What comes first to your mind when I say lingerie advertising? Maybe some brand names such as Victoria’s Secret? Or maybe good looking models, or even insecurity, body shaming? Well mine is definitely thin models. Because, let be honest, thin models are ruling lingerie brands campaigns and websites. At least were, until recently.
For decades companies focused their advertising around the »ideal«, thin female body and use it as a primary form of the visual message, under the assumption that “thinness sells, whereas fatness does not”. And this not concerns only lingerie brands, but brands with all kinds of products or services. However, the level of thinness in models was usually so unrealistic that only 5% of women in the total population could achieve the type of body size portrayed in advertising. What is even worse is that these unrealistic ideals may lead to lower self-esteem, negative emotions, excessive exercise and even eating disorders among consumers.
That is why the world, people, and especially women, needed a change in advertising. They needed real people with real bodies!
Perhaps the most famous and maybe even first of all ‘real women’ campaigns was Dove’s Real Women campaign in 2004. They casted non-professional-models with diverse body shapes for their skincare ads, which resulted in boosting products sales by 700 %, in the first year. But more importantly, they sent a message to the advertising world that women were fed up with its narrow beauty standards.
After that, more and more brands launched body positive ads. Here are some examples:
- Lane Bryant: I’m No Angel
Lingerie campaigns starred plus-size models telling the camera that they’re “no angels” and sending a message that all women are sexy. The ads were a direct dig at the Victoria’s Secret ‘Perfect Body’ campaign with its very slim ‘Angels’ as models.
- Aerie: #aerieREAL
Aerie is another example that body-positive branding can be good for the bottom line. After launching #AerieReal, the retailer’s sales grew 20 percent in the 2015 fiscal year. In their campaign they used women with different body sizes and they even went for Photoshop-free photos. Two years after that they also introduced a new fit guide where shoppers can see how a particular bra look on models with various body type.
- Sports Illustrated: Ashley Graham
Even the magazines joined the movement of real beauty and one of the surprises was the ‘Sports Illustrated’ Swimsuit Issue’s first cover with ‘plus-size’ model, Ashley Graham, in 2016.
What is even better is that there is also a study that shows thin models are no more effective than realistically larger models. Sohn’s and Youn’s study reveal that there is very weak empirical evidence to show the persuasive beneﬁts of using unrealistically thin models in advertising. Notably, average-sized models can generate a more positive brand attitude and purchase intention, which explain the success of previously mentioned campaigns.
Despite my wish to conclude this article in positive way, I cannot ignore the concern that keeps popping in my head. That this is only a trend that companies use to increase sale, brand recognition, and will not become the standard, the normality, we all wish for.
What do you think? Could this be a game changer in advertising or just another trend that will slowly go away?
Sohn, S. & Youn, S. (2013). Does She Have to Be Thin? Testing the Effects of Models’ Body Sizes on Advertising Effectiveness. Atlantic Journal of Communication, 21:164–183.