It was recently found that consumers in Singapore thought that beauty-related ads are the most misleading, and if you’ve ever seen advertising claims like “dermatologist-recommended”, “clinically proven” or “award-winning”, perhaps you have wondered for yourself their truth and subjectivity.
The multi-billion dollar beauty industry has traditionally been known for adding bells and whistles to reality, using airbrushing and dubious claims to sell women idealised forms of perfection, to persuade them that they can look as flawless as the models by using their products.
Many of you would probably remember the stir that Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty caused when it was first launched in 2004, featuring women with bodies of all shapes and sizes, donning plain undergarments and minimal makeup.
It was one of the first few advertisers that started to challenge stereotypical images and change the conversation about female beauty. While Dove does not release sales figures, executives at parent company Unilever suggested that the campaign had boosted sales. Dove continued with this message of empowerment in its advertisements across the world, with another notable video ad being Real Beauty Sketches, in which a forensic sketch artist drew women based on their own descriptions of themselves and strangers’ descriptions of them to show that women are too critical of themselves.
In recent years, we have seen more brands starting to advocate female empowerment in their advertisements. Did Dove set the scene for these marketing moves or are brands playing to changing consumer attitudes?
In 2014, aerie, American Eagle’s sister store for lingerie, launched its aerie Real campaign that featured models of all sizes and pledged to use unretouched photos – all to challenge supermodel standards and empower women to be confident in their own bodies.
Or SKII’s Dream Again campaign in 2016 for example, features kids as counselors who help women rediscover what it’s like to dream again. While we’re familiar with actresses Cate Blanchett and Tang Wei as the celebrity faces of SKII, this global skincare brand’s new direction moved the spotlight away from aspirational celebrity to ordinary woman on the street and encourages her to pursue her dreams.
It was around the same time that Lancôme’s Love Your Age campaign reminded women that they should not let their age define them. Featuring personalities such as Eunice Olsen, Anita Kapoor and Rosalyn Lee, who challenged age-stereotypes and societal expectations, we were reminded that self-confidence is key when pursuing what you want.
Source: Lancome Singapore
And more recently, Lux unveiled their new brand purpose: to inspire women to “defy judgements and dare to express their femininity unapologetically”, starting with the entertainment industry, as the media plays a huge role in how women are portrayed.
It may seem like a good thing with so many body-positive messages and brands advocating female empowerment, but this could also backfire. For example, as part of their efforts in the Real Beauty series, Dove’s Real Beauty Bottles negated the mission of this very campaign.
Dove launched limited edition bottles of body wash that represented different female body types. While the product embodies the message that “beauty comes in all shapes and sizes”, the consumer may not have the most pleasant experience from purchasing to using this product. When choosing which bottle of body wash to pick up at the store, one would have to think twice about which bottle to choose, possibly bringing body image issues to the top of mind. Or, when the bottles become slippery in the shower, the bottle that offers the best grip would be the hourglass-shaped bottles, unintentionally implying that there is actually a “best” type of body.
Having seen these examples, should a beauty brand follow this advertising direction? In my opinion, this depends on the authenticity of the message and how well the brand’s target audience can connect with it.
For example, I think that Rosalyn Lee makes a great ambassador for Lancôme’s Love Your Age campaign as its message resonates with her character. Perhaps better known as Rozz, she quit her job as a radio DJ to travel the world, and her love for learning and adventure is documented on her Instagram account by the places she goes to and the food that she tries. As a woman who lives by her own rules, she defies societal expectations dauntlessly and I think that ties in perfectly with the campaign – where so much of a person’s experiences throughout the years add up to their story, and that is what makes one’s age something to be proud of, instead of a limit to the things you can and cannot do.
In this day, consumers are sharper than ever – they will not easily be fooled by airbrushed beauty advertisements, but authentic and relatable messages that empower them will hit the spot. Using a teenager to sell anti-ageing skincare is so fake, but using unretouched photos like in the case of aerie was effective as their 15-21 year old target audience’s sense of body confidence is strongly influenced by images in the media.
What if a brand has had a long history of using celebrity endorsements? That’s not to say that they should adopt a new direction entirely, but I believe that the message of “realness” has to be consistent, not just in the advertisements but also brand values, to successfully build trust and relationships with consumers.