Issues with Stereotyping in Advertising
Stereotyping in advertising does not yield negative outcomes in all situations. However, according to Sheehan (2013), it is mostly perceived as harmful following the repetition of stereotyped adverts, which become normalized upon their naturalization. Rößner, Kämmerer, and Eisend (2017) argue that advertisers capitalize on deep-seated ideological perceptions that already exist in communities and the society as the foundation of their commercials.
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An arising question here is whether adverts in their pure form propagate the problem of stereotyping, especially racial labeling. This section uses the social learning theory, in-group bias theory, and the cultivation theory as three prominent schools of thought, which describe the process of how stereotypes create imagery among people and groups. The theories raise pertinent issues of stereotyping in media advertising.
The cultivation theory suggests that people who are subjected to televised media have a higher probability of perceiving or seeing their real world in the context of ideologies, values, or images, which they see on the screen (Luoh & Lo, 2012).
This exposure raises the issue of the likelihood of heavy television viewers expressing stereotypical ideas compared to light viewers. For example, using the concept of beauty whitewash in advertising produces a harmful idea, which suggests that skin and hair color characterizes beauty. In such adverts, the hair and skin colors of people who embrace the art of modeling undergo manipulation to become lighter.
Therefore, an arising issue is that dark-colored skin and hair are not visually appealing. The same issue arises when contextualizing how stereotypes create imagery among people and groups from the perspectives of the social learning theory. The theory holds, “Learning can be achieved not only through a direct experience, but also vicariously through the observation of a variety of models” (Luoh & Lo, 2012, p. 417). In other words, people can learn stereotypical ideals that exist outside their world from the things they hear or see, especially via media exposure.
The in-group bias theory argues that personal perspectives are critical aspects that determine and control media material consumptions. According to Gibbons (2016), researches in mass media demonstrate that whether in written, audio, audio-visual, or imagery adverts, people interpret the content based on their experiences and/or knowledge. This situation raises the issue of whether stereotyped adverts are responsible for creating negative, say racial ideals, or whether the experiences and knowledge of people who are targeted by the adverts are responsible for the continued existence of stereotypical perceptions (Sheehan, 2013).
Indeed, the in-group bias theory creates the possibility of utilizing advertising stereotypes to achieve positive outcomes. For example, by reinforcing in-groups, advertisers can enhance the characterization of a given product or service to a specific cohort that is defined by age, race, gender, or even religion when the advert is directed expressly to such an audience. Rößner et al. (2017) support this argument by noting that studies have demonstrated how enhancing in-group members’ bias leads to more favoritism, which is directed towards its members, as opposed to the increased hostility towards non-members.
The Responsibility of Marketers when using Stereotypes in Advertising
Marketers have a responsibility to exercise due caution when using stereotypes in advertising. The goal here is to ensure that they achieve their intended purpose while mitigating any underlying negative effects. For example, different countries possess diverse languages, cultural barriers, and interpretation of symbols (Gibbons, 2016). To this extent, marketers who use stereotypes in advertising have the responsibility of developing advertisements that depict models and cultural symbols that the target audience can relate with socially.
For example, a marketer based in the UK who is advertising a product in the Japanese market needs to use Japanese models, language, and characters to ensure that the targeted audiences can identify themselves socially with the advertisement. Nevertheless, marketers need to worry about ethical considerations while advertising using stereotypes.
Luoh and Lo (2012) assert that racial stereotype advertising, especially where it involves a specific demographic aspect, remains ethical to the extent that stereotypical offense does not occur. Such transgressions occur in situations where stereotyped thoughts are explicitly activated through an advertisement (Rößner et al., 2017). Besides, offenses may arise from the communication of conscious thoughts.
Regulation of Native Advertising, Advertorials, Product Placement, and Branded Entertainment Embedded into Programming and Editorial Content
Product placement in the media content constitutes an important form of advertising that does not employ persuasion to lure customers. Glick and Neckes (2013) posit that this form of advertising has been effective, especially in movies for decades. However, the scholars note the emergence of new surreptitious advertisement formats that are deployed in embedded advertising messages in programming and editorials. Such adverts take the format of sponsored content, native advertising, advertorial integrated contents, or branded content. In most situations, product placement has mainly focused on entertainment media (Glick & Neckes, 2013).
This strategy has ensured that various consumers of media products can easily detect advertising due to governmental controls or the self-regulation of media industries in many nations around the globe. Such regulations demand disclosure such as ensuring that movies’ credit incorporates a list of various product sponsors. For example, in the UK, Ofcom, a telecommunications company, introduced a product placement (PP) label for television programming.
Self-regulation in the industry media makes TV viewers recognize and understand that Coca-Cola cups, which appear on screens in front of judges during the Idol talent show TV program, entail a paid promotion. One may wish to know the situation for other formats such as native advertising, advertorials, and branded entertainment forms that are embedded in programming and editorial content.
These formats are not only wide-ranging but also more hidden when compared to traditional product placements in programming and editorial contents. They can be found in social media platforms, online, and even in print media, yet some of these platforms are exceedingly difficult to control (Glick & Neckes, 2013).
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Therefore, the extent of regulation of native advertising, advertorials, and branded entertainment embedded into programming and editorial content is low compared to product placements. This situation underlines the necessity for more regulatory mechanisms. According to Sheehan (2013), such regulations should focus on ensuring that promoters and marketers disclose the true intents of the embedded messages in programming and editorials to enhance consumer protection.
Ethics of Native Advertising, Advertorials, Product Placement, and Branded Entertainment Embedded into Programming and Editorial Content
De Pelsmacker and Neijens (2012) regard native advertising, advertorials, and branded entertainment embedded into programming and editorial content as part of covert marketing programs. The scholars insist that the formats partially or fully hide promotions and/or marketing messages in media contents, hence making them stand out as stealth approaches to marketing. Consequently, the formats give rise to serious ethical questions.
Macnamara (2014) argues that promoters and marketers engage in advertising using the new approaches due to consumers’ resistance to embracing marketing communications frameworks that are supported by technological interventions, for instance, TiVo® and ad strippers. Where consumers recognize the intentional persuasive message in the content, the intended effect reduces (Macnamara, 2014).
De Pelsmacker and Neijens (2012) support this proposition by noting, “Media content that looks natural and innocent and which does not trigger persuasion knowledge has been shown to be more effective in influencing audiences in many cases” (p. 1). Consequently, marketers are lured into hiding their persuasive intentions in product promotion campaigns in the form of native advertising, advertorials, and branded entertainment embedded into programming and editorials. The challenge is whether a point can be reached where this practice becomes unethical.
In line with Sheehan’s (2013) arguments, ethical marketing occurs due to the misrepresentation of utilities of the products simply to attract large buyers’ patronage. For example, consider the case of the RED marketing campaign, initiated in 2006, with the objective of teaming with various partners in raising funds for fighting Malaria, Tuberculosis, and AIDS pandemic in Africa. Partnering companies license the label, produce, and even engage in marketing and selling various RED items.
A portion of the money generated is channeled to an international fund kitty for fighting AIDS in the African continent. Companies using the RED label apply marketing slogans such as “Buy RED Save Lives.” If customers fail to distinguish RED label as one that does not indicate a mark of the product content, they may be misled to purchase the product to save their lives, rather than contributing to the global fund for fighting AIDS in Africa. To this extent, native advertising, advertorials, and branded entertainment embedded into programming and editorials using the RED label indicate hidden persuasive, but unethical intents.
Challenges Posed by Social Media and the Internet to International Advertising
The self-regulation of international advertising entails a system where various rules coupled with standards are voluntarily established to govern marketing, promotion, advertising, and media industry operations. Rules and standards extend beyond the legal obligations of media industries in different nations. Self-regulatory agencies play the role of enhancing or enforcing commitment to the rules and standards by the different players in the system (Babor, Ziming, Damon, & Noel, 2013).
Self-regulation serves the primary goal of ensuring that marketing communication, including advertising, passes the test of decency, truthfulness, legality, and honesty, in its architecture before the actual distribution for consumption by the targeted consumers. This role is enhanced by ensuring that marketing communication demonstrates the obligations of an organization to consumers and the society while ensuring fairness to competitors (Babor et al., 2013).
Enforcing such regulation is incredibly effective where marketing communication is generated by an organization or a party appointed by an organization to manage its marketing communications. However, with the increasing growth of global brand advertising through social media and the Internet, challenges to international advertising self-regulation (ASR) are inevitable (Sheehan, 2013).
Under the global brand advertising using the Internet and social media, the original content may have been created by an organization or a party appointed by it. However, such communication may undergo addition in the form of product reviews after they have been placed on the Internet or social media. Although the organization may have exercised due caution to ensure fairness and responsibility to its competitors, in the Internet or social media consumer feedback fields, customers may make a utility assessment between the product and those of competitors while disclosing the brand names under comparison (Fawkes, 2012).
In such a case, self-regulation fails to achieve its purpose due to the ineffectiveness of the enforcement mechanisms. Consumers modify content-intended communication tactics. In some situations, for instance, in the case of viral marketing, an organization may lose the control of marketing communication among customers. Viral marketing involves advertising through unpaid Internet-based tools for sharing commercial information between people connected through one social media platform and/or who are interconnected through different social media networks (Mills, 2012).
This approach minimizes the promotional cost of products and services compared to using traditional media mechanisms, especially TV and radio. Since flow is an important aspect in self-regulation when it comes to the control of marketing communication, social media and the Internet pose challenges to the international advertising self-regulation.
Potential Resolutions to the Challenges Posed by the Increasing Growth of Global Brand Advertising through Social media and the Internet on Advertising Self-regulation
Customers’ reviews form an important source of information that enables an organization to determine how clients view its products and service utilities. However, since such information may lead to the breach of codes that promote fairness and responsibility to competitors, amicable solutions are necessary to prevent such violations (Babor et al., 2013). To enhance self-regulation while taking advantage of the Internet and social media in viral marketing, a potential solution entails ensuring that consumers’ feedback cannot be viewed or shared across social media networks alongside the original regulatory compliant marketing communication framework. Rather, customers should only have the capacity to make invitations to their friends or followers to buy the product.
However, this situation is disadvantageous. Consumers cannot share user experiences through product reviews by way of comparing them with substitutes. Secondly, to overcome the above disadvantage, an organization can ensure that after customers make their reviews, they can only send them to the organization and not directly to friends. After screening the opinions to assess whether they comply with the set self-regulation codes of marketing communications, they can lock the already screened review field.
Sheehan (2013) asserts that the strategy can ensure that experiences shared across social media networks follow the standards and rules of self-regulation. However, the technique is costly since it involves the commitment of an organization’s resources in the form of time and money to modifying or erasing huge amounts of unintended content, which the organization did not generate itself.
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