When it comes to evoking female beauty in advertisements, brands and agencies are learning a tough lesson: You can’t please everyone. A body of research shows that consumers increasingly express the desire for greater inclusion and diversity in images representing body shape and size—yet, many advertisers view moving in that direction as risky, given results from research in this area.
Some brands are bashed for employing traditional tactics—thin models and airbrushing—that result in lower body satisfaction. Others, using realistic mirror images of “plus-size” models, have been criticized as promoting obesity.
The author, Kathrynn Pounders, indicated that “consumers’ response to image-conscious campaigns places brands in an interesting position … Consumers increasingly appear to call for greater inclusion and diversity in terms of body shape and size. Social-media platforms are allowing this voice to be heard.”
Many advertisers, however, aren’t convinced that bending to these calls is the right move. From their perspective, “moving in such a direction could be risky. Research on the effectiveness of campaigns that use female models of diverse shapes and sizes has been mixed,” Pounders wrote, citing a 2004 study. “With obesity rates rising to near-epidemic levels … brands also must be health conscious.”
Pounders pointed to a project on which she is collaborating, which so far shows, “evidence that some consumers, in fact, believe brands featuring plus-size models are promoting obesity and unhealthy behaviors.”
Among the takeaways in her essay:
• Marketers should think broadly about how consumers will interpret both the message and the overall advertisement.
• Each brand must approach shifting preferences for inclusion and diversity of shape and size independently; tactics that work for one brand might not work for the other.
• Brands accordingly must have a firm understanding of both the demographics and the psychographics of the intended audiences.
Kathrynn Pounders is an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on the role of emotion and identity in the context of communication-strategy effectiveness and health communication. Pounders especially is interested in the role that motion and gender identity play in understanding women’s health issues. Her research interests align with the courses she teaches: advertising law and ethics, the psychology of advertising, and the graduate consumer-behavior seminar. Her work can be found in the Journal of Academy of Marketing Science, Journal of Advertising, and European Journal of Marketing, among others.