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Is Thinspiration Marketing Effective When Selling to Women?

Posted by Gillian Shimizu on Thu, Dec 27,2012 @ 06:29 PM

Last week, we posted a video in our Bounce Bits segment with examples of advertising in 2012 that continues to objectify women in order to sell product. For this week's post, I wanted to use this same video as an opportunity to focus on another issue: unrealistically thin models in advertising. As I viewed the MissRepresentation video, it became glaringly apparent to me that every model used in these feature ads was a size 2 or…less?! As I watched the brand names in the video flash across my screen, I couldn’t help but notice that the majority of the featured brands are marketed to women: Hello Kitty, Dolce & Gabbana, Victoria's Secret and Barbie. Then it struck me: why do these brands exclusively use models of one (excessively thin) body-type to attract and engage their female audience?

Contrary to the female images we see in media and advertising, the majority of women are NOT a size 2 or less, and using these models for ‘thinspiration’, does NOT entice or inspire women to buy. It actually has the opposite effect. Women prefer to buy products when models convey a realistic image – one they can connect with, not aspire to become. The pervasive practice of using waif-like models in advertising is a prime example of 'marketing that doesn't reflect its market'. If companies sell their brands in sizes 2-16 and their target audience ranges in age from 18-45, then they would do well to use models that reflect the women for whom their products were intended.

Dr. Ben Barry, assistant professor at Ryerson University's School of Fashion in Toronto, a modeling agent and women’s health advocate, recently conducted a study about body shape & age diversity in modelling and its effect on women's purchase decisions. Here are a few of his key findings:

  • The average woman in North America is a size 14.
  • Women who saw models in advertising that didn’t reflect their size, decreased their purchasing intentions by 60%, and women over size 6 dropped their purchasing intentions by 76%.
  • Female consumers increased their purchase intentions by over 175% when they saw models who reflected their age; in particular, women over the age of 35 increased their purchase intentions by 200% when they saw older models.       

thinspiration marketing

Dove's hugely successful Real Beauty campaign featured real women and a diversity of body types.

At Bounce Ideas, when it comes to marketing to women, we stress that brands need to stop pushing and start attracting. Stop pushing misguided thinspiration beliefs that reflect only the marketers values and ideals and start attracting women consumers with content, images and ideals that women can actually relate to. 

What brands or companies do you think ‘do it best’ when it comes to marketing to women and showcasing diversity (ethnically, body shape or age wise)?


To learn more information about Dr. Barry's study on how model diversity can improve a fashion brands bottom-line and how the Westernized beauty ideal perpetuated by fashion brands effects women's purchase intentions, check out this video.

Tags: Marketing to women, female-friendly

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