Cultural   Media Industry and Consumers  

Multiracial Families in Advertising: Exploring the Impact on Emerging Adult Consumers

In an increasingly diverse society, the representation of multiracial families in advertising has gained significant attention from both scholars and practitioners. The last U.S. Census showed that a third of the population reports that they belong to two or more races, and the multiracial median population is young with an average age of 29.5.

While previous research focused on the depiction of multiracial families in political advertising, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications (UFCJC) doctoral candidate and graduate assistant Chelsea Moss and Spiro Kiousis, executive associate dean and Public Relations professor, wanted to explore their use in consumer product advertising.

Moss and Kiousis began with this question: “What psychological factors could be expected to influence the persuasive power of such portrayals?”

The researchers conducted an online survey with 225 participants aged 18-25, typically defined as “emerging adults,” exposing them to ads featuring either a multiracial family or a same-race, white family. The ads showcased popular brands such as Apple’s iPhone 13 and Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes.

By targeting this specific age group, the researchers captured insights into how individuals navigating the complexities of emerging adulthood respond to multiracial family portrayals in advertising. This focus allowed them to examine the intersections among personal attitudes, parental influences and the persuasive power of advertising during a pivotal stage of life. From a practical standpoint, emerging adults represent a valuable target audience for advertisers due to their lifetime buying potential and media consumption habits.

Moss and Kiousis found that emerging adults exhibited more favorable attitudes toward the multiracial family ads compared to the same-race, white family ads. Furthermore, their analysis revealed an indirect effect of the model family’s racial composition on purchase intention, mediated by attitudes toward the ad and brand.

“While it is certainly possible that multiracial ad depictions may garner some cynicism from racial minority viewers regarding the advertiser’s motives or be perceived as a form of tokenism, it is also possible that individuals of color may alternatively be more inclined to positively receive the multiracial family advertisement over the same-race (i.e., white) family ad,” the researchers wrote.

Surprisingly, the study discovered that neither personal nor parental attitudes toward interracial relationships and multiracial families moderated the advertisements’ effects on consumer responses. This finding challenges the assumption that preexisting attitudes would significantly influence the effectiveness of multiracial family portrayals in advertising.

This study provides a foundation for understanding the impact of such portrayals on emerging adult consumers and invites further exploration of the complex dynamics between advertising and societal change and offers valuable insights for advertisers and marketers considering the use of multiracial families in their campaigns. “In sum, advertisers may wish to consider using multiracial families as models, particularly when targeting emerging adults,” the researchers concluded.

The original paper, “The Model Family: The Effect of Multiracial Families in Advertising on Emerging Adult Consumers’ Attitudes and Intentions,” was published online in Mass Communication and Society on April 16, 2024.

 Authors: Chelsea Moss and Spiro Kiousis.

 This summary was written by Gigi Marino.


Posted: May 17, 2024
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