An August 4 article in Ad Age ran the headline: "Stick to skinny models for fat profits." The story covered a study by business professors at Villanova University and the College of New Jersey, where women who saw ads with thin models felt worse about themselves but better about the brands featured.
"The really interesting result we are seeing across multiple studies is that these thin models make women feel bad, but they like it." The researchers go on to say that when the participants saw regular size models (more likely size 2 or 4 and not a size zero) they didn't feel bad, but their opinion of the brands were lower.
What is a marketer to do?
The dialogue about what is beauty and how it impacts women is in the early stages. As a society we can thank Dove and its Campaign for Real Beauty for taking a stand on what we call an 'emergent issue' -- one that has not broken into the popular culture, indeed a cause that might not even be seen as one. Social issues in the early stages are fascinating arenas within which to play. Companies and brands that take on something very new, have a clear horizon to mold the discussion, bring partners together to build a dialogue and engage stakeholders in fresh ways. It takes a long view to align with an emergent issue, as well as courage and conviction.
Dove has been bold in its communications and has stirred the pot regarding beauty. Bravo. Yet now, a few years into the campaign, the road gets tougher as evidenced by the research described in the Ad Age story. Dove will need to continue to go beyond often stunning communications to make a true impact on women, especially young girls. Awareness and questioning about real beauty is an important step, but the next one, changing attitudes and behavior, so women feel better about regular sized models AND themselves, has a long way to go.
Don't give up Dove. The journey is just beginning.