Use of airbrushing in cosmetic adverts: interview with Bourjois

With airbrushing in cosmetic adverts becoming an increasing topic featured in the media, I conducted an interview with Bourjois’ Assistant Brand Manager Tess Bath, to discuss the ways beauty is portrayed in adverts nowadays. We discussed the use of thin models, lash inserts in mascara adverts and airbrushing in cosmetic adverts.

Airbrushing in cosmetic advertsI used the interview as part of my dissertation back in 2011, (An Investigation into the Use of Models and Enhanced Beauty in Advertising and its Affects on Consumers), which as a Graduate, I’m pleased to say my dissertation was awarded a ‘First’.  This interview may be two years old, but it is still very relevant, with the sizes of models still being highly criticised and with cosmetic adverts still being banned for their use of lash inserts, hair extensions and airbrushing today.I spoke to Tess, to see what her own views were on the use of all these enhancements in the cosmetic industry and to see how their customers felt about it?

From a cosmetic brands perspective, why are thin celebrities used in adverts?

I think it’s like a self-perpetuating cycle. It really began back in the 70′s with Twiggy and all these slim, gorgeous models and I think over the years women have grown to feel that this is how we should look… I think people tend to want to stick to what’s mainstream, so I think the reason brands tend to stick to that is that they’re too afraid to branch out and use real women. But I think in the UK the market is certainly opening up to having larger models certainly within cosmetics. Often the shot is purely on the face anyway, so it doesn’t matter quite so much how large or small the woman is; it’s not about her figure, but more about her face.

“I’m all for campaigns with normal sized women.”

But in saying that, I think in cosmetics that’s why they use slim models. They tend to choose a thinner face, that carries make-up well and shows the way that highlighters work to really exaggerate cheek bones… I think it’s just traditional.

What are your views on campaigns with average sized women?

Personally I think it’s quite effective. As an average sized woman myself, I’m always drawn to campaigns where I feel like I’m getting an accurate reflection of what the end result will be. When you see these skinny mini’s you just don’t feel like it’s an approachable brand, you feel like you’re going to be pushed out of the store because there’s nothing in there that’s going to fit you, or it won’t look as good as it should do. I’m all for campaigns with normal sized women.

How would using normal sized women affect cosmetic brands?

I don’t think cosmetic brands can really afford to do that. A thinner face looks healthier and helps to show the effects, but if you want a foundation that makes someone look radiant and healthy, then having a healthy sized woman in the first place is only going to help that. Additionally, it makes the cosmetic brands look friendlier. I think more up-market brands do isolate women who feel like they’re mature enough to get involved. In theory though I think it would be a great thing to do.

Airbrushing in cosmetic adverts

Why do you think advertisers airbrush celebrities?

I think it’s a shame. When it comes to thinness, it’s all about trying to create this image of ultime beauty; a flawless beauty, beauty that is really unattainable. It creates aspirations. If someone saw an image, especially in cosmetics, with spots and blemishes and you’re trying to advertise a foundation with that image, it’s not perpetuating that marketing concept. So by airbrushing in cosmetic adverts, it can make their skin look as flawless as Eva Longoria’s. We all know it’s not realistic, but it creates that aspiration.

Why use lash inserts in adverts, creating unrealistic product results?

I think again, it’s self-perpetuating. People want to retain these aspirational make-up looks that are only attained by manipulation or by using lash inserts. No one can have lashes 12 inches long.

They say in the wording “styles with lash inserts” for an even lash line. If you look at my eyelashes, they may be long, but they’re not even, so they do use them to try to even out the lash line and make that dramatic look, creating more of a fan look. Women realise, I think, that the lashes are unattainable, but it’s all about aspiration. If they just used mascara, women would look at the adverts and think “my lashes already look like that.” They’re not going to go out and buy it, there’s nothing to aspire to, there’s no incentive.

Airbrushing in cosmetic adverts

Would you say lash inserts make cosmetic advertising more effective?

I think what it is effective at doing, is pushing other cosmetic brands to try and increase their projected results more and more. I think, when I see “styled with lash inserts”, or “used with false lashes”, it doesn’t make me feel like I can achieve that look.

Do you think that could affect brand loyalty?

Definitely. I know there’s a lot of suspicion among consumers about lash inserts, especially the fact that ads don’t offer anything except the tiny asterix and the tiny text at the bottom of the page. It makes consumers feel distrusting, like they’re trying to be tricked. They’re trying to be sold a product that will never achieve the results it’s advertise to achieve. For me, it would be better to just find girls who already have big, naturally long lashes and use them in their adverts.

More women are asking to see natural women in advertising, why is this?

I think it’s got to the stage now where it’s becoming overly restricted and women are getting fed with it. They want to see Trinny and Susannah, women who say it’s fine to be whatever shape or whatever style you are – be yourself.

I think women are starting to want to see something more constructive in these marketing strategies. They want the marketing to people like them to be a more personal, engaging experience.

Previously, Revlon’s research showed women were bored of celebrities and wanted natural women. That campaign however lead to poor sales. When Revlon went back to celebrities, sales rose. If women wanted change, why did they reject the campaign?

It’s a very interesting question. I think women think they want the change, but in reality we don’t.

We all sit there and read the magazines, we all know it’s a stupid thing to do because we feel horrible after doing it, but you see in advertisements these beautiful flawless women, like Jennifer Anniston who everybody loves and I think you’d rather look like her, or feel like her, than having your average woman and thinking “well I already look like her.” Again, it’s all about aspiration and projected results.

You’ve got to beautify it if you’re advertising something… I think it’s a shame, it’ll make women feel more comfortable with your brand if you use normal size women, but I don’t know if it’ll actually make them buy into it more.

Airbrushing in cosmetic adverts

Media and advertising are said to play a big part in women’s low self-esteem. As a brand selling beauty, how does this affect you?

I think an advantage cosmetic companies have is that you can wear make-up no matter your shape or size. With clothing companies, if they’re not portraying images of tiny, skinny women in their advertising, women feel like that can’t buy into that at all. Whereas with cosmetics, they’re much more able to buy into it, whether it’s a skinny model or not; you can still wear the product. So I think, self-esteem wise, it’s not as much an issue for cosmetic brands, because anyone can buy into a look.

I think it’s a shame women are so affected by what they see in the media. You see it in the media, you know it’s unattainable, you still aspire to it, but you should be happy with the results that you can achieve yourself.

Women say that they use of a celebrity doesn’t affect their choice of brand. Do you think this is true?

I don’t think it is true, simply because our brand doesn’t use celebrity endorsements and currently, we’re not doing as well as other brands that do.

Having said, you’ve just got to look at Maybelline, who are one of the fastest growing brands in the past two years, who are doing incredibly well and they’re not using celebrity endorsements. I think it might also be the fact that Maybelline have amazing claims. You don’t need to know anything more about it other than it says it’ll give you huge lashes – and it works!

“We’re demanding less; wanting more natural beauty. They’re going to have to start moving away from airbrushing in cosmetic adverts.”

You could argue that perhaps women feel more comfortable if you use celebrities, but then Maybelline dismisses that theory. So I’m not sure. I think perhaps if people are familiar enough with the brand, then you can get away with not using celebrities, otherwise when promoting it, it does become just that little bit harder than if you did use celebrities.

Women are also saying they’d like beauty ads to stop being enhanced. What do you think?

I know there’s an American brand that has now started using untouched models. I think it’s definitely workable, there are enough beautiful women out there who don’t need airbrushing. I think it would be a very positive direction to move in.

How do you think enhancing adverts affects cosmetic brands positively?

It gets people to buy into it and believe that the products are trying to make you look just like that.

Do you think enhancing adverts affect cosmetic brands negatively?

Yes, depending on the consumer. In the past, people have understated just how much airbrushing happens. I think nowadays though, we’re demanding less; wanting more natural beauty. They’re going to have to start moving away from airbrushing in cosmetic adverts.

Do you think it would make a difference if adverts stopped enhancements?

Yeah, it would certainly change how women view the adverts.

Women consumers already trust the women used in the adverts, so I don’t think it wouldn’t do much harm. I think they’ll still aspire to it and feel more comfortable with the results afterwards. A lot of the time you’ll read a mascara review and it’ll say, “this doesn’t make my lashes look anything like in the advert”, but you’ll start losing that criticism if the adverts aren’t enhanced.

“If you’re trying to boost consumers trust, then you should be honest about when they have been airbrushed.”

Why are hair extensions used to shampoo and hair dye, wouldn’t naturally long hair would be just as effective?

Yeah, in theory I think it should work. The only case I can think of is Cheryl Cole, but again it’s about aspiration. They want the face, so they get Cheryl Cole. But I think it’s a shame, because as you suggested, someone who has gloriously long, beautiful thick hair anyway, will sell the product just as well, but with shampoo and colour, I don’t think it’s quite as misleading.

Some people are asking for airbrushing in cosmetic adverts to carry a disclaimer. Do you agree?

I think if you’re going to try and boost consumers trust, then you should be honest about when they have been airbrushed. In the same way that people were always suspicious over product placement, but now it’s really reassuring to see the logo and think “okay, at least they’re being upfront about it,” so I think it would definitely build consumer trust. I think we all know when ads have been airbrushed anyway, but I think we like to stay optimistic.

Mascara advert here.
Dove advert here.