Life revels in paradoxes. While Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” continues to stand out for portraying full-bodied women without artifice, a recent study by US professors reveals that ads featuring reed-slim women are actually good for brand sales as they make women feel worse about themselves but better about the brands displayed.
Confusing? Maybe, till we realize that there are different shades of “realness” in advertising. Celebrity managers such as Anirban Das Blah, CEO, Globosport India Pvt. Ltd, agree with the US study. His view: 15-20% of consumer product ads work on pure aspirational glamour. Brands related to beauty and skincare, personal care and high-end lifestyle would hence necessarily feature svelte lookers such as Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra and Hrithik Roshan in their ads.
In contrast, nearly 75% of personal-care products use brand protagonists that viewers in urban and small-town India can relate to. Their ads feature actors who are glamourous without being inaccessible. Bollywood stars seen to have personality, opinion and looks, such as Preity Zinta, Kajol Devgan, Rani Mukerji, Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan, would fit the bill.
The prevailing wisdom is that pedestrian realness or ads featuring everyday people wouldn’t build aspirational value for these brands. What about Dove’s “Real Beauty” ads? That was an exception that helped it cut through the clutter most successfully. But how many brands have followed them, asks Blah.
Finally, categories such as health and wellness, insurance and financial services portray more realness in their ad stories so as to appear more credible. Actors such as Konkona Sen Sharma or Rahul Bose or even non-celebrity actors are perfect endorsers for such brands.
It’s evident that some categories need to be more “real” than others in advertising. So, while brands want to build aspirational value, the nature of aspiration differs: The slim and beautiful model holds out the promise of who you want to look like, while the beauty with personality is who you want to be. Then again, K.V. Sridhar, national creative director, Leo Burnett India, says that aspiration stems from emotions evoked by the entire ad tableau, not just people. While the 1980s and 1990s had more models as brand endorsers, now, there are more “actor-models” and even unknown faces in advertising.
Need more examples of ads using real-life folks and situations? MTV perhaps started the genuine movement with their film series We Are Like This Only. The early Fevicol ads showing carpenters score on real-life portrayals as does the recent SBI Life commercial featuring two sisters or a Reliance Mobile Bol India Bol spot.
A vital learning is that a viewer does not need to see his mirror image in advertising. Children don’t need to see children in ads to watch them. And hence an HDFC Standard Life ad can show 50-plus folks while largely targeting the 35-year band. Ultraslim beauties will, of course, always have their place for the high rollers. Which is why LG Scarlett uses a sexy, stylish model in red as a telegraphic way of displaying its attributes without getting into deep emotional engagement with its customers, says Sridhar.
And it coexists with the LG Golden Eye ads that tune into children wearing spectacles and talk about protecting eyesight. Similarly, curvy Bollywood actor Mallika Sherawat made us aware of 7Up’s new bottle.
The real skinny on weight in advertising? It definitely pays to be slim, but it doesn’t harm brands to be seen as smart and real too.
Marion Arathoon is Mint’s advertising editor. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org