Upon viewing this advertisement by United Colors of Benetton, one immediately observes two adult women and a child, all from different cultures, wrapped in a unifying blanket. No background, no caption. However, if you look closer, you notice the two women are holding hands, and now, one word springs to mind: family. United Colors of Benetton launched this striking family portrait in 1990, with the aim of uniting the world and to raise awareness of issues surrounding racism and homosexual parenting. This advert asks us who are we to judge parenting capability? Who are we to judge couples from different races? Isn’t the child’s well-being and happiness the only important factor? There has been a considerable amount of controversy surrounding the occurrence of lesbian mothers and gay fathers adopting children (Patterson & Redding, 1996). Unfortunately, social influence can create a barrier for some by threatening their freedom to behave and live the lives they envisage.
But aren’t they human beings, just like you and me? Staring into the eyes of ordinary people in an advertisement may increase the likelihood of persuasion and influence. Festinger (1954) demonstrated that people tend to turn to individuals similar to us as referents for their opinions on certain issues. Furthermore, previous research has demonstrated that source-recipient similarity increases the incidence of persuasion. Research has shown that when black actors were included in advertisements, black viewers showed greater recall of the advertisement and an increased positive effect toward the advertisement (Schlinger & Plummer, 1972). The advertisement above includes three different races, therefore more people may identify with the cause, which increases the effect of persuasion among viewers.
According to Nisbett and Ross (1980), the vivid nature of this portrait is emotionally stimulating, concrete and image-provoking. As this advertisement was printed over 20 years ago, the effect it had on its audience may have been even more compelling. Vividly presented information is thought to be more persuasive as it is more effectively processed when encoded, therefore it is more likely to be available when judgements are made (Taylor & Thompson, 1982). Consequently, this advertisement is likely to make an unforgettable and lasting impact on the viewer by raising awareness and is increasingly more likely to influence our judgement of the cause.
Furthermore, the audience is compelled to feel empathic concern for the couple and child in the advertisement, and therefore, increased motivation to help (Krebs, 1975). This suggests that individuals who view this image and experience empathic emotion are more inclined to help and support the cause against racism, prejudice and stereotypes. Coke, Batson and McDavis (1978) provide evidence for the association between increased empathy and helping behaviour. In their experiments, subjects were informed of another individual’s needs and were given the opportunity to aid that person. In each of the experiments, subjects who experienced the greatest empathic emotion were those who offered the most help. Now, scroll up to the advertisement again; how do you feel and what would you do?
Maybe we all have a little to learn from Mahatma Gandhi who once said: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Coke, J. S., Batson, C. D., & McDavis, K. (1978). Empathic mediation of helping: A two-stage model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 752-766.
Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7, 117-140.
Krebs, D. (1975). Empathy and altruism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32, 1134-1146.
Patterson, C. J. & Redding, R. (1996). Lesbian and gay families with children: Public policy implications of social science research. Journal of Social Issues, 52, 29-50.
Schlinger, M. J., & Plummer, J. T. (1972). Advertising in black and white. Journal of Marketing Research, 9, 149-153.
Taylor, S. E., & Thompson, S. C. (1982). Stalking the elusive “vividness” effect. Psychological Review, 89, 155-181.