Do consumers want 'real women' in ads instead of aspirational images? The Marketing Society Forum -
A view from Staff

Do consumers want 'real women' in ads instead of aspirational images? The Marketing Society Forum -

Asda looks likely to tap into the 'real women' trend for its forthcoming 'bottom-shaper' jeans, while L'Oreal has been censured by the ASA for using misleading post-production techniques in ads.


Consumers want both. There's room in advertising for both aspiration and inspiration. In Asda's case, I doubt it will feature truly 'real' women complete with muffin-tops and love-handles. But maybe there is an opportunity to go a bit 'realer' than some advertisers, given Asda's brand values and the particular communication challenges posed by a product called 'Great Bum Jeans'.

It's interesting that this question is framed around what consumers want from advertising. Actually, most have a healthy scepticism about advertising, appreciate that its purpose is to present brands positively and so accept a degree of presentational license. A more interesting question is: 'What should consumers in the 21st century have a right to expect from the media that advertising funds?' Speaking for myself, that would be an end to casual sexism (for example, The Sun's Page 3 topless picture) and an end to misogynistic editorial that masquerades as the opposite (for example, 'news in briefs' that accompanies the Page 3 picture).


The simple answer is it depends on the brand and objective. Some do and some don't.

Some brands are selling a dream - a holiday, a perfume, a jet. We know how and why they are doing this. Indeed, it is partly the dream, as opposed to a complete reality, that we are buying.

Some brands sell an aspiration. It is one of the reasons they command a premium. We know why L'Oreal uses Julia Roberts - a beautiful star, but one many admire and want to be like. Yet, while brands can seduce and 'augment' reality, they must never lie or mislead.

Some brands are more focused on selling trust, efficacy, simplicity or authenticity, so I need to know they truly understand me as an individual and care about me and my real world. Hence the success of the Dove and Procter & Gamble 'Proud sponsor of mums' campaigns.

So, for some brands we want to see 'real women' in ads, but for others a person some would also love to be - albeit sometimes in a dream.


It depends on how 'real women' are defined, who is doing the observing and what the expectation is.

Are we not socialised to a set of beauty norms; are 'real women overweight' the implied norm? If so, normalising obesity is as pernicious as normalising anorexia.

Unrealistic images, faked or Photoshopped, are about honesty and perceptions about a product's performance. Consumers are not rejecting the 'beautiful people', but instead brands are deliberately misleading consumers about the efficacy of products. There has to be a balance, otherwise focusing on the aspirational images of beauty can lead to obsession and, ultimately, failure to meet unachievable standards.

Isn't it about expectations, what the audience expects from a known beautiful face - flawless celebrity as perceived through visual media? And who determines what a 'real woman' is? Surely society is so diverse there can be no single definition, only certain expectations from the observers.


It depends on what is being promoted. Above all, though, we want brands to be honest. We don't want to find out that Cheryl Cole's L'Oreal hair and eyelashes are false extensions, or have been extensively retouched; don't treat us like idiots. In this modern, connected world you are going to get found out - and more fool you.

We want aspiration for beauty or sports products, we want to believe we can look like the celebs if we use the product they promote and it makes us feel better just trying. We know we can never really look like them, but we want to buy some hope.

However, we want real people where it counts, in things like charity ads. Having fought breast cancer, my sister was incensed to see supermodels promoting Breast Cancer Awareness. How could she relate to them - and how could they relate to what she had been through?


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