Contact: Meredith Dickenson or Ellen Sterner at (214) 768-7650
mmdicken@smu.edu

August 23, 2004

STUDY SHOWS ADVERTISING CAN IMPROVE U.S. IMAGE ABROAD

Controversial campaign by Charlotte Beers shown effective in experiment

DALLAS (SMU) — A new study shows that a U.S.-backed advertising campaign may have been successful in changing certain anti-American sentiments abroad, contrary to the federal government's decision to drop the ads because they were ineffective.

Southern Methodist University and Oklahoma State University researchers are publishing the study, "Advertising as Public Diplomacy: Attitude Change Among International Audiences," in the Journal of Advertising Research (smu.edu/adamerica). The researchers will be attending a Congressional hearing Monday, Aug. 23, examining public diplomacy in the Middle East. After 9/11, advertising executive Charlotte Beers created the "Shared Values Initiative" campaign for the U.S. State Department. Five television commercials depicted Muslims Americans living happily in the United States. Primarily aimed at women, the TV spots ran in countries with large Muslim populations. Print ads were produced as well.

Dismayed that the first American television advertising campaign to the Muslim world came and went without much study, Alice Kendrick, professor at SMU's Temerlin Advertising Institute, and Jami A. Fullerton, OSU associate professor of advertising, decided to test the effectiveness of the ads. The study exposed 105 international students from 25 countries to the original TV spots. After viewing the commercials, overall positive attitudes toward the U.S. government and whether Muslims were treated fairly in the United States improved significantly.

"Advertising can be an effective tool in public diplomacy and should not be discounted as a strategy," said Kendrick.

The study found that:

  • almost half of the study participants played back the intended message from the commercials;
  • women recorded the strongest feelings of whether the videos were an effective tool for the U.S.
  • The primary criticism of the commercials was their one-sidedness, which for many affected the credibility of the message.

Two methodologies were used:

  • The first borrowed elements from classic wartime propaganda experiments.
  • The second was an advertising copy test used to evaluate the effectiveness of TV commericals.
  • International students at Regents College in London participated in the study in July 2003.

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