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Colin Campbell, University of San Diego Sean Sands, Swinburne University of Technology Brent McFerran, Simon Fraser University

Re-Presenting (Dis)ability: Strategies for Improving Response to Ads Featuring Differently-Abled Individuals

Re-Presenting (Dis)ability: Strategies for Improving Response to Ads Featuring Differently-Abled Individuals Since advertising is often idealized and aspirational, ads often depict what are considered “normal” or above-average individuals as models. Research shows that depiction of models that are either unnaturally thin or exceedingly beautiful (or photoshopped) can have negative effects on consumers, particularly with respect to body self-esteem. These effects also tend to be more pronounced in children and teenagers. Existing research finds that depiction of more realistic or even plus size models can have a positive effect on consumers who would otherwise feel inadequate in comparison to the model in an ad. Since a large segment of the population in the US is plus size, brands who use more realistic models can therefore benefit from doing so since a sizable group of consumers will respond well to the ads. With disability, advice to brands is unclear for several reasons. First, in contrast to being plus size, a smaller percentage of consumers are disabled. This makes the potential effect of consumers seeing “someone like them” in an ad lower. Second, relatively little research explores how consumers might respond to ads featuring disabled people, or why. It’s also unclear what factors might influence or improve such response. Third, the limited research that does exist on response to disability shows that many consumers have a negative reaction to some types of disability. This can include feeling nervous, staring at the disability, and feeling awkward. All of these concerns make it challenging to increase representation of disabled individuals in advertising. To help increase the number of disabled individuals that are shown in ads this paper investigates strategies advertisers can use to improve audience receptivity to disabled people. This is based on the logic that advertisers will be reluctant to run ads featuring disabled consumers if the ads are less effective than ads featuring non-disabled individuals. The broader hope is that over time, increased depiction of disabled individuals will normalize their use in advertising and slowly improve consumer attitudes toward them. An initial study (N=400) reveals that consumers are less likely to select a product that is advertised by a disabled model. Despite this, consumers did rate the company that used the disabled model as more moral. We find this attitude-behavior gap interesting. We believe it could be caused by the portfolio of emotions that our study shows disabled models evoke: pity, surprise, sympathy and fear. It could also be caused by consumers rating the ad with a disabled model as being more intrusive and more novel. In a series of follow-up studies, we will employ a variety of manipulations to try and amplify the positive effects of using a disabled model (surprise, sympathy, novelty), while minimizing negative reactions (pity, fear, intrusiveness). Some ideas we will investigate include whether other models are present, how near or far other models are in an ad, the emotions exuded by the disabled model, and the category of product being advertised.