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.


bethany said...

When a consumer sees someone that they idolize with no makeup on or in their natural state it gives the viewers the impression that they are somewhat like these untouchable celebrities. It allows the consumer to see a different side of the person while also making the viewer feel better about themselves because they are on a more even playing field and allowed to see the imperfections of others. Advertisers are using this tactic in order to draw viewers in by pure shock value and also to create bonds with the celebrity and the average viewer. Viewers can identify with these people and once they have a connection they are willing to try something the celebrity endorses or follow an idea they are promoting. Celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Terrie Hatcher, and Demi Moore have all tweeted pictures of themselves with no makeup on. This builds the “real” factor of a celebrity, not to mention that it promises more followers on Twitter.

Kerry said...

The idea that people want to feel superior to others doesn't say much for modern day society, but to be honest, I'm not surprised. I know that when my friends and I see commercials with people who don't look like models, we notice. For example, there's a Lowe's commercial that features a "realistic" looking couple. The only thing that I've heard people say about that commercial is that the girl in it is ugly. I don't know if that makes anyone want to go to Lowe's more often but it definitely gets the audience's attention. Is it absolutely terrible that we notice commercials because of unattractive models? Yes. However, it can't be denied. Considering how forward thinking the advertising industry is, I'm almost shocked that they haven't thought of this sooner.

Alison Marshall said...

First of all, the picture of Jessica Simpson doesn't look like she is not wearing make up, she was clearly touched up a little bit. I think that in someways, consumers don't want to see pictures of stars without make up on. I think that people like to have someone to look up to, and they like to see their favorite stars look good. This ties into imaginary social relationships. People don't have imaginary social relationships with people who are average, they have them with stars who have something that they want. In a lot of instances, it is attraction. Seeing a star in no makeup could potentially ruin an imaginary social relationship. It seems shallow, but there are people who would think like this.