The biggest shock to the advertising world came in 2014, when lingerie company –Aerie – announced that it was going to restrict its use of the holy grail of advertising success – Photoshop – to eliminate body modification, for all of their future campaigns. Advertisers who follow Professor Carolyn Kitch’s philosophy of “dealing in ideal rather than reality”, were sure that the removal of “ideals” from the central human figure would mean advertising failure and company suicide. What was even more shocking, is the fact that this restriction proved to be more successful by increasing the company’s sales by 9%. Two years later and the advertising world is still in awe about a successful strategy that is conceptually pretty elementary. Why did Aerie’s ad make such a big impact?… It looked different!
Ask your family to think back to the last time they flipped through a magazine, digital or otherwise. Odds are that they were waiting on a ridiculously long line, when all of a sudden… they felt the urge to flip through a magazine in the hopes that the person in front of them would be long gone, by the time they got past the latest news about Kim Kardashian’s boob job. There’s only one “slight” problem. Ask if they remember the ad for L’Oréal’s new makeup product, the one right next to the ad for Victoria Secret’s new spring line… of course they DON’T. Why would they? It looks just like every other ad and they’ve learnt to naturally tune it out. Congratulations, your own family is living proof that advertising campaigns from thousands of companies are wasting millions of dollars in producing advertisements that have absolutely no impact whatsoever.
Professional advertisers know as well as I do that the science of marketing is about strategical placement of ads – in places like cash registers – to grab a potential client’s attention at every opportunity. But how can you rope in a future company patron, in the few seconds that it takes them to get from one page to another, if you don’t give them anything to get excited about? Some would argue that this is precisely why Photoshopping human images is so crucial. It’s the models that represent the brand, the background is just supplementary. Well those people are just wrong!
The genius behind Aerie’s advertising campaign is its refocus on the use of Photoshop as a background and product enhancer rather than a body modification tool, which makes the product more appealing to consumers. After all advertisers are selling products, not human physiques (even though that would be an interesting market to analyze). The ability to redirect the use of Photoshop technology, in this way, shifts consumer focus to the product and creates an overall scenario in which the product becomes more appealing. In this advertising model, it is the human figure that provides the supplementary element (not the other way around).
But what about the “the fantasy of ads”? Anyone who has watched John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing: The Language of Advertising”, knows that “the gap between what the spectator-buyer feels [the product] to be and what he would like it to be is filled with glamorous day dreams”.This concept establishes the foundation and motive of all advertising.
To Berger, Kitch and other proponents of “advertising through fantasy”, I respond that the focus of using Photoshop to enhance backgrounds rather than human images does a better job of providing customers with “ideals” and “day dreams” than the alternative. Don’t believe me? See for yourself! Below, we see a comparison between the swimsuit advertising campaigns of Aerie and Victoria’s Secret. Ultimately, Aerie is more successful in their advertising because of their attention to creating the “ideal” of a fun, warm and enjoyable summer day. The manipulation of the background, in terms of color and reflection, create a perfect color match with the water in the pool and the swimsuit and causes the viewer to focus on the water. This allows the audience to make a clear connection between the cool, refreshing and enjoyable water with the swimwear that they are wearing. Conversely, Victoria’s Secret’s choice to blur the background forces the audience to focus on the model. This focus on the model distracts from the swimsuit itself and more focus is placed on the seemingly uncomfortable position of the model’s hip.
As the advertising world evolves, so too does our use of technology to achieve the ultimate goal of maximizing advertising effectiveness. As we move forward, it is important to consider the lessons that have allowed us to come thus far – such as focusing on creating ideals through advertisements. However, the means by which this core goal can be achieved is ever-changing. In the case of Photoshop, Aerie’s advertising success makes a strong case for redirecting these ideals to enhance overall backgrounds and products rather than human bodies. This is revised advertising model – which places the human figure secondary to the product, is revolutionary and a potentially beneficial option that can be incorporated into existing companies and dominate advertising in emerging companies. The possibilities with this discovery are endless. What other “fantasies” can we create when focusing on background enhancement! Maybe it really is better to be different.