Executive summary of "Felt discrimination increases offensiveness of stereotyped out-group depictions

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 12 January 2015



(2015), "Executive summary of "Felt discrimination increases offensiveness of stereotyped out-group depictions", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 32 No. 1. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCM-12-2014-1260



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Executive summary of "Felt discrimination increases offensiveness of stereotyped out-group depictions"

Article Type: Executive summary and implications for managers and executives From: Journal of Consumer Marketing, Volume 32, Issue 1

This summary has been provided to allow managers and executives a rapid appreciation of the content of the article. Those with a particular interest in the topic covered, may then read the article in toto to take advantage of the more comprehensive description of the research undertaken and its results to get the full benefit of the material present.

Using imagery and names associated with “ethnic stereotypes” for branding purposes is a long-established practice. A prime example is the names of sporting teams like Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves and Washington Redskins that incorporated words depicting Native Americans (NAs). Red Man Tobacco and Eskimo Pies illustrate the fact that the same practice is used with brands. Stereotypical portrayal of NAs is likewise commonly deployed in media circles.

Branding elements pertaining to African American and Asian American typecasts appear with regularity too. Depicting the latter as “technologically savvy” has become routine practices to the degree that this minority is hardly ever portrayed in relation to other environments.

It is variously noted in the literature that using such strategies risks offending the minorities that are stereotypically depicted. The negative effect can damage both the self-esteem of individuals in the minority group and perceptions of community value. When such representations are viewed as discriminatory, the impact is typically long-lasting. People feel dehumanized and their social identity threatened. Ethnic individuals experience anxieties which place both their physiological and emotional health at risk. Individuals might also regard ethnicity as their only distinguishing factor when unfavorable depictions persist.

The view of some researchers is that people from other ethnic groups can be prone to regard “ethnicity-related stimuli” as being potentially distasteful. This tendency is even stronger among those who have been on the receiving end of discriminatory behavior themselves. Such individuals are able to empathize with other minorities, despite the fact that they do not belong to their own “ethnic in-group”. In these situations, it is possible that some common bond among different minorities is formed.

Personal experience is also thought to raise consciousness of situations where minorities are represented in stereotypical terms. In addition, awareness is prone to heighten sensitivity and belief that such depictions are insulting to the minority out-groups concerned. The point is also made in the literature that any notion of similarities between how their own group and other out-groups are depicted strengthens feelings of solidarity. One consequence of this is heightened watchfulness against prejudice directed toward any ethnic groups, not only their own.

Whether the representation is blatant or more subtle might influence how people will react. An overt stereotype is likely to prompt a recall of their experiences and parallels to be drawn. On the other hand, any sense of transgression is typically much lower when ambiguity surrounds the portrayal. The subtleness deployed might even prompt a reaction comparable to that when consuming brand imagery that is unconnected with ethnic group stereotypes.

It is important for brand managers to gain further insight into how stereotypical depictions are interpreted by “non-depicted minorities”. There is believed to be a genuine risk of negative consequences to the brand if such minorities perceive brand elements as offensive. Demanding changes or even ceasing to purchase the brand are specific actions that might be taken.

In the current work, Leak et al. conduct two experiments to investigate the issues further. Athletic sports brands incorporating NA symbolism were chosen for the study. The prominence of athletic brands in the sports marketing environment provided the rationale for the choice.

The first experiment involved data collection at two separate points. In the first instance, 148 undergraduate participants from a university in southern USA were asked to respond to various statements relating to perceived day-to-day discriminatory behavior. Gender and ethnicity information was also requested. Following this, 119 individuals from non-depicted minorities returned two weeks later to complete the second phase of the experiment. Subjects were randomly presented with team names and logos used by professional and college sports teams. Of the 38 items, 15 incorporated NA portrayals, 8 contained a subtle depiction, while 7 were in caricature form and, thus, more overt. The remaining items were based on “humanized groups” but had no connection to NAs. Study participants were asked to indicate how offensive they regarded the names and logos to be.

Analysis showed that respondents:

  • differentiated between portrayals of ethnic stereotypes from depictions without ethnic connotations;

  • who perceived discrimination regarded logos containing ethnic names and caricatures as offensive. Correlation was evident between the amount of discrimination perceived and the degree of offensiveness experienced; and

  • appeared to feel offended by out-group stereotypes only when overt depictions were used.

However, not all subjects perceived the name/logo combinations as being “overly offensive”. One assumption forwarded from this is that additional factors might be required before non-depicted minorities demand that branded logos are altered. Level of involvement in categorizing brands on the basis of their portrayal of other minority groups might be one such factor.

The second experiment explored what exactly might be perceived as an overt portrayal of ethnicity. In this instance, 77 minority undergraduates were randomly exposed to one of four combinations of logo type and name. Logos were either an NA caricature in the shape of the Indianhead logo currently used by Washington Redskins or the arrowed logo associated with the same team from around the mid-1960s. Redskins and Warriors were the two names included in the study. The former has particular ethnic undertones, while the latter has associations to both NAs and other categories such as the military.

Participants completed the same perceived discrimination exercise as in the first experiment, and they were asked to indicate their level of perceived offensiveness to the logo/name combination they were assigned to. This was indicated by measuring responses to statements relating to perceived offense, insensitivity and disrespect. The study also required subjects to indicate their degree of sympathy for NAs as a consequence of viewing the specific logo/name combination.

The results confirmed the importance of sympathy. Individuals who felt sympathetic toward NAs depicted in the logo/name combination perceived a higher level of offensiveness. But as a group, the non-depicted minority again indicated a tendency not to regard caricatures or symbolic portrayals as overly offensive. That personally experienced discrimination positively impacts on perceived offensiveness was further indicated here.

In the authors’ view, the study has implications for both community leaders and brand managers. Community leaders might build relationships with other non-depicted minorities as a means to pressurize firms into removing offensive brand images. Should other minorities become involved in such campaigns, firm might need to find ways of creating positive public relations. Brand managers could:

  • cease using stereotypical depictions, but this proactive approach comes at the expense of potentially losing brand equity;

  • maintain the current branding strategy. This risks increasing discontentment to a point where the brand is rejected by consumers; or

  • make changes so that more subtle portrayals are used. Brand ethos can be sustained, while the involvement of non-depicted minorities in any campaigns for change becomes less likely.

Future research into these options could also explore the likelihood of non-depicted minorities becoming actively involved in out-group issues. Using a larger sample in which other minority groups are represented is an option for additional study. Leak et al. additionally note other types of discrimination (such as age, gender or religion) and beg the question as to whether one type of perceived discrimination will increase sympathy toward other forms.

To read the full article enter 10.1108/JCM-03-2014-0902 into your search engine.

(A précis of the article “Felt discrimination increases offensiveness of stereotyped out-group depictions”. Supplied by Marketing Consultants for Emerald.)

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