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Skinny models and celebrities may be pushing your customers away

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Sales flagging? Brand recall disappearing faster than any of those gothic magicians on cable TV? The usual route brands take in such situations would be to hire a celebrity to get customers talking and buying again. But it appears, gone are the days when these big names would deliver an instant shot of adrenaline to any ailing brand. And the same goes for the magic of skinny models.

A new study published by Warwick Business School found out that instead of attracting new customers, brands may be pushing their target market away when their products are portrayed alongside “attractive” images of female  models.

“When the exposure to the idealised image of a woman is blatant, a conscious process is activated and consumers employ defensive coping strategies, ie they belittle the model or celebrity to restore a positive perception of themselves. So the product in the advert becomes associated with negative reactions,” Dr. Tamara Ansons, Assistant Professor at Warwick Business School, explained.


Tod’s Spring Summer 2013 collection is a great example of using idealised beauty that doesn’t exclude potential customers.

“Attractive female models and celebrities are routinely used in advertisements and yet previous research has shown mixed reactions, some have found the effect to be positive, while others have found it to be negative. We wanted to find out why this was. We found that a woman’s self-perception and consequent effects on product evaluation depend on the degree of attention paid to the idealised image of a woman in advertisements,” she added.

What it means is that while brands are not going to stop employing it-girls and celebs for their advertising campaigns, they’re going to have to start being smart about how they use these images to make their products appeal to women. It’s been the biggest dilemma of the advertising industry – subtle or blatant? Soft-sell or hard-sell? It appears when it comes to the tricky subject of drawing an ideal portrait of a 21st century female, subtle is the key to success.

“We showed that when consumers are blatantly exposed to idealised images of thin and beautiful women they are more likely to use a defensive coping strategy to boost self-evaluation by denigrating the pictured woman. This can negatively affect the products these models endorse through the transfer of the negative evaluation of the model to the endorsed product.

“However when subtly exposed to these perfectly shaped models consumers do not engage in defensive coping by disparaging the model. Instead it leads to negative self-evaluation but does not interfere with their evaluation of the pictured model. Thus, the generally positive evaluation of the model leads to a favourable reaction to the product she is endorsing,” Dr. Ansons concluded.

So if you’re starting up a new business in the fashion or beauty world, this is one great tip to make a note of. Beautiful models for advertising your products are not a bad strategy per se, but you have to depict them in such a way that they help women aspire, rather than make your potential customers feel bad about themselves.

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