A content analysis study on the use of minorities in magazine advertisements. A complete research document with full analysis.
America’s claim to fame has long been its “melting-pot” mentality. It is the land of opportunity for people of all religious, economic and racial backgrounds. A day spent in any developed city in America will solidify this ideology and reinforce the mindset that America truly is land of the free and home of diversity. This is not a way of thinking unique to the twenty-first century. In 1928 Maya Angelou said, “We really are fifteen different countries and it’s really remarkable that each of us thinks we represent the real America. The midwesterner in Kansas, the black American in Durham-both are certain they are the real American.” Indeed, this nation is founded on the idea that all United States citizens, regardless of race, are the real Americans. A look at America’s demographic does in fact confirm the idea that the United States is the one country that can continually boast of its diversity and the great job it has done in obtaining the “melting-pot” ideal. President Jimmy Carter expanded on that image when he said,
The melting-pot ideal is what allows for the creation of places like Little Havana in Miami, Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, and Harlem in New York, all equally American.
However, the equality and diversity so vibrantly celebrated in past decades is being challenged of late by those who still see the vague remnants of segregation and racism that was once very alive in America though its citizens have desperately tried to stomp it out. The evidence against racial equality in correspondence to the American racial demographic can be spotted in the advertisements of American magazines. America is a culture infiltrated with advertisements. The number of advertisements that circulate every day throughout the country is huge and is progressively increasing. Each day, more than 184 billion classified advertisements and 12 billion display advertisements pour forth from daily newspapers in the United States, another 6 billion advertisements appear in magazines and other periodicals, 2.6 billion commercials are broadcast via radio, and 330 million commercials are shown on television (Bogart, 1990). With so many advertisements being viewed by Americans every day, it is important to study the content of advertisements in America in relation to race representation. While this study is just a content analysis of race representation in magazine advertisements its findings and those of similar studies are the basis for speculation and study on the effects of such advertisements in regards to their audiences.
Studies done in the area of racial biases within media have mainly concentrated on two areas: representation of minorities in relation to white representation and role portrayal. A study entitled, “Minority Presence and Portrayal in Mainstream Magazine Advertising: An Update” by Lawrence Bowen and Jill Schmid analyzedinclusion, portrayal, and integration of minorities in mainstream magazine advertising. The researchers were trying to conclude if representation of minorities in magazine advertising had improved between the years 1987 and 1992. Nine widely circulated magazines, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Family Circle, Fortune, Good Housekeeping, Life, New Yorker, Sports Illustrated, and Time, were examined in each of those years respectively. The goal was to choose magazines that reflected readership of “mainstream” America. In all, 1,969 “populated” advertisements were selected and analyzed. Content was coded for minority presence, gender, age, occupation, and product category. Researchers found that there had been a steady increase in the use of Blacks as models in mainstream magazines but that the use of Hispanics and Asians remained low and showed some signs of decline. They also noticed that when minority models were used, they were often depicted alongside a white model in mixed-ethnic ads. It was speculated that product companies wanted to use minorities in their ads to attract the minority audience but felt the need to include a White model for fear of “White backlash.”
Overall, the study noted the increased use of Blacks in mainstream magazine advertising and that simple inclusion of Black models was a step toward equal integration and representation. Asians and Hispanics were still greatly under-represented and there were few advertisements in which minorities appeared alone. Minorities continued to be used as “tokens” alongside Whites.
A second study, done by S. Plous and Dominique Neptune at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, sought to compare and analyze the portrayal of Black women, White women, Black men and White men in magazine advertisements. In the study, six fashion-oriented magazines were selected from which sample ads would be chosen. This study differed from the previously mentioned study because it chose four magazines with a predominantly White readership (Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Esquire and Gentleman’s Quarterly) and two with a predominantly Black readership (Ebony and Essence). A total of 1,800 advertisements were analyzed in the study from the 6 magazines during a 10 year period from 1985 to 1995. Overall, African American models appeared in approximately 10% of advertisements in magazines with a primarily White readership and showed a significant increase from the 1980s to the 1990s. Although it was interesting to note that not a single Black model appeared in the two magazines with a primarily White male readership. In general, the study found a clear bias against minority models and this was further exacerbated along gender lines. Black males were rarely presented and the Black females were almost always portrayed in an animal like pose or wearing predatory animal print clothing.
Based on results from previous studies, the current study does not have high hopes for improved representation of minority groups in magazine advertisements. Racial biases will most likely continue to be evident and White models will dominate the scene. It is hypothesized that White models will make up the majority of those presented, followed by Blacks, Latinos and Asians respectively. In looking at statistical results from analytical studies done in the area of race and magazine advertising, Reverend Jesse Jackson may have been on to something when he said, “I hear that melting-pot stuff a lot, and all I can say is that we haven’t melted.”
The current study is a content analysis that studied advertisements in magazines popular with teen and young adult readers in an effort to examine how frequently minority models were used. Data was compared from three popular magazines with high circulation among the target audience. Advertisements were defined as full page ads for consumer products that featured at least one human model, from here on collectively referred to as “advertisements” or “ads.”
The magazines chosen were Cosmopolitan, People and US Weekly. These magazines were selected based on their extremely high rate of paid circulation, with all three magazines selling at least 1.5 million copies per week (Seelye, 2006). Due to the short time period given to conduct the study, one month was chosen, October 2007, from which an issue of each magazine was taken. There was no random selection of ads because all advertisements that met the aforementioned criteria were analyzed from all three magazines. In total, 109 advertisements were analyzed and coded, 49 from Cosmopolitan, 35 from US Weekly, and 25 from People.
Advertisements were coded for five different categories: number of models appearing in the ad, the gender of the model(s), the race of the model(s), if they are a known celebrity and the product type advertised. Product type was subdivided into seven categories: cosmetic, food, clothing, alcohol, fragrance, health or other. Ads where the model’s race could not be clearly determined were excluded and ads with large crowds were not used. Advertisement inter-coder reliability figures were not applicable because one researcher was the only coder.
Of the 109 advertisements analyzed, 45% were from Cosmopolitan, 23% were from People, and 32% were from US Weekly. The average number of ads per magazine was 36 and a total of 159 models were coded within the individual ads. In looking at the gender of the models, it was found that 129 or 81% were female and 30, 19%, were male. Number of models appearing in a given ad was skewed heavily toward a single model with 72% of the advertisements depicting just one model. 21% of the ads contained two models, 4% featured three models and just 3% displayed four or more models.
Percentages were also computed for celebrity status and product type. There were a total or 25 known celebrities featured within the chosen advertisements. Within the seven product categories, percentages were as follows: 3% were for Alcohol, 6% depicted a health product, 8% advertised a food product, 12% were for some type of fragrance, 20% were for clothing items, 40% promoted cosmetic products and 11% were labeled “other.”
Results showed the highest concentration of ads centered on fashion and appearance products. This was expected in relation to the nature of the magazines used in the study. Thus, it was not surprising to find that fragrances, clothing and cosmetic items accounted for a majority of the advertisements with 12%, 20%, and 40% respectively. Food items, health products, which included weight loss formulas and medications, alcohol and “other” items, made up the approximately remaining third of the ads. The “other” category contained products that were not consistently seen throughout the study. Table Three gives a breakdown of all the product categories by quantitative number and percentage in relation to the total number of advertisements. Numbers on the X-axis signify product by quantity for the blue and product by percent for the red.
The final and most crucial statistics in regards to this study were the numbers on the race of the models depicted in the advertisements. It was found that there were a total of 159 models in 109 ads. Of these 159 models, 121 were White, 25 were black, 10 were Latino and 3 were Asian. The total of the three minority groups was 38 which is just over a third of the total White population. Racial groups usually included in studies about minorities such as Indian, Pacific Islander or American Indian, were virtually non-existent as models in the chosen magazines. The ads were analyzed for how many times a minority model was used but was also looked at in regards to celebrity status. Were minority models more likely to be included if they were a celebrity? Table Four shows race and celebrity status of the models by number and Table Five gives those percentages in the same categories. (Note that the percentages for celebrity status is for each individual race e.g. 10 Latinos, 3 celebrity Latinos, 30% celebrity rate)
The original hypothesis of this study was that White models would make up the majority of the observed ad models and would be followed by Blacks, Latinos and Asians respectively. This hypothesis proved to be correct, but the margin of White models to minority models was even wider than expected. White models accounted for more than three-fourths of the total model count and even though minorities appeared in a total of 32 ads, nine of these also featured at least one white model. So, only 23 ads out of 109 depicted just minorities as models.
Black models were the most prominent of the three minority groups, while Latinos and Asians still remained grossly under represented. An Asian model never appeared alone, in fact of the three times that an Asian model was used, two times she appeared along three other White women and the third time was featured in a very small picture. Some speculation can occur when realizing the fact that one-third of the Latino models were known celebrities. Without these celebrity figures, the percentage of Latinos would have dropped below 4%. These results keep with the trends of previous studies. Both the studies by Bowen and Schmid and Plous and Neptune demonstrated similar trends of White dominance in magazine advertisements followed by Blacks and Hispanics.
The findings of the current study are not encouraging to those hopeful for continued growth of equality in the area of magazine advertisements or media in general. Is America still a racist nation? A Black woman never appeared alone with a White man. Overall, the study demonstrated just minor improvement of representation for minority models in magazine ads since the 1980s and ’90s. However, it must be kept in mind that the sample from this study was relatively small. This study could be improved and provide a more representative sample. Future researchers should employ ads from a broader period of time as opposed to the one month used in this study. Also, a more balanced approach could be used in selecting magazines. This study used fashion/gossip magazines targeted at teens and young adults. A more representative selection would include magazines from a broad area of interests and audiences.
Magazine advertising appears to put a continued focus on whites and continues to use the minority model as a “token” character. With media channels beyond magazines expanding and diversifying, it would seem that more minority-geared advertisements would surface. Never the less, it will be a long and slow road. Magazine advertisers seem afraid to include minority models too frequently for fear of a White backlash, but America is a modern nation and magazine publishers could prosper by appealing more widely to minority audiences without losing White customers.