Do you want to see women who look like you in fashion advertising?

The research is in: women buy more clothes when they see themselves reflected on the catwalk. Well, dur says Mamamia’s Rebecca Sparrow…


Some research surprises and delights me. The average dog can understand 165 words! Babies have their own secret language! Sword swallowers rarely injure themselves and only get a sore throat if they do frequent performances. (Or, err, aren’t actually very good.) But still, you know, hooray and all that.

And then. Well, then there’s the research that really tells me nothing I didn’t already know. Like this groundbreaking news: women want to see themselves reflected in fashion advertising. Go figure.

For years fashion industry advertising has been dominated by the tall-skinny-white-girl-look. The excuse has always been that consumers respond to aspirational marketing. In other words, in fashion shoots we want to see who we fantasise about being, not who we are.
Except, maybe we don’t.

The Guardian recently ran a story on Ben Barry, a Cambridge University PhD student, who researched whether “female consumers are more likely to buy something when an advertisement (and by extension, a glossy magazine fashion spread) features a model who is more reflective of them.”

The Guardian reports:

“Using mocked-up fashion adverts, Barry surveyed 3,000 women in the UK, US and Canada, “and the vast majority of women significantly increase purchase intentions when they see a model that reflects their age, size and race. If you speak to consumers on the street about my research, nobody is surprised – consumers are light years ahead of the fashion industry in that they want to see diversity.

“The industry operates in its own bubble, but advertisers and magazine editors need to be mindful of who their target market is and how the models reflect that market, catch up and change.” This will be done, Barry believes, when companies – whether they are publishing houses or luxury brands – start to see the economic benefits of using a more diverse range of women to sell their products.”

Research that would have been useful for the Australian brand Trenery a few years ago. Country Road’s spin-off label is specifically targeted at the “over 40 woman” offering clothing up to a size 18. Hurrah, we thought. About time! But the label’s launch in 2009 was nothing less than bewildering. Trenery chose to use thin, young models on the catwalk. Did I mention the bit about them being a label for over 40 women?

The clip of the Trenery launch:
[vimeo 6045961 640 390]

So, would this crazy idea of using more diverse models in fashion advertising reap financial rewards for retailers? If Germany’s Brigitte magazine is anything to go by, the answer is yes. According to the Guardian, Brigitte, the country’s market-leading women’s magazine, stopped using professional models altogether in January 2010. In a bold move they started using a diverse range of readers as their models instead. And guess what? Sales went up 4%.

“It wasn’t a strategic decision, it was a natural development,” says editor-in-chief Andreas Lebert. With the boom in fashion blogging, and sites where street style is celebrated, it isn’t just designers and magazine editors who can create trends. “The traditional image of a model to show women what they should look like has become redundant. The reaction from our advertisers has been good. Even most luxury firms have told us the glossy fashion magazine look is no longer up-to-date.”

In Australia the use of more diverse models has been somewhat tokenistic. A bit gimmicky. A way, perhaps, to grab headlines. But maybe things are on the verge of changing. So what? So start practising your best “Blue Steel”. Our time on the catwalk starts now.

Mia writes: “The fashion and magazine industry will tell you that women (that would be us) ‘don’t want to see women who look like them in magazines or in ads’. Really? When I wanted to use more diverse looking women in Cosmo when I was editor, it was virtually impossible to find suitable models (it’s hard enough to earn a living in Australia from modelling let alone if you don’t fit the cookie-cutter size 8 tall stereotype). So we used non-models. Real people. Regular women who had other jobs and lives that didn’t pay them for the way they looked. Women who were all shapes, sizes and skin colours. And readers LOVED it.

Here’s an example of one of the shoots we did:

From Cosmo 2003
From Cosmo 2002

I know that personally, I’m more inclined to buy something I see on a shape resembling mine as opposed to a six foot tall size zero 17 year old. You?”

What do you think? Does your favourite clothing label feature models who look like you? Would you prefer to see more diverse models featured in fashion advertising? Or is the industry right in thinking we want to see who we fantasise about being, not who we really are?

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