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a different take on aspirational fashion
May 20, 2012 3:59 PM   Subscribe

Can using different types of models benefit brands? Ben Barry discusses his Ph.D. research in Elle Canada, making a business case for diversity in fashion: women increased their purchase intentions when they saw models who reflected their size, age, and race. Jezebel summarizes, "Barry's research... casts doubt on the age-old theory that people buy things because advertising stokes their insecurities, creating a need that can only be filled by the advertised product. It suggests that advertising can work by inducing in the consumer feelings of affinity for and identification with the people shown in the ad."
posted by flex (44 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nice way to market yourself and your modelling agency, Dr. Berry.
posted by Ardiril at 4:11 PM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure the fashion industry knows this already. In the (brilliant, mostly horrifying) documentary series The Model Agency, there's a whole episode devoted to the biggest earners, who the agency bookers call 'money girls'.

They're not the rail thin catwalk superstars, but a bunch of good-looking women you've never heard of who wear a size 14 and rake in loads of cash appearing in clothing catalogues, TV ads, &c..
posted by jack_mo at 5:03 PM on May 20, 2012


Researcher Naomi Mandel puts it more bluntly in reference to her work on models and self-esteem: “It’s better to use extremely thin models because that’s what makes women feel bad about themselves and want to buy the products.”

In other words, fashion marketing is negging us.

What's astonishing is that when more inclusive marketing is successful, like the Dove campaign, it's written off as a fluke. It shouldn't be.
posted by ambrosia at 5:03 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


This works great until you cast models who are too much like your target audience, and then you get accused of pandering.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:15 PM on May 20, 2012


This works great until you cast models who are too much like your target audience, and then you get accused of pandering.

Which is why you never see alcoholics in beer ads. (although, to tell the truth it might work)
posted by jonmc at 5:22 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Which is why you never see alcoholics in beer ads. (although, to tell the truth it might work)

Canadian Club seems to be banking on it.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:24 PM on May 20, 2012


These theories are mutually compatible.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:26 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Which is why you never see alcoholics in beer ads. (although, to tell the truth it might work)

"Budweiser. We get you good and plastered."

"Miller Beer. Makes you drunker 50% faster than the leading brand!"

(BTW since I mentioned That Word, what other thing could be more over-obsessed about than the fate of some "brand?" Like we're expected to care about the reputation of a symbol attached a specific product as if it were a thing that actually, physically exists.)
posted by JHarris at 5:27 PM on May 20, 2012


Canadian Club seems to be banking on it.

Huh? He's on the ledge due to an affair, not alcoholism.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 5:29 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why are we talking about beer ads? The article is about women's fashion, and marketing to women. Can we please stay on topic?
posted by ambrosia at 5:33 PM on May 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


Even if they had no sexism/misogyny problems, fashion magazines and modeling agencies wouldn't be worth all the attention they get. With these problems, I have a hard time understanding why anyone with an IQ over 3 subscribes/watches.
posted by DU at 5:54 PM on May 20, 2012


They are like the white power racist sites, only nobody seems to have a problem linking to them endlessly.
posted by DU at 5:55 PM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


What is vanity to a beautiful woman?
posted by parmanparman at 5:58 PM on May 20, 2012


Marketing women's fashion to women is a subset of marketing stuff to people, that's why we're talking about beer ads.

Showing me people who you think I want to be out there snow boarding, motorcycle racing, bull riding, windsurfing and whatever else is the extreme sport of the day (and drinking your beer!) is a pretty good analogy to showing a middle aged woman a very slender 16 to 22 year old who just spent three hours getting her hair and makeup done (and is going to get majorly post processed) in a dress that she might be interested in.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:13 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Women in beer ads
posted by Ardiril at 6:30 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was just reading about this the other day, in the "Social Proof" and "Liking" chapters of "Influence: Science and Practice". The studies cited there about the impact of similarity started in 1963, this book popularizing them came out in first edition in 1985, and it's sold a couple million copies since. I don't think the problem here is that the advertising industry needs just one more good study to convince them.

(not that this is necessarily a good study - one of the other lessons we should have learned by now is that claimed "intentions" in focus groups aren't the same as future actions by the claimants, which aren't the same as future actions by otherwise-similar non-claimants who haven't gone through the focus group experience)

I wonder if there's a conflict of interest to blame? Advertisers aren't paid based on how many products they can sell to companies' customers, they are paid based on how many advertisements they can sell to companies' managers. An optimal solution for the latter problem won't be informed by the customers or their desires except insofar as those resemble some mixture of the managers, the managers' desires, and the managers' beliefs about the customers and their desires.
posted by roystgnr at 6:45 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Recent anecdotal evidence has demonstrated that it can."

Actual pull quote, and we all know how far "anecdotal evidence" flies.
posted by Ardiril at 6:52 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Although I've lurked on the Blue for years, I've only recently coughed up the five big ones for an account, and I haven't caught on to all the finer points of Metafilter etiquette yet. The discussions often seem rather free-form to me, but I see above that ambrosia berates people for talking about beer ads. Can anyone fill me in on this? Wandering around onto other topics: ok or not ok?
posted by Fists O'Fury at 6:53 PM on May 20, 2012


>Wandering around onto other topics: ok or not ok?

You want Metatalk.
posted by pompomtom at 6:57 PM on May 20, 2012


Take it to e-mail please

The fact of the matter is the no one has done it better. No publisher, no catalog owner, no store has ever been able to sell clothes better than with a thin, alluring lady. The same goes for menswear. I am sorry, it's the truth. If you don't like it, go out and change the world by opening up people's wallets for a great catalog of curvier women running on the beach in swimsuits. Or do it with men. I don't really care. I buy all of my clothes from TK Maxx.
posted by parmanparman at 6:58 PM on May 20, 2012


The same goes for menswear. I am sorry, it's the truth.

Haha, I know, man, but it's more a "haha, you skinny NERDS. Us jocks wear boxers.

So maybe this is how it works for women's fashions? But those wet-look leggings that were popular for about a year, a couple of years ago - there wasn't a brand attached to them, right? Contrast with Ugg boots that were (are still?) popular starting from a little bit longer ago. Different demographics?
posted by porpoise at 7:06 PM on May 20, 2012


ambrosia: Why are we talking about beer ads? The article is about women's fashion, and marketing to women. Can we please stay on topic?

Maybe so, but the FPP is clearly phrased about marketing in general, and a study that casts doubt on the general advertising principle of appeal to insecurity.

This discussion was not framed solely around women's fashion, and it was staying on topic.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:07 PM on May 20, 2012


Gracias, pompomtom
posted by Fists O'Fury at 7:08 PM on May 20, 2012


Am I supposed to want to look like the girls in the American Apparel ads? 'Cause personally, I like eating and not taking heroin.

(I really do like the Dove campaign, though.)
posted by maryr at 7:14 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is the fashion industry male-dominated? Because if it is, the perpetuation of the vulnerable anorexic model makes sense.

If the author addressed this, I must have missed it: 'negging' women into buying fashion might have worked long ago, but is it possible that women simply aren't tricked by that anymore?

Also, I thought that American Apparel models, although a bit on the skinny side, were still 10x more healthy than victoria secret/high fashion types. They're not too dissimilar from the skinny hipster types I see daily. Are they really that unrealistic?
posted by hellslinger at 7:32 PM on May 20, 2012


American Apparel models, I understand, are not your standard professional models.
posted by Peach at 7:48 PM on May 20, 2012


In more circumspect times, advertisers knew how to draw attention to their products without appealing to baser instincts. For example, desirable product qualities such as lightweight frames, sturdy construction, safety, environmental awareness, athletic performance, and the freedom of the open road were simply and unequivocally expressed in vintage bicycle posters.
[Some mildly NSFW]
posted by cenoxo at 7:52 PM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


discusses his Ph.D. research in Elle

Wasn't this a running joke in the Journal of Irreproducible Results?
posted by benzenedream at 8:06 PM on May 20, 2012


American Apparel, previously. Their models may have more normal (though still very skinny) body types, but they are presented in some pretty ridiculous poses. A GIS for the phrase "American Apparel" turns up these gems.
posted by maryr at 8:13 PM on May 20, 2012


I am reading this in a second tab while I look to buy a skirt online, and I just scrolled through a bunch of pics of skinny teenage models, thinking 'not for me', 'not for me'. As an older woman I really don't want to wear clothes suitable for a teenager, and sometimes it's hard to judge, so when a skirt is presented to me in that way, it really puts me off. I probably won't buy one on line at all, though it would be really convenient. I just can't relate to the images. I am trying to imagine - what would that look like on me - the pics make it too hard. If I found a site which had clothes on women who looked like - I dunno - an idealised version of what I want to look like at work - that would encourage me to buy. Am I so unusual in this?
posted by communicator at 8:15 PM on May 20, 2012


No, that's not unusal. I feel the same way when I shop for plus sized clothes online and they have thin models showing the clothes. I'd shop more if they showed any one nearing the actual size of clothes worn.
posted by kanata at 8:17 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


kanata, this is why I keep going back to Lane Bryant, despite their cheaply made, over-priced clothes: I can see what the clothes look like on someone with a similar body type to me. Torrid also uses ACTUAL plus-size models, although I'm not so hot on their clothes these days.

Well, that and it's the only place I can by a non-knit shirt or jacket that can accommodate my boobs of doom.
posted by smirkette at 8:43 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Am I supposed to want to look like the girls in the American Apparel ads? 'Cause personally, I like eating and not taking heroin.

Body shaming isn't cool, stop doing that. Also, the girls in the AA ads don't seem unrealistic to me, they just seem young. I see tons of girls in town that could pass for an AA girl, body type wise, and they look healthy. I also see them eating at restaurants and not shooting up heroin. Judgmental much?
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:36 PM on May 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


This is one of those times I really enjoy being a man. Also fuels my rage when I hear, "It's harder to be a man today!" Guys, we have a sweet deal, keep your heads down and shut up!
posted by karmiolz at 9:39 PM on May 20, 2012


No need to gloat, karmiolz. Or we'll sic the partiarchy on you, and you'll be shaving off all your body hair and painting a prettier face on your no doubt already charming visage.
posted by misfish at 9:44 PM on May 20, 2012


You leave my luxurious chest hair alone!
posted by karmiolz at 9:46 PM on May 20, 2012


But those wet-look leggings that were popular for about a year, a couple of years ago - there wasn't a brand attached to them, right?

That style started out as Australian designer Sass and Bide's 'Hot Rats' (I think) leggings then got copied, mainly because people didn't want to spend £150 on a pair of leggings. Trends happen organically (where I grew up, it was fashionable to own a gold clown necklace, a fashion that never bothered the pages of Vogue) but it's often the case that a cheaper retailer will rip off a catwalk style and then people buy from the cheaper retailer, then those who see the leggings or whatever being worn will decide to buy them too.

American Apparel models, I understand, are not your standard professional models.

Sure, but good luck finding one that looks over 20 and/or would wear one of their XL sizes. I want to like their advertising as they do make a point of featuring cute jolie-laide girls, but at the same time looking at their ads makes me feel I should be on some kind of child sex register.
posted by mippy at 1:23 AM on May 21, 2012


The worst is that the clothing rarely fits on the models (or store mannequins!) so if you try to judge how it actually fits you have to consider a) Photoshop, b) mysterious pins and glue in the back, and c) if it is an h&m bikini that the models are just a fun composite of reality. I can't be the only one who's tried googling around to see if a blogger has tried on or reviewed the fit of brands of jeans, can I? Because seriously I would pay good money for a jean site that features models in different sizes with different models of pants on their actual real, untouched, differently sized legs.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:17 AM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Basically my pony request in real life is for just one company to make jean shopping less than a tumultuous and painful slog through a ripped indigo wasteland. Just one!)
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:25 AM on May 21, 2012


Also, I thought that American Apparel models, although a bit on the skinny side, were still 10x more healthy than victoria secret/high fashion types.

I don't know about AA, but Victoria Secret models are way more voluptuous than high fashion models. This article in Slate quotes a model who left the runway for VS because she didn't want to be so thin to fit in couture sample sizes.
posted by bluefly at 7:23 AM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


A while ago, I ran across the website for UGLY Models, a London-based modeling agency. The name is a bit misleading; there are some people they represent who truly are unfortunate looking, but mostly they are people who are perfectly normal or even quite attractive who just happen to, you know, be 5'6" or wear a size 10 or be 38 years old. Browsing through their portfolio is quite refreshing.
posted by KathrynT at 9:35 AM on May 21, 2012


Kid Charlemagne -- the difference is that you're not trying to decide what size or style of jetski to order based on a series of misleading photos.

There's a difference between models used for ad campaigns by major brands and models chosen for online shopping sites: the first is 'aspirational' but the second provides information. While I'd love to see more diverse body types and races in the high-style photo campaigns but can still drool over the handbag/shoe/skirt in the picture regardless, the practice of using 5' 11" size 2 women to show me what the size 14 dress I'd like to buy looks like 'on' is infuriating. It actively blocks my ability to judge what the clothes will look like on me, whether I'll be able to wear a bra, roughly how long it will be in front with my boobs inside it (they take up vertical space too) and all that kind of stuff.

Most plus size retailers but I'm straight sized, just on the larger end.

The usual 'aspirational' argument is always trotted out, here, but I notice that most plus size retailers have moved to (small, young and pretty) plus size models, so I suppose that's progress.

Also: the manufacturers decide what size samples will be, and thus what size the models who show them will have to be. And that's an industry-wide decision.
posted by jrochest at 10:18 AM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


No publisher, no catalog owner, no store has ever been able to sell clothes better than with a thin, alluring lady.

Nevertheless, things can change. I can remember a time when fashion magazines always had models on the cover - now they mostly use actresses. And while most Hollywood actresses are model-thin, very few are model-tall. Probably the most-discussed fashion display is that of dresses at the Oscars, and, while they may all be alluring ladies, there's a much bigger range of height and age than you'd see with fashion models. And it is very easy to see that what suits tall Charlize Theron or Gwyneth Paltrow might look all wrong on tiny Natalie Portman.

Lots of women have looked at Helen Mirren in full rigout and thought I wish I looked that good now, let alone at the age of 66, and seeing what suits her (and what she avoids) can be a real inspiration for older women. One of the most praised dresses at this year's Oscars was that worn by Octavia Spencer, who is short and curvy. Wanting to look as good as Octavia Spencer in her Oscar gown is still seriously aspirational for most short, curvy women, but it's a more targeted aspiration than trying to look like a catwalk model.

So, for all the talk about how you need fashion models to sell clothes, a lot of fashion articles in the print media are actually actress or celebrity photoshoots, showcasing a wider range of alluring ladies than the average catwalk show.
posted by Azara at 1:11 PM on May 21, 2012


That's why I appreciate Penningtons in Canada. The models in the ads are definitely in the thin model mode, and, actually, every time I've gone into a store the staff have been genuinely plus sized women who sometimes sport the actual clothes in the store. I only wish it wasn't so far away from me. Thus, I turn to online stores and find that every model is a size 2 or they only make clothes for 90 year olds or 15 year olds. Clothing that a middle age woman would wear is almost non-existent.
posted by kanata at 2:22 PM on May 21, 2012


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