Senior Spotlight: Ashley Ricks
Ashley is a senior Marketing major from Morgan Hill, California. She recently was selected to receive a Hackworth Grant to research charitable marketing. We had the chance to ask her about her research experience.
Could you give us an overview of your research?
Advertisements that highlight the developing world are crucial to generating donations for many nonprofits and social enterprises. Unfortunately, the beneficiaries in these ads are often portrayed in a disempowered fashion, and the significance of the benefactor's donation is often over-exaggerated. My research focuses on the ethics of these dynamics -- at what point is a charitable advertisement unethical? How can we achieve effective and ethical charitable marketing, which both compels donors and honors marginalized communities? I am developing an "ethical protocol" that we can hold advertisements up against, in order to assess when ads cross ethical lines, and why.
How did you conduct your research and source information?
I have done extensive literature review on the power of advertisements to "otherize" entire people groups, along with the intricacies of emotive appeals in advertisements. I am conducting a Qualtrics survey that captures consumer responses to ethical and unethical advertisements -- it will be interesting to see if there is a significant difference in willingness to donate between the two! I have also reached out to marketing officers at various charities across the globe, to gather empirical feedback on the protocols I am developing.
What conclusions did you come to?
The research is still being done, so the conclusions are in the works! However, now that I am doing this research, I am acutely aware of how pervasive the narrative of a helpless developing world is. The abundance of advertisements that paint portraits of people waiting for rescue, unable to do anything until the West forks over a "life-changing" $15 a month, is astounding. I've always known that advertisements have tremendous potential to mold common thought -- but to see ad after ad shape connotations of entire continents is distressing. It puts an urgent pulse behind the research. This stuff matters!
Is Ethical and Effective Charitable Marketing something you'd like to continue working on? How will you take this insight with you after graduation?
I have never felt the power and responsibility of a Marketing degree so strongly. As someone who hopes to work in the social impact sector, the takeaways from this research will certainly ripple out well into my professional life. Currently, I am working with the Juniper Networks Foundation, where I started this summer as an intern. At Juniper, I routinely interact with nonprofits and help shape the rhetoric of our corporate giving program, so this research feels quite relevant.
Would you recommend students go about doing their own research projects? How can they do this?
Pick a subject that sparks you, first. Find that thing you could spend hours reading about online, find that podcast topic you can't get enough of, and start there. Find a good mentor who speaks the same language of passion that you do, and who can connect you to other like-minded (and not like-minded -- diversity makes for robust findings!) individuals who can accompany you. Lastly, in a practical sense, make a timeline for yourself well before you're in the thick of it so you can structure your work in a life-giving way.
Anything else you'd like to add about the project?
Feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or want to learn more!