Help consumers to love their bodies
Editorial

Help consumers to love their bodies

Today’s consumers want brands to make them feel better about their bodies, not worse.

British people aren’t that keen on their bodies. According to the British Social Attitudes Survey, 37% of women and 26% of men are dissatisfied with their appearance. This provides a choice for advertisers: when using people in their creative, do they reflect the average consumer to get their buy-in or instead provide an aspirational vision of what consumers would supposedly like to look like, with youthful, healthy, beautiful people selling the dream?

Judging by a media landscape that’s often monopolised by ‘perfect’ body shapes and the prevalence of Photoshopped images, it would appear that the latter choice usually wins.

But is aspiration all when it comes to our bodies? There are signs that long-held views on what sells to consumers might be changing. This year, the super-skinny models at London Fashion Week (amongst others) again drew criticism, and while the British Fashion Council repeated statements about encouraging diversity in the industry, a backlash against advertising messages that appeal to negative body image might finally be gathering steam. Fuelled by social media, a new movement for body positivity has emerged – and brands are taking notice.

On the high street, Debenhams has promised no more Photoshopping of its lingerie models and Topshop has cancelled orders for the thinnest of its mannequins. Over in the States, lingerie brand Aerie launched a campaign, #aerierealfeaturing only un-retouched images and retailer Target is portraying a range of body types in its latest swimwear campaignSome of these efforts may be one-offs, but they’re becoming more frequent.

And it’s not just women’s fashion advertising that might be cutting its cloth differently in the future. While there is less reporting on men’s body image, a 2012 study by the centre of appearance research at the University of the West of England found that more than four in five men (80.7%) talk in ways that promote anxiety about their body image by referring to perceived flaws and imperfections, compared with 75% of women. Nearly a quarter (23%) said concerns about their appearance had deterred them from going to the gym, 63% thought their arms or chests were not muscular enough, while 30% had heard references to their ‘beer belly’ and 19% have overheard talk about their ‘man boobs (moobs)’.

In 2015, men’s fashion had a moment that perhaps reflected a more ‘normal’ male body: the phrases ‘dad bod’ and ‘dadcore’ started appearing in fashion columns and celebrated men’s bodies that were rather less hunky and toned than those in an average Calvin Klein commercial.

Despite these sideswipes at the prevailing trend, the majority of body positive marketing messages still come from dedicated ‘plus-size’ brands rather than mainstream names – and perhaps the most powerful recent example of body positive advertising in the UK came not from a commercial organisation, but a government agency.

Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign depicts strong, healthy women who aren’t ashamed of their bodies. The ads, designed to get more women into sport, debuted on primetime TV and have been watched more than nine million times on YouTube.

Body positivity may still be the exception, rather than the norm, but things are changing. Marketers would do well to keep in mind one of the slogans from the This Girl Can ads: ‘I swim because I love my body, not because I hate it.’

The question to ask yourself is, does your brand appeal to consumers because it sends a body positive message, or are you trusting that highlighting discontent will always work?

Robert Bain CPL Freelance Writer
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