False beauty in cosmetic adverts – speaking to Charlie Snow from DLKW Lowe

This interview, conducted with DLKW Lowe’s Head of Strategy, Charlie Snow, discusses the use of thin models and image enhancements in cosmetic adverts. I previously posted an interview which I conducted with a Bourjois Brand Manager. These interviews cover a lot of detail about false beauty in cosmetic adverts and why it’s used.

False beauty in cosmetic advertsI used Charlie’s 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 Charlie, to see what his views were on false beauty in cosmetic adverts and to see how consumers felt about it?

Why are thin models used?

I think it’s because that’s now the ‘norm’ for what attraction, beauty and appeal is. That’s what’s been said. Where it used to be different body shapes and being really pale, because that was a sign of money and not needing to go work in the fields. Now it’s much more… that’s why people do it, because they’re trying to put a desirable image up for their brand.

What’s your opinion on campaigns with average women?

I think it really varies. If you take the magazine market and slightly older women’s magazines that aren’t about style, beauty or glamour, then you tend to find more average, normal women vs the top end, where you’re buying into a dream and an image. That’s where you tend to get the thinner, more beautiful models. I think it’s slightly horses for courses on that.

Can normal sized women sell beauty, as well as celebrities?

Yeah – and a great is example is the Dove campaign. They made a big thing on effectiveness and I think the general spirit of it was really good and really refreshing. It was so powerful because it gave the brand a really strong quality view in the market place.

False beauty in cosmetic adverts

Research shows women feel the use of celebrity doesn’t affect their choice of brand. Do you agree?

I think this is a classic for what people say, what they actually think and what they react to. Celebrities are a very good short cut for beauty, values and personality and despite what’s said, people love that. Consumers say they’re tired of it, or their bored of it, they slam the celebrities, but there is clear evidence that it works.

Advertising effectiveness is all massively based on the type of celebrity you use, for example, we’re doing some stuff for Morrison’s Supermarket using Freddy Flintoff as he’s a brilliant representation of Morrison’s values; down to earth, Northern and straight-forward. A celebrity gets across everything you want to convey, just by being themselves.

More women are asking to see more average sized women in ads. Why do you think that is?

There is this ideal beauty that’s put forward, which is a really difficult thing to live up to. I think it’s particularly the younger age that’s affected though.

I’ve got a 13 year old daughter and I do talk to her about this area. I asked her, with regards to her body image, “do you feel pressured?” And she said “yes I do.” She’s just 13 and she’s openly discussing with her friends about what she looks like and how she feels. I asked her why and she replied “I hate my legs, they’re really pasty and Phoebe doesn’t have pasty legs.” Phoebe being one of her peers and in my daughters eyes, one of the most popular girls in school and the one everyone is naturally attracted to.

So then you think, “is that happening naturally in human behaviour, or is that something that has been set up by society, of which advertising represents?” I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that one.

I personally feel it’s entirely acceptable to airbrush wrinkles, spot, deformities or pimples, just as we would airbrush a car, a view or a building to make it look as amazing as possible. However, where it’s problematic I think, is when you start actually changing body shapes; making figures unnaturally thin or cutting out thighs. There is a difference between slight surface airbrushing vs airbrushing physical shape, that’s what’s dangerous.

That said, I do think people now understand when it’s gone too far. Ralph Lauren is a great example. It’s appalling and it’s my understanding that it was one poster in Japan and somebody commented on how outrageous the ad was. It wasn’t Ralph Lauren doing a big outdoor campaign, or trying to make a viral campaign, it was people who were genuinely disgusted and appalled by it. The world now is so transparent and so open, you’ve got to be incredibly careful about putting false images up like that.

False beauty in cosmetic adverts

Advertising is said to play a big part in women’s low self-esteem. From an advertising point of view, what are your thoughts?

I think that’s quite harsh on advertising. I don’t think we are to blame. We just reflect what people want, we wouldn’t be using thin women if everybody thought it was horrible.

A lot of our world, is about building dreams and images. It’s about exaggeration and desire. As I said upfront, the shapes and people we use are what society has deemed appealing and we just represent that.

My daughter is coming into that 13 – 17 age group with her friends and I think if they’re saying “God I’ve got to look like that, why can’t I look like that?” getting themselves into that spiral of despair, is that advertising’s fault, or is it actually something much deeper and more substantial? Who’s not saying to them “don’t be silly, don’t worry about it. You’re amazing.” It’s more about that stuff, what’s said from your peers and your family. The love you get from that is really where self-esteem comes from.

I do think if someone has low levels of esteem then they are the one’s who are going to unravel with those sorts of things. If you’ve got high esteem you can blank it out.

Why are mascara ads styles with lash inserts, therefore not portraying realistic product results?

Like we make cars look amazing, or like women wear foundation, you’re just putting the very best face forwards. I think people know “I can’t have a house like that, or a car like that, but I love the idea of it”, so I think it’s in that sense to me. It’s the aspiration and the dream you’re putting up.

False beauty in cosmetic adverts

Do you think using lash inserts could affect brand loyalty?

People know about the companies behind the brands now, the ket is how those companies act and if they are doing anything that is seen to be immoral. It’s then that the dream starts to break and I think that’s really where people are going to be judging companies more and more. So I think that’s the important thing, making sure that everything you do, as a company, is right in that sense.

Revlon’s research showed women were bored of celebrities in ads. So Revlon featured average women instead, however the campaign failed. If women wanted the change, why do you think they rejected it?

I think again, it’s what you say, rather than what you actually do. Take Dove for example, they feel that it really worked for them – they got good effectiveness and there’s case studies on that – but they were doing it more to make a point, rather than doing the same celebrity thing, but with ordinary women. It’s still about the glamour, you’re buying into that dream world and in the celebrity case it’s not just what they look like, it’s the lifestyle they lead and making you feel like “wow can I get a bit of that?” That’s what you’re putting forward. It’s more than looks.

There’s a call for adverts to carry a disclaimer if they’ve been airbrushed. Do you agree?

No, particularly on the point I made about features and irregularities earlier. To me, it’s something we do in buildings, or in cars or furniture; everything is made to look as good as it possibly can. I do think there is possibly a case in terms of shapes, but I do think that now most people understand the game. Most people understand the techniques and when it’s ridiculous, like Ralph Lauren, it works so much against that company that they’d be crazy to keep on pushing it.