ECU professors show magazine ads send different health messages
(Apr. 20, 2006)
Ads found in Cosmopolitan and Essence magazines send readers two very different health messages, according to two East Carolina communication professors.
“The messages are: Be really skinny, or eat three-pound cheeseburgers,” said Linda Godbold Kean, an ECU communication professor. “Neither of these messages is helpful.”
A content analysis conducted by Kean and her colleague, Laura Prividera, shows that Essence, a publication that targets a black female audience, sends different health messages than Cosmopolitan, a general audience publication.
Prividera and Kean analyzed 365 advertisements that focused on food and consumption products from both magazines. They found that the three most advertised products in Essence were individual food items (40 percent), non-alcoholic beverages (27 percent) and fast food (13 percent). In Cosmopolitan, alcoholic beverages (28 percent), individual food items (27 percent) and weight loss products (26 percent) were most advertised.
The difference in the kind of advertisements was also telling, say Prividera and Kean. While 13 percent of Essence’s advertisements were for fast food, only 1 percent of the ads in Cosmopolitan were for fast food. Alcoholic versus non-alcoholic beverage were advertised differently in the two magazines as well. Alcoholic beverages made up 11 percent of the consumption items in Essence as compared to 28 percent in Cosmopolitan. Conversely, 12 percent of Cosmopolitan’s ads were for non-alcoholic beverages, such as soda. In Essence this number was 27 percent.
Their analysis, which in 2005 received the National Communication Association’s top paper award for the African American Communication and Culture Division, will be published in the journal, Health Communication, later this year.
Kean and Prividera hope the analysis helps consumers become more media literate and to think critically about the barrage of messages in magazines, TV and other media.
“Our hope is that we will encourage people to be conscious consumers; while it would be nice if advertisers would change their strategies, it’s not realistic,” Kean said.
Prividera and Kean relied on each magazine’s readership profiles to establish audience, and noted that, save for race, the demographics of each audience were similar. They also noted the findings of their research resonate with the population of eastern North Carolina and its struggles with health disparities and health problems that stem from obesity.
“The scope of this study represents the population of eastern North Carolina. It is very important to our research that we tie in the needs and interests of the region in which we live and work,” said Kean. “North Carolina has a high level of obesity, and eastern North Carolina is even higher.”
They are finding ways to get this message to people in the region. Last year, they presented their findings at the Healthy Weight Summer/Pediatric Healthy Weight Research and Treatment Center at the Brody School of Medicine.
They are also looking forward to furthering the scope of their research with students in the new master’s in health communication program in the fall, as well as continue to build upon the findings of this study.