A big victory was won this week in the fight to stop using altered photo images in advertising. In response to a teen-led petition signed by 84,000 calling photo altering “dangerous”, Seventeen Magazine vows to show “real girls and models” and stop the wide-spread practice of tweaking pictures and selecting models whose appearance give teens an unrealistic perspective on what is “beautiful”. Good for them – I may have to start reading Seventeen Magazine yet again!!
Since the first ad with a photo appeared in 1843, the job of advertising has used imagery to influence consumer perception. So, it should not be a surprise that advertisers go to great lengths to make models and their products look as attractive as possible so it sells. Heck, I have been at TV and photo shoots where food stylists were hired expressly to shellac, thicken, re-colour, steam and re-light Hamburgers and French Fries to ensure the items appeared mouth-watering delicious in ads. The food actually looked better on TV than it did fresh off the grill in the restaurant.
Before the Digital Age, the use of airbrushing involved just that….painting with an airbrush. Now, software like Photoshop and Photoplus enable endless manipulation of images. And the beauty and fashion industries have received a lot of heat (justifiably so) for bombarding consumers with “enhanced” images of people with perfect skin, perfect hair and perfect figures (even with knee caps missing) which are impossible to live up to. The defense argument used for enhancing visuals is “you could or might actually look like this after using the product. And these photoshopped images are blamed for promoting an unrealistic expectation of perfection, encouraging eating disorders, poor self-image and self-harm. I am not a psychologist or sociologist so I cannot comment on those assertions and effects.
Advertisers are not selling reality, they are selling what the consumer aspires to be. In marketing, this is known as “positioning”, and it consists of equating the product with the customer’s hopes and desires. The irony is the hopes and desires are based from extensive consumer research Messaging in advertising is culled from primary and secondary research data provided by the target market.
Ads are not created in a vacuum. And here lies the lesson for those of us involved in marketing and advertising to always remember. The focus should be on selling the solution, not just the product and an image to capture consumer interest. Otherwise, it becomes a short-term gain instead of a brand building exercise. We can create brands people love and are loyal to when consumers believe the ads are truthful. As marketers, we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the customer and start thinking like them and be less focused thinking about them. The focus needs to be what we would like to hear consumers say after using our products and experiencing our services. We do not need to look like airbrushed versions of Julia Roberts or Christy Turlington after using beauty products. Just make sure the brand lives up to the promise of what it can deliver. Get Real!!