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Why Ads in Fashion Need a Makeover
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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When it comes to hate for advertising, no hate is more fervent and shared than hate for fashion advertising. Especially amongst women. Magazines and advertisements, fashion shows, and TV are saturated with images and depictions of what beauty should look like in our society. And truth is, the image is off. The fashion industry is holding on to a dream of beauty that no average American thinks about. To think that the average female model is a size 2 and the average age for a model is between 15 and 24 begs to argue that there is something wrong.

To compare, the average U.S. woman is a size 14, and the age range is a little older.

Modeling agent Ben Barry covered models in advertising for his thesis at Cambridge University. He received funding from the Ogilvy Foundation and was able to travel around North America to visit hundreds of models, and as he traveled, he showed women sample ads that he created that had models of all shapes, ages, and races. He wanted to study how women's purchasing intentions were affected based on how the model looked.

Below is a sample of what he found:

-Women increased their purchasing intentions by 200 percent when they saw models their size.
-Women increased their purchasing intentions by 175 percent when they saw models their same age (especially with women 35 and older).
-Black consumers were 1.5 times more likely to purchase the item when advertised by a black model.

And when paired with Barry's qualitative analysis, the numbers make sense. When talking to women in a focus group he conducted, women were telling him that they would definitely buy items modeled by people who looked like them because they could see themselves wearing it. It is easier for them to see how the fashions hug the curves, complement the skin, and overall flatter their body shape.

According to Barry (and we would agree) the old fashion adage was to attract women to "unattainable beauty" so women felt insecure about their beauty and would consume these goods and services offered by these stores in order to fit the image the fashion world is portraying.

That is no longer the case.

When the "unattainable beauty" looks unhealthy, unrealistic, and unmaintainable, it has been turning off more consumers than attracting. Women are beautiful the way they are, and if these fashion houses know what's good for them, they need to get with the program.

Fashion brands have to do a better job matching their clothes with their audiences. It can still project what it views as beautiful, but instead of using the "unattainable" factor, they should use images of those who they are trying to reach. Some fashion brands, like Dove, Tom Ford, and Jean Paul Gaultier, all mentioned in Barry's article, are taking the lead in this paradigm shift.

Looks like you've been put on notice, fashion industry. Let's show these consumers how beautiful they are.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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