I write this blog for my advertising students at Loyola University Maryland.
Friday, September 10, 2010
Comparing ourselves to those who are less than perfect: An advertising conundrum
There is a trend afoot that is worthy of note, I think, because it goes against the grain of the way beauty has been presented--sold--in American culture since the beginning of advertising. The new trend I’m referring to is the depiction of stars without make-up. To date the only time we have been shocked by a make-up-less star is when there is some sort of expose’ in a magazine like People. But now it seems that celebs like Jessica Simpson, who appeared in no makeup on the May cover of Marie Claire, are leading us in a different direction. (Who would have every thought that JS would lead us anywhere?) Turns out those unattainable traits--Angelina Jolie’s lips, for example--are harming both men and women, and may lead to, among other things, eating disorders. But the list of those celebs who appear in advertisements sans make-up are beginning to grow, and advertisers have been led by the use of realistic models like those in the Dove Real Beauty campaign, which stands out as an example of selling against itself in order to sell itself – an interesting contradiction. And, oh by the way, the campaign failed to boost sales significantly. I’ve done some work in the area of social comparison theory—that is the way we use the media in order to measure our own self-worth against what we see in others—and the findings of my research suggest that viewers of TV commercials (the subject of my study) actually prefer more realistic portrayals because the images they see are ones they can identify with. Moreover, the images in some cases are one’s to which they feel superior. That was probably the most interesting finding. My research revolved around men’s reactions to images of the GEICO cavemen, and other what I referred to as “less-than-ideal” images. For the whole history of advertising, emulation was seen as a cornerstone - you know, we look up to the stars. Isn’t it ironic to find in the 21st century that consumers would rather look down at others, rather than up to them. Looking at less than perfect images simply makes consumers feel good and that’s exactly what advertisers want.