In two experiments, we show that the beliefs women have about the controllability of their weight (i.e., weight locus of control) influences their responses to advertisements featuring a larger-sized female model or a slim female model. Further, we examine self-referencing as a mechanism for these effects. Specifically, people who believe they can control their weight (“internals”), respond most favorably to slim models in advertising, and this favorable response is mediated by self-referencing. In contrast, people who feel powerless about their weight (“externals”), self-reference larger-sized models, but only prefer larger-sized models when the advertisement is for a non-fattening product. For fattening products, they exhibit a similar preference for larger-sized models and slim models. Together, these experiments shed light on the effect of model body size and the role of weight locus of control in influencing consumer attitudes.
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Obesity is frequently defined using the body mass index (BMI) which is body weight in kilograms divided by the square of a person’s height in meters. BMIs below 18.5 are typically regarded as underweight, BMIs from 18.5 to 24.9 are typically considered normal weight, BMIs from 25 to 30 are typically considered overweight, and BMIs over 30 are typically considered obese (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute 1998).
Average age was 21.97 years and mean body mass index (BMI) was 21.38 kg/m2. The sample can be classified as 16.7% underweight (i.e., 26 participants with a BMI less than 18.5), 67.3% normal weight (105 participants, BMI 18.5 to 24.9), 14.7% overweight (25, BMI 25 to 30) and 1.3% obese (2, BMI over 30).
While widely used by researchers, the WLOC scale has reported instances of low reliability (e.g., 0.49 to 0.58 Holt et al. 2001; Saltzer 1982). Thus, we included a related scale on weight control beliefs which used four 7-point items (e.g., “People have control over their weight,” strongly disagree–strongly agree, alpha = 0.75), adapted from Tiggemann and Anesbury (2000). Analysis indicated that WLOC was positively correlated with weight control beliefs (r = 0.55, p < 0.001) as well as with the willpower dimension of the Crandall antifat scale (r = 0.28, p < 0.01). Study 2 replicated these results (i.e., WLOC—weight control beliefs, r = 0.38, p < 0.01; WLOC—willpower, r = 0.31, p < 0.01).
Mills et al. (2002) highlight that demand characteristics can result in people feeling worse after exposure to ads featuring SMs. Consequently, in addition to the between-subjects design and deceptive experiment purpose (Sawyer 1975), we included a final question asking participants the purpose of the study. Seven participants were removed, resulting in a final sample of 80 participants.
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The authors thank Peter Danaher, Bruce Hardie, David Griffith, Cristel Russell, Avi Shankar, the Editors and the anonymous reviewers for helpful comments.
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Martin, B.A.S., Veer, E. & Pervan, S.J. Self-referencing and consumer evaluations of larger-sized female models: A weight locus of control perspective. Market Lett 18, 197–209 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11002-007-9014-1
- Larger-sized models
- Weight locus of control
- Brand and advertising attitudes