Category Archives: Magazines

Britney’s retouched photos: just part of the advertising game?

It doesn’t take a marketing professional to tell you that the hamburger in the advertisement doesn’t look exactly like the hamburger you’re going to get at the restaurant. It isn’t as big, colorful or juicy. And the woman’s hair in the shampoo commercial? She had a lot of stuff done to her hair to make it look that shiny.

This isn’t false advertising; this is “puffery,” and it’s perfectly legal. In order to make a product stand out among competition, it must be presented in the best possible light. This doesn’t mean claiming that a product does something it doesn’t really do. That’s lying. Some puffery is a necessary part of advertising.

The Huffington Post published an article on April 13, Britney Spears Reveals Unretouched Candies Ads. Look at the two before and after photos of Britney that they feature: Is this puffery? Or is this lying?

It’s puffery. It’s legal. And it’s irresponsible. Striving for unrealistic perfection in a hamburger isn’t the same as striving for unrealistic perfection of a human body.

I’ll never forget this: When I was a grad student in New York, getting an M.S. in publishing, we took a class trip to a major magazine publisher. We visited the offices of a men’s magazine and met a graphic designer who was working on the cover for the magazine’s first-ever woman of the year. She appears on the cover topless (of course).

The designer showed us the before cover and the cover he was altering. Elbow wrinkles, stomach wrinkles…all gone. The celebrity was smoothed out.

As is Britney in these ads. A commenter on the Huffington Post piece mentioned this, and it’s the first thing I noticed, too: Look how strong and muscular and sexy her calves are in the before pictures. In the after pictures, they’ve been smoothed out and elongated. What’s this obsession with smoothing out everyone?

The first thing we marketers need to do before even considering an advertising campaign is to know our audience. Let’s figure out what audience these Britney photos are for:

This advertising campaign with Britney is for Candies. Candies’ brand encompasses clothing, shoes, jewelry and accessories geared toward “juniors” and “girls.” How do we know this? The Candies line is sold at one department store exclusively; go to that department store’s Web site, and Candies is found under “juniors” and “girls.” I’d say “girls” range in age 7 to 12, and “juniors” are teenagers.

Part of knowing your audience is understanding its basic demographics; another part is understanding and discovering basic psychological stages of the target group. From the age of at least seven through at least the next 10 years, the female brain is going through a lot. We’re trying to break free, we’re trying to love, we’re trying to find ourselves, we’re trying to conform and we’re trying on different personalities until we find the right one. It’s a freak show inside our heads as our hormone levels increase, and we absorb everything, and we take it all very personally.

Bingo. We. Absorb. Everything.

In second grade, my teacher asked us to write down our New Year’s resolutions. I lost mine, apparently, but didn’t realize it. My teacher found it lying on the floor, and I hadn’t put my name on it, so in order to figure out whose it was, she read the resolutions out loud. One of my resolutions was to lose weight. I was mortified. I remember not saying anything, too embarrassed to raise my hand and claim my resolutions.

I was 7. Do we really think these self-image problems have dissipated? That we’ve become such a developed nation, with our advanced technologies and enlightenment, that we’ve solved all these problems?

I know, I know – this is an argument everyone’s heard before. It’s old news, right? I agree. Understanding and protecting your audience is a big part of corporate social responsibility. So let’s be serious about understanding our target audiences and consumer groups. Let’s work with them to form our product and product promotion around strengths and abilities, not around insecurities and wishful thinking.

And, of course, one advertising campaign can’t be wholly blamed for someone’s negative self image. In looking back at my second-grade self, I don’t recall any pop culture icons influencing my (ridiculous) idea that I needed to lose weight. The same can’t be said for all girls and especially these days: there are way more pop culture influences in 2010 than there were in 1990. We’ve even developed a word to describe this pop-culture influenced group: tweens.

But that’s the point: seeing subjects in an advertising campaign didn’t cause me to want to lose weight when I was seven years old. Something else was the influence. Was it a normal part of maturation of the female brain? Regardless, unreal images of women that young girls are being exposed to do not help with ideas and perceptions that are already present in the psyche.

So what should we do as marketers? Obviously advertising campaigns like Britney’s for Candies work: they sell products and that results in revenue. But at what cost to consumers? Do “girls” and “juniors” see Britney’s body as ideal and want to be like her at the age of 10 or 11? Is this a short-term desire that goes away as a girl ages and becomes more realistic about and comfortable with her individuality and sexuality?

Or does this puffery combine with all of the other stimulants in our society to create long-term problems for women? And will changing the way we advertise certain products help?

It couldn’t hurt.

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Advertising: Who benefits from women not feeling beautiful?


“America the Beautiful” is a 2007 documentary by director Darryl Roberts that sets outs to answer the question “Who benefits from women not feeling beautiful?”

He begins the documentary by introducing us to Gerren, “every man’s dream,” a model by profession, strutting her long, lean body in a bikini on a rooftop full of other models, naked in a swimming pool, and booze being poured all around her.

“Now, I don’t want you to think I’m prudish or anything,” Roberts says sarcastically, “But I guess I forgot to tell you, Gerren’s only 12 years old.”

He then talks to another 12-year-old, Ashley, an African-American girl with similar qualities to Gerren, and with an obvious freshness and youthful innocence, just like what Gerren exudes.

“I never thought I was pretty,” Ashley says. “I just think I’m ugly.”

But why? Roberts keeps asking.

“I don’t have a certain reason, I just think it,” Ashley continues, smiling nervously. “No one’s ever told me, but I’m sure people think I’m ugly.

“There are only two girls I think that aren’t prettier than me,” she says. Why aren’t they pretty than you? Roberts asks.

“‘Cause they’re really, really ugly,” says Ashley, and she names off four or five famous women she considers to be pretty.

So starts the documentary, a 70-minute film that centers around the life of Gerren, the 12-year-old model, and analyzes the forces surrounding her on a daily basis, the forces Roberts is convinced influences both Gerren and Ashley’s polar-opposite behavior: targeted advertising and editorial content in magazines, television and billboards that unrealistically portray a standard of beauty that doesn’t exist.

Here are some interesting quotes from industry folks who contributed to the film. As a marketing professional, you walk a fine line when you voice an opinion on a topic as sensitive as this. But then again, marketing professionals have choices in what they choose to promote.

Some food for thought (notice: these folks held these titles as of the making of this film.):

Denise Fedewa, marketing planner at Leo Burnett Advertising, comments on the beauty-product advertising industry: “I think that was true for a long time: establish a problem and position yourself as the solution.” Denise runs the beauty campaigns for L’oreal Paris and Proctor & Gamble.

She continues: “Women are at different places in terms of how beauty-involved they are. There are some women at the top end that are super beauty-involved. They just enjoy it. There’s another group of the same super beauty-involved women who I do feel a little sorry for. They’re almost kind of vic – they are kind of the victims. They always hate the way they look, and they always want to look better. They don’t have very much self-esteem. So they try to boost their self-esteem with trying to conform to the standards, and they’re never happy. And so they are often the target for a lot of these products.”

Roberts cuts to a high school class in Vancouver, Washington, where students are taught about deciphering advertisements. The class has created what the teacher calls their “Great Wall of Porn,” a large bulletin board where they’ve posted cutouts of sexual images from print advertisements. Images that, the teacher and students say, blatantly sell sex instead of a product, especially since, as the teacher points out, sometimes a product isn’t even present in its ad.

Editors-in-chief of Cosmo Girl, Seventeen and Elle magazines:

Cosmo girl: Susan Schulz, “I’m not going to say it’s not partly the media’s fault,” Schulz says, citing airbrushed photos where there are no zits and no hairs out of place. “We could change, but if we change then we won’t make as much money, and when it comes to the bottom line, if you’re not gonna make the money, people look at what’s the point?

Seventeen: Atoosa Rubenstein, “I don’t think that advertisers or marketers are these people who want to make anyone feel bad. They just want to make a buck. I’m somebody that a lot of very big advertisers bring in when they want to figure out how to get that teen audience.

Elle Girl: Brandon Holley, “We’re not the only ones promoting a body type that is –I mean, there’s a billboard of Jenna Jameson right there (she points out her window), the most famous porn star of all time, wearing almost nothing. And how many thousands of kids walk by that billboard?”

Magazines: A woman is “desperate” when she asks out a man? What year are we in?

In the January 2010 issue of Redbook, a reader writes in to the “Your Love Life” section, explaining that she hasn’t dated much since her divorce a year ago. There’s a guy she’s interested in asking out and wants to know if she should initiate a date.

The “experts” tell her: “Don’t do it. There’s a whiff of desperation, the least sexy odor in all of dating, that inevitably comes with the lady issuing the invitation.”

What?!

Are these experts in Redbook serious? Did our fore-sisters really fight for equality (and are we still fighting) only to be told to wait around by the phone or e-mail in order to know if we’re going out on a date Friday night?

Obviously men and woman think differently, interpret actions differently, and analyze differently. But when it comes to asking someone out on a date, man or woman, we’re all taking a risk, increasing our vulnerability and maybe risking our short-term self esteem.

So what?

If there’s an amazing job you’re dying to land, you don’t wait around and hope they’ll call you and make you an offer. You aggressively throw your hat into the ring and you make sure they notice you.

If there’s a house for sale and you know it’s your dream home, you don’t hide in a closet, hoping no one makes an offer so yours will be accepted. You work day and night to make that dream a reality. There’s nothing “desperate” in pursuing either of these things you really want.

Why are relationships any different?

I’ll tell you what’s “the least sexy odor in all of dating”: regret. And this regressive advice.

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