Spring 5-10-2021

Author's School

Olin Business School

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (BSBA)

Document Type

honors paper

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Since diversity is becoming a more widely discussed and expected aspect of corporate values, companies need to be aware of how diverse representation in marketing impacts brand perception. Although companies are increasing their representation featuring various races, ethnicities, and genders in promotional material, disability inclusion remains a lesser consideration in advertising. This may be caused in part by society’s negative perceptions of disabilities, with many people viewing those who have them as negative and a distinct form of “other.” Our research tests reactions to a brand’s advertisements featuring models with visible disabilities. We examine people’s emotions and willingness to buy as a function of disability representation. Our research also seeks to understand whether product type will alter consumer response to a disabled model. We created two nearly identical ads for each product. One featured a woman in a wheelchair and the other featured the same woman without the wheelchair visible. Participants were randomly assigned to view one ad, questioned about their feelings towards it, then surveyed for their levels of empathic concern. Our results indicate that customers with higher empathic concern levels have a greater willingness to buy when they see an ad featuring a disabled model than an ad featuring an able-bodied model, regardless of product type. Conversely, consumers with lower empathic concern levels have a greater willingness to buy when they see an ad featuring an able-bodied model than an ad featuring a disabled model. Based on our work, marketers should further examine opportunities to utilize insights about their target audience to leverage inclusivity in advertisements in a way that may increase company sales.


The Effect of Disability Inclusion on Brand and Product Perception


William Bottom

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