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Appealing or Appalling? Images of Women in Advertising


The latest answer to this question is: apparently not. A new online survey, whose results were revealed this week, provides evidence that women have a preference for images that reflect reality, rather than those that appear unnatural, unbelievable or unattainable.

Frank about women, a strategic consultancy aimed at helping worldwide companies to harness the loyalty and purchasing power of women, undertook the survey titled, “Appealing or Appalling: Images of Women in Advertising”, the results of which will certainly give the advertising creatives something to chew over.

The survey offers a rather blunt perspective on how women really view modern images in advertising. Most importantly, the results demonstrate that women are actually consciously avoiding altogether brands that unrealistically portray images of women in their advertising.

“Based on our survey results, women are tired of being bombarded with advertisements that use unrealistic images to portray their gender,” said Carrie McCament, managing director of frank bout women.

“Unlike many of the images we see today, a woman’s life cannot be airbrushed. Overwhelmingly, women are willing to make purchasing decisions based on the images used in advertising. Ads portraying women who have digitally perfected physiques or who lead seemingly carefree lives are not resonating with many female consumers. Our study found that companies whose advertising portrays the depth and variety of women’s lives in a realistic way, meaning images of women actually doing jobs and chores versus posed pictures of women who may or may not be participating in the activity, will be rewarded.”

Several surveys have suggested that women want to see a part of themselves in advertising images. But now it can also be proven that women are consciously avoiding brands that unrealistically glamorise women or portray their lives in an idealized way, which should be vital information for the business of advertising. Women clearly reward marketers who understand how to portray women in a frank, rather than romanticised way. The result showed how, overwhelmingly, advertisers who present diverse, reality-based images that reflect professionalism and ageing got the most positive responses.

Survey participants noted not only that motherhood is multidimensional, but also that the definition of family is fundamentally changing. “Women in our study want to see a variety of mums to reflect this shift in thinking,” said McCament. “Advertisers should portray images of single mums, mums with older children, lesbians, working and pregnant mums. They must also avoid the stereotypical images of mothers holding children. Instead, show active mothers highly involved in real-life, un-glamorised activities and settings.”

An important finding was also the physical disconnection between the women who are usually portrayed in ads and the average woman in terms of size. The new average body that respondents want to see in advertising is a larger woman. “We heard that women have learned to determine for themselves what is healthy for their own body types,” states McCament. “Often, this means being heavier than the typical models used in ads. They long to see advertisers come to a new understanding of this, especially in fashion marketing.”

Frank about women uses research-based techniques to help companies build enduring relationships between brands and women. It has developed and executed women-directed initiatives for a wide range of corporations and organizations, including TJ Maxx, Oxygen, Eddie Bauer, Stop & Shop and General Motors.

For more information visit www.frankaboutwomen.com.

By Caroline Salomonsson

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