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This study presents an analysis of the evolution of advertising's portrayal of women in motorsport. The construct of source credibility is examined and used as a framework to better understand the limitations and opportunities of female athlete endorsers in general and female racing car drivers in particular. The advertising images of pioneer drivers Janet Guthrie, Lyn St. James and Sarah Fisher are discussed and compared to that of Danica Patrick, a media star in the Indy Racing League (IRL). Patrick has been successful in capitalising on her expertise and attractiveness to enhance her image and endorse products. Attitudes towards using sex appeal to sell products are presented and discussed.
This study extends the work of Cuneen et al (2007) by applying the framework of source credibility (Ohanian, 1990) to investigate advertising images of women in motorsport. The researchers examined issues of the official Indianapolis 500 programme that featured advertisements with female drivers. The total number of advertisements in the Indy programmes that depicted women in motorsports was 18.
Content analysis was used to evaluate each advertisement for its emphasis on two components of source credibility: expertise and attractiveness. Findings revealed that the endorsement portrayals of pioneer women auto racers Janet Guthrie and Lyn St. James focused on their expertise. A shift in the image portrayal of female drivers was first seen with Sarah Fisher in 2003 and became quite evident in 2006 with Danica Patrick. While most of the advertisements in the official Indy programme that featured contemporary female drivers still contained aspects of expertise, there was the added dimension of attractiveness used to promote products. A discussion of views about using sex appeal to sell products is presented, and it is argued that source credibility is most effective when expertise is combined with attractiveness. Female athletes who are able to capitalise on both of these factors may experience the most success in garnering endorsement opportunities. Further research is recommended to empirically test the influence and interaction of these two components of source credibility.
Advertising is an important art form with significant financial implications for many businesses. Millions of dollars, thousands of hours and a profusion of creativity are used in developing each print and electronic advertisement we see and hear because designers want to make their work meaningful to viewers on a personal level. Those in the advertising industry know that consumers respond best when they can identify with themes and/or characters in ads, and they realise that using celebrities to promote products is an effective means by which to influence consumers to identify with certain brands (Irwin et al, 2002; Petty et al, 1983; Ohanian, 1990).
The fame and popularity of athletes makes them appealing choices as celebrity endorsers (Boyd & Shank, 2004). The use of athletes as product endorsers has principally been a strategy to reach the male market. Sutton and Watlington (1994) explain that men, more than women, respond to the "hero worship" associated with celebrity endorsements.
Women in sport have traditionally endorsed products targeted at females, and the athletes themselves have primarily been those who participate in activities 'appropriate' for females such as figure skating, tennis and golf (Cuneen, 2001; Cuneen & Claussen, 1999; Cuneen & Sidwell, 1998; Cuneen & Spencer, 2003). Not only were these traditionally feminine, gender-appropriate women athletes matched with products associated with female consumer markets, but female athletes were usually portrayed in posed, rehearsed positions wearing feminine 'street' clothes and not in their game gear or in an athletic pose (Lumpkin, 2007; Media Education Foundation, 2002; Spencer, 2003).
Social ideals of masculinity and femininity have limited female athletes' endorsement opportunities and earning potential (Cuneen, 2001; Cuneen & Claussen, 1999). Thus one would assume that women whose sporting interests challenge society's definition of gender appropriateness, such as those in the male-dominated sport of auto racing, would lack sponsorship.
Interestingly, an examination of advertising images of pioneer women racers indicates that a variety of corporate sponsors have enlisted women drivers to promote their products. Furthermore, in contrast to other female athletes, these women were recognised as drivers first, and the product advertisements focused on their talent or expertise rather than on their femininity. The treatment of early women racers in sponsorships and endorsements appeared to be more equitable in the male-dominated stronghold of Indy car racing than in other sporting realms. Some of the advertising portrayals of more contemporary female drivers, however, have increasingly included more emphasis on their femininity and attractiveness.
Cuneen et al (2007) conducted a content analysis of advertisements depicting female drivers that appeared in the official Indianapolis 500 programmes from 1977 to 2006. The advertisements were analysed for pose, connotation, role portrayal and camera angle. Results from the study were reported as descriptive statistics, with no attempt to explain their meaning based on a theoretical framework.
The purpose of this study is to broaden and extend the work of Cuneen et al (2007) by examining the same advertisements of women in motorsport and applying the concept of source credibility (Ohanian, 1990) to gain a better understanding of the portrayal of female athletes as celebrity endorsers. In this paper, we will show how the advertising image of female drivers has changed over time. Furthermore, we will argue that in today's media culture, attractiveness coupled with expertise can result in successful endorsement relationships.
The endorsement game: how does one become a credible spokesperson?
Advertisements are designed to touch consumers' emotions and tune into their identities by depicting characters in stereotypical settings that induce consumers to buy a product (Kilbourne, 1999; Shields, 2001; Smithsonian World, 1991). Sports celebrities are popular as ad characters (i.e. product endorsers) because fans identify with …