advertising. Figure 1 presents the distribution of research articles published from 2011 to 2020 in the seven advertising journals included in this study. As indicated in the Figure, the number of research papers on diversity and advertising ranged from 6 to 20 per year. On average, these advertising journals published about 14 (13.9) articles related to diversity and multiculturalism every year. These findings suggest that while scholars have been interested in diversity-related issues in advertising, opportunities exist for more research to advance the field.

Fig. 1. Diversity and Multicultural Issues in Advertising: Number of Papers Published by Year. The figure presents the distribution of research articles published from 2011 to 2020 in the seven advertising journals included in this study.
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Fig. 1.

Diversity and Multicultural Issues in Advertising: Number of Papers Published by Year. The figure presents the distribution of research articles published from 2011 to 2020 in the seven advertising journals included in this study.

Table 1 shows the number of articles published by journal. ASQ (29.52%) published the most articles related to diversity and multicultural issues in advertising, followed by JAE (10.91%). JCIRA (8.7%) and IJA (8.59%) ranked third and fourth place for number of articles published in the field. The mission of ASQ is to examine advertising’s relationship with society, culture, history, and the economy. Thus, the articles published in ASQ covered a wide range of topics such as gender equity, marginalized group representation, race and ethnicity in advertising as well as current social issues (e.g., #MeToo, BLM).

Table 1. Number of Articles Published on Diversity and Multicultural Issues in Advertising from 2011 to 2020: Ranked by Journals. The search was conducted using the following keywords: diversity, multiculturalism, race, minority, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and LGBTQ. Variations of LGBTQ were also used (e.g., LGBT, LGBTQIA+, LGBT+). Advertising & Society Quarterly was formerly called Advertising & Society Review, through volume 17, 2017.
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Table 1.

Number of Articles Published on Diversity and Multicultural Issues in Advertising from 2011 to 2020: Ranked by Journals. The search was conducted using the following keywords: diversity, multiculturalism, race, minority, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and LGBTQ. Variations of LGBTQ were also used (e.g., LGBT, LGBTQIA+, LGBT+). Advertising & Society Quarterly was formerly called Advertising & Society Review, through volume 17, 2017.

The high number of articles in JAE indicates the importance of integrating diversity and multiculturalism into today’s advertising curriculum. Given JAE’s focus on instruction, curriculum, and leadership in advertising education, it has published research papers on teaching diversity in advertising education as well as research on mentors and historically marginalized advertising students35 over the past decade. JCIRA and IJA also published a significant share of work on diversity in advertising. JCIRA’s mission statement specifically welcomes papers that examine advertising’s role in society and debate current and enduring issues in advertising. IJA’s focus on issues of concern to practitioners, academics and policy-makers makes it another great forum to address diversity issues from the perspectives of academics, practitioners, and public policy.

While each journal has a different focus and mission, diversity in advertising should be examined in a variety of theoretical frameworks and discussed in broader perspectives of advertising scholarship. Although there has been steady research on diversity in advertising, it is important for advertising scholars to more actively tackle issues of diversity and multiculturalism in their research given the growth in visibility of historically marginalized groups and recognition of their increasing buying power. Among a total of 1,731 articles published in the seven major advertising journals during the 10-year period from 2011 to 2020, only 139 (8.03%) used diversity and multicultural variables in their conceptualization. This indicates that there are continuing opportunities for advertising journals to encourage investigation in this field, particularly JA, JAR, and JIA.

Key Topic Areas Examined

Previous studies about diversity and multicultural advertising have largely focused on gender-related issues and racial representation in advertising. This is understandable since earlier definitions of diversity tended to center race and gender.36 Following methods used in prior literature reviews, the current study identified key topic areas.37 First, each of the 139 papers was reviewed and assigned keywords. Then, the entire set of descriptive keywords were grouped and analyzed to determine key areas. These procedures resulted in six key topic areas: (1) gender roles and minority women in advertising, (2) racial representation and advertising effectiveness, (3) marginalized group-targeted advertising, (4) media behavior among multicultural consumers, (5) advertising education and industry diversity, (6) and LGBTQ consumers. Table 2 presents the key topic areas along with sample articles. Each area is also discussed in the following sections.

Table 2. Key Areas and Sample Articles on Diversity and Multicultural Issues in Advertising. The six areas are not in order of magnitude. They are presented randomly.
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Table 2.

Key Areas and Sample Articles on Diversity and Multicultural Issues in Advertising. The six areas are not in order of magnitude. They are presented randomly.

Gender Roles and Minority Women in Advertising

Advertising scholars have a long history of keen interest in gender and advertising, and research in this area has been ongoing. Current research examines how women are depicted in ads and investigates disparities in societal roles.38 For example, professor of advertising Kasey Windels explored advertising practitioners’ perceptions of gender stereotypes in advertisements, and marketing professor Linda Tuncay Zayer and professor of strategic communication Catherine A. Coleman examined the impact of gender portrayals on men and women from an ethical perspective.39 Overall, research in this area reveals the gender dichotomy and brings to light the ethical considerations of how gender roles are portrayed in advertising.

Researchers have also explored how ethnic minority women in particular are represented in advertising and investigated beauty culture among different minority groups.40 For example, one historian, Michelle Ferranti examined advertisements for vaginal deodorants and deciphered the historical meaning of vaginal deodorization practices for African American women.41 Professors of strategic communication Katy Snell and Wan-Hsiu Sunny Tsai focused on how Asian American women respond to beauty representations in advertising and explained their bicultural identity construction process to negotiate exoticization and Americanization.42 In a few recent studies, advertising portrayals of dads and nonstereotyped gender roles have emerged as a new research stream.43 It is expected that research in this area will become more fruitful as gender equity continues to be an issue in advertising and society.

Racial Representation and Advertising Effectiveness

Racial representation, model ethnicity, and advertising effectiveness are other major research areas that have received attention in the 2010s. With the increasing use of ethnic characters in advertising, researchers have examined the effects of stereotypical portrayals of race on advertising effectiveness.44 For example, professors of communication Gregory J. Hoplamazian and Osei Appiah investigated viewer responses to character race and social status in advertising and found that race plays an important role for Black participants to evaluate a character, while social class acts as the primary cue in influencing advertisement evaluations for White participants.45 These findings suggest that in addition to increasing the number of minority appearances in advertising, members of minority groups should be portrayed in a wide range of social classes. Professor of marketing and integrated marketing communications Judy Foster Davis46 examined advertising featuring African American, Latinx, Asian, Native American, and White models and concluded that it is important for advertisers to recognize the impact of advertising imagery on society.

Although research has generally focused on the negative social impact of racial stereotypical representations, business professors Guillaume D. Johnson and Sonya A. Grier emphasized its potential positive effect on advertising effectiveness.47 Their findings showed that stereotyped viewers (those who are members of a group that is stereotyped in an ad) experienced different attitude formation than nonstereotyped viewers. Specifically, while stereotyped viewers feel offended when exposed to the stereotyped portrayal, nonstereotyped viewers exhibit ambivalence and mixed feelings. In addition, prior studies have demonstrated the influence of the endorser’s ethnicity on advertising and brand evaluations in a non-US context.48 For example, Western celebrities and White advertising models have been found to appeal to consumers in Asia.

Marginalized Group-Targeted Advertising

Related to the topic area of racial representation, a stream of research on minority- and ethnic-targeted advertising has been identified.49 Targeted advertising is viewed as a tool of target marketing, which refers to “a general strategy through which a firm identifies consumers sharing similar characteristics (e.g., social economic status, gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or a combination) and strives to reach them using those characteristics.”50 Understanding ethnic-targeted advertising not only provides insight into theories, but also offers important implications for practice such as target segment selection and message development.51 Nevertheless, the effects of ethnic-targeted advertising are ambiguous. Ethnic minority consumers have shown positive responses toward ads with portrayals of ethnic endorsers because these portrayals lead to enhanced ethnic identity. However, when endorsers are portrayed in a stereotypical way, consumers will generate negative responses toward the ad.52

Johnson and Grier emphasized the importance of targeting without alienating in a multicultural advertising marketplace.53 They argued that while minority-targeted advertising is perceived favorably among targeted minorities such as ethnic minorities and gay people,54 it has also created a feeling of alienation among majority members, thus leading to unfavorable responses toward targeted advertising. The results of their study illustrated the effect of viewers’ congruence judgements and felt targetedness on consumer responses to multicultural advertising. As technological advances provide more opportunities to access data and develop personalized targeting strategies, the current scholarship on minority-targeted advertising will serve as input for new research directions.55

Media Behavior among Multicultural Consumers

According to the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), multicultural consumers such as Asian Americans, Black Americans, and Hispanics constituted nearly 40% of the US population in 2019.56 However, advertising budgets for multicultural consumers make up only 5.2% of the total marketing spending, thus advertisers are missing opportunities to address these ethnic groups. Generally speaking, these multicultural audiences prefer media that uses their dominant language, though this tendency varies depending on their level of acculturation.57 In addition, multicultural audiences show different media use behavior and preferences. For example, early research has provided evidence that Hispanic and Black audiences consume more television than other races and ethnicities.58 As media spending among multicultural audiences continues to be disproportionate to the population, research in this area provides insight into multicultural media planning and measurement in today’s fragmented media landscape.

The literature search in the current study identified a few studies of media consumption among minority groups.59 For example, professors of marketing J. P. James and Tyrha Lindsey-Warren examined television consumption across racial and ethnic minority groups in the US and found that compared to White consumers, multicultural audiences are more influenced by the uses and gratifications of television viewing.60 They also demonstrated the mediating role of program genres and media fragmentation in the relationship of television viewership and multiculturalism. Executive Chairman of Varcode Gian Fulgoni and Insights Manager of Camelot Illinois Adam Lella describe three differing digital behaviors among Hispanic consumers: “a higher likelihood of being a ‘mobile-only’ Internet user; a higher propensity of engaging in social and communicative online activities; and heavier consumption of multimedia and entertainment content.”61 Amy Jo Coffey, professor of media management suggested that advertisers should increase their media investment in the growing Asian American demographic segment.62

Advertising Education and Industry Diversity

Current research on diversity and multicultural issues in advertising has also focused on the education and industry perspectives. Scholars have argued that advertising education carries the responsibility for promoting diversity and equity in the advertising industry.63 A review of the articles published between 2011 and 2020 shows that research in this area has been growing. With greater attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion, researchers have examined topics such as the impact of digital advertising on opportunities for creative women,64 advertising summer camp as a recruitment tool to increase industry diversity,65 teaching diversity in advertising education, multicultural students and their mentors, and using ethnic diversity to solve creative problems.66

One notable study is professors of communication Osei Appiah and Dana Saewitz’s article on advertising industry diversity in which they pointed out the lack of diversity in the advertising industry and academia.67 These authors indicate that while American society has become more demographically diverse, more intentional action is needed to improve diversity in the industry. For example, the majority of ANA members (74%) and chief marketing officers (CMOs) (87%) are White. Only 3%, 5%, and 5% of CMO positions are held by African Americans and Asian Americans and Latinos, respectively.68 Multicultural branding professor Kevin Thomas highlighted the importance of attaining equity in the advertising industry by proposing concrete suggestions for advertising educators.69

LGBTQ Consumers

The past decade has witnessed the rise of advertising research on the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) community. The increasing research interest in LGBTQ consumers has been driven by the rising global acceptance of this population, who have substantial buying power.70 Major advertising journals such as JA, JAR, and IJA have made efforts to publish articles related to gays’ and lesbians’ responses to advertising as well as the impact of gay imagery on brands and consumers’ behavioral intentions.71

Business professors Stefano Puntoni and Joelle Vanhamme, as well as Unilever Global Communications Analyst Ruben Visscher, examined the effect of strategic ambiguity (or purposeful polysemy) on minority targeting.72 They found that gay men exhibited more favorable attitudes toward gay window ads, defined as “advertising that covertly targets gay consumers through the inclusion of ambiguous cues,” than mainstream ads. On the other hand, heterosexual participants showed the opposite responses. Advertising and marketing communication professor Wan-Hsui Tsai stated that in a society characterized by commercial validation in the marketplace and discrimination in the public political domain, gay and lesbian consumers use targeted advertising as a way to achieve self-empowerment.73 In a meta-analysis, professors of marketing Martin Eisend and Erik Hermann investigated the effects of homosexual imagery on advertising effectiveness and found that the persuasive effect remains the same across homosexual and heterosexual imagery. However, heterosexual imagery was perceived negatively among homosexual consumers.74

Overall, these studies not only advance advertising theories by examining a marginalized minority group, but also provide implications for advertisers wanting to connect with consumers of various sexual orientations.

Theoretical Underpinnings and Methodological Considerations

Based on a review of the recent scholarship, this section discusses major theories used in the research on diversity in advertising and offers observations on methodological aspects. In order to understand trends in advertising research, it is important to determine what theories and perspectives have been used to guide the research and to help build a theoretical conceptualization.75 The most prevalently used theories related to diversity and multicultural issues in advertising in the published articles appear to be social identity theory and distinctiveness theory.76 Other theories and frameworks such as cultivation theory, self-schemas, and gender identity have also been employed.77 Scholars have also used various conceptualizations as foundations for their studies, such as social cognitive psychology, strength of ethnic identification, and gender stereotypes.78

Among the various theories used, distinctiveness theory has been consulted to explain that a person’s distinctive, numerically rare traits in their local environment will be more salient to the person than other common traits.79 Scholars have turned to this theory to examine the influence of individual characteristics on consumer responses to advertising, providing insight into how segmentation and targeted ads work.80 In addition, social identity theory, which posits a sense of self that derives from group membership and perceived belonging in social categories, has been used to examine minority consumers’ evaluations of advertising.81 While various theories and frameworks have provided foundations for research in multicultural advertising, it is necessary to continue to expand the theories used in the field. Indeed, recent studies have adopted Pratto, Stallworth, and Malle’s social dominance orientation as well as Debevec and Iyer’s self-referencing in their conceptualizations.82 Other psychological variables such as envy, anxiety, bias, also offer new ideas.

In terms of research methods used in published articles, content analysis and experiment appear to be most common. Content analysis has been frequently used to explore minority representation and gender stereotypes in advertising.83 Experiment was the most commonly used method to examine minorities’ responses toward advertising, such as the advertising effects of race portrayals,84 gender,85 and purposeful polysemy in minority targeting.86 Qualitative methods such as interviews have been used to understand advertising professionals’ views on gender and gender stereotypes in advertisements as well as LGBTQ consumers.87 In addition, scholars have used surveys to investigate media consumption among minority audiences and gay imagery in ads.88

One methodological challenge in diversity is the use of implicit measures of attitude, which have been found to reveal information on consumers’ advertising evaluations that is different from information obtained by explicit measures, especially when participants are susceptible to socially desirable responding.89 Moreover, with the changing climate in society and the marketplace, minority status is a moving target as reflected in values, lifestyle, and identity-based consumer behavior. Despite potential challenges in cost and time, longitudinal research is needed to help determine if minority consumers’ responses to advertising messages have changed over the years. The theoretical and methodological challenges of diversity and multicultural advertising research provide important insight for new research directions, which are discussed in the next section.

NEW RESEARCH DIRECTIONS

In light of recent events related to increased recognition of systemic racism and inequality,90 advertising scholars need to respond to the changing climate and be more intentional in addressing diversity and multicultural consumers. A review of the last 10 years of literature in seven advertising journals shows that only 8.03% of the articles are about issues related to diversity and multiculturalism, suggesting that updated research is urgently needed. Furthermore, as technology continues to impact the advertising industry, the role of advertising is changing and becoming more important than ever. This review of recent literature offers ideas for new research directions through the lens of society and technology. By identifying key research topics in the previous scholarship and observing theoretical and methodological trends, knowledge gaps were formulated into five directions for future research: (1) marginalized consumers’ response to brand activism, (2) targeting marginalized consumers through AI and computational advertising, (3) diverse and ethnic influencers in social media, and (4) multicultural research that is inclusive, and (5) brands’, advertising agencies’, and scholars’ responsibilities to consumers and society.

Marginalized Consumers’ Responses to Brand Activism

Research on marginalized consumers’ responses to brand activism is needed. Broadly defined, brand activism has been described as “an emerging market tactic for brands seeking to stand out in a fragmented marketplace by taking public stances on social and political issues.”91 In light of the current social movements around the world, taking a stand has become a common practice by brands to respond to issues related to historically marginalized consumers.92 Brands also take a public stand to raise awareness of diversity, equity, and inclusion, such as Nike’s social justice campaign in the wake of the 2020 murder of George Floyd by police. However, research on how consumers react to such practices and the impact of brand activism on advertising persuasion and brand outcomes is still in its infancy.

Moreover, social media have become an important platform for brands to promote their brand activism initiatives. Future researchers could examine the effect of brand activism messages on consumers across different marginalized groups. Do Asian American consumers respond more favorably than non-Asian Americans to brands sharing #StopAsianHate messages? What is the role of consumers’ use of social media in supporting or challenging brands that take a stand on social issues? These questions provide exciting new directions to fill a significant gap in the current advertising literature. Research on consumers’ responses to brand activism should focus on theoretical development and rigorous methodological approaches and examine advertising practices through the lens of contemporary culture and society.

Targeting Marginalized Consumers through AI and Computational Advertising

Technology has been a driving force in the evolution of advertising, as each new technological advance provides opportunities to re-examine the definition of advertising and to expand theoretical knowledge.93 Of all the new technologies that have emerged over the past decade, AI appears to be an exciting area that is receiving increased attention from scholars. Shelly Rodgers defined AI advertising as “brand communication that uses a range of machine functions that learn to carry out tasks with intent to persuade with input by humans, machines, or both.”94 The use of AI in advertising for targeting is controversial and has prompted advertising scholars and practitioners to rethink how advertising works in a multicultural marketplace, leading to new research inquiries. For example, how do ethnic minority consumers’ attitudes toward an advertiser’s use of AI differ from those of non-minority consumers? Do individual characteristics such as race, gender, age, income, and sexual orientation play a role in consumers’ adoption of intelligence-based voice assistants? Does the use of ethnic accents for voice assistants increase perceived advertising effectiveness? A few studies have demonstrated the impact of culture on viewers’ attitude toward machines.95 Future studies on diversity in advertising should take into account other technological advances in their conceptualizations and theoretical framework development.

Another new form of advertising that warrants careful attention is computational advertising, which refers to “a broad, data-driven advertising approach relying on or facilitated by enhanced computing capabilities, mathematical models/algorithms, and the technology infrastructure to create and deliver messages and monitor/surveil an individual’s behaviors.”96 Future researchers could investigate how minority consumers perceive and process advertising that uses algorithms and programming in social media. The line between ad personalization and racial profiling is blurring.97 Topics such as data ethics and data bias particularly need to be explored, as they will help advertisers design messages that are relevant and appropriate. In addition, discrimination in AI should be addressed as AI has been shown to have gender and racial bias that will create problems when it is used in advertising.98

Diverse and Ethnic Influencers in Social Media

Influencer marketing has emerged as a new research area in various disciplines such as advertising, marketing, communication, management, and technology.99 Influencers are social media users with expertise in a particular area who constantly create and post content in different platforms to share with their followers.100 While research on the use of influencers in advertising has grown rapidly, there are still few studies on diverse and ethnic influencers, even though their reach is growing. For example, Nabela Noor, a South Asian, plus-sized, Muslim, Bangladeshi-American woman, has attracted more than 1.7 million followers on Instagram where she uses her platform to spotlight diversity.101

According to identification theory, which suggests that viewers’ perceived similarity to advertising models leads to identification with those models, ethnic influencers should trigger greater credibility and authenticity among their followers who share the same cultural background.102 Future research on diversity in advertising could examine the effects of perceived similarity with ethnic or minority influencers and identification with these influencers on advertising evaluations.

Polarized appraisal theory or in-group bias theory can also be applied to study the advertising value of diverse and ethnic influencers, as this theory explains why a member of an in-group should have a more favorable response toward another in-group member in advertising.103 Methodologically, implicit attitude measures can be employed to determine whether race or ethnicity play a role in social media followers’ attitude toward influencers.

Multicultural Research That Is Inclusive

Equally important, scholars must conduct studies that are more inclusive. A close review of the recent literature shows that research on certain marginalized groups such as disabled consumers and the elderly is scarce. During the 2011–2020 period, only one article published in JICRA addresses the disability community.104 Communication professors Summer S. Shelton and T. Franklin Waddell pointed out that disabled consumers feel left out of advertising’s representations and mainstream media.105 As the industry is making strides to advocate for diversity, disability should be part of their efforts. With one in four US adults living with a disability,106 research uncovering these potential disabled customers and their media behaviors is vital. Future researchers could examine the persuasion effects of ads featuring disabled individuals in a variety of social contexts. A recent study in JA has indeed begun to explore the impact of representations of blindness, disability, and gender in advertising.107 In addition, qualitative research methods could be used to explore how the lack of representation of persons with disabilities has influenced the industry’s decision-making process and creative outcomes from clients’ and agencies’ views108

Equally important, more research is needed to examine aging consumers, given their considerable purchasing power and disposable time. Research on diversity and multiculturalism also needs to go beyond the US context.109 For example, Japan has been characterized as an aging society, with people aged 65 or older accounting for 28.7% of the total population.110 Future researchers should examine factors influencing elderly people’s purchase behaviors and investigate motivations of their media use. For example, understanding the impact of Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) pharmaceutical advertising on aging consumers can provide important implications for advertisers, consumers, and policy makers. In addition, researchers should look into diversity advertising in countries such as Canada, the UK, Brazil, and Singapore, as these are some of the most multicultural countries in the world.

Responsibilities of Brands, Advertising Agencies, and Scholars toward Consumers and Society

Last but not least, key stakeholders, including brands/advertisers, advertising agencies, and advertising scholars, need to respond to the changing climate and take responsibility to make necessary changes. Brands and advertising agencies play a critical role in addressing diversity, multiculturalism, and inclusion issues in advertising as it is the brands that drive the advertising and the agencies that create it as they try to respond to consumers. Future researchers should examine how brands/advertisers and advertising agencies can make changes, especially by including more diversity in the workplace. While brands/marketers may recognize there is an issue, few have developed serious strategies for moving forward. Continued research should articulate the responsibilities of brands and advertising agencies and provide guidance that encourages the implementation of substantive change.

In a similar vein, advertising scholars should take intentional action to improve diversity in academia, such as by emphasizing diversity, equality, and inclusion in faculty searches, conducting research that focuses on historically marginalized groups, and developing scholarships that serve underrepresented student populations. Research that examines advertising scholars’ responsibilities to consumers and society is needed.

CONCLUSIONS

Despite the changing demographics in the US population and the increasing importance of multiculturalism in global society, lack of diversity remains an issue in advertising scholarship, educational institutions, and the industry. As professors of communication Osei Appiah and Dana Saewitz state, “diversity cannot be achieved accidentally. It must be achieved with intentionality and purpose.”111 This article identifies key research topics from recent literature and presents an agenda for future research. Theory-based considerations and methodological issues are also discussed in order to understand the current state of research on diversity and advertising. In addition to examining the suggested new research directions, continued efforts are needed to explore historically marginalized group representation in digital spaces, multicultural individuals, within-group differences, and commodity activism.112 While these issues have been tackled in prior research, they require persistent attention and fresh insights. Finally, the lack of diversity in the advertising industry is worth researching in order to develop strategies that deepen brands’ relationships with diverse consumers.

Guided by prior literature review articles in advertising, this study only focuses on major advertising journals. While these journals publish advertising studies pertinent to diversity, multiculturalism, and inclusion, some business journals also feature advertising studies in these areas. Future researchers should consider including business journals for this investigation. Furthermore, researchers might consider how journals such as Race in the Marketplace or Gender Studies journals address these issues.

In sum, diversity should be a significant component of advertising scholarship. This article is intended to provide useful information for advertising scholars who wish to examine diversity and multiculturalism in today’s society. Insights derived from new research directions will not only help advertisers to respond to pressing social issues, but also advance advertising theory by illustrating how historically marginalized consumers perceive new forms of advertising.

Shu-Chuan Chu

Shu-Chuan (Kelly) Chu (PhD, The University of Texas at Austin) is Professor and former Program Chair of Public Relations and Advertising in the College of Communication at DePaul University in Chicago. Kelly’s research interests include social media, electronic word-of-mouth, cross-cultural consumer behavior, and corporate social responsibility. Kelly’s work has been published in Journal of Advertising, International Journal of Advertising, Journal of Interactive Advertising, Journal of Interactive Marketing, Journal of Business Research, Journal of Global Marketing, and Journal of Marketing Communications, among others. Kelly and her colleagues have also edited a book, Electronic Word of Mouth as a Promotional Technique: New Insights from Social Media. She serves on the editorial review board of four advertising and communication journals and is an associate editor of Journal of Interactive Advertising. Kelly is President-Elect of the American Academy of Advertising.

Footnotes

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Additional Information

ISSN
2475-1790
Launched on MUSE
2022-07-23
Open Access
No
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