Body image is an important factor for marketers to consider when promoting their products. It is interesting to see what attitudes consumers have towards models in adverts. Nowadays, many consumers believe that a slim body shape is more attractive, that is why slim models are used more and more in advertising. Nevertheless, there has also been a tendency to use models of more realistic size, as seen in Dove ads. Consumers are ubiquitously bombarded with messages about physical attractiveness and beauty in advertisements.
For example, watches, which are luxury products, rely on aspirational attributes. It would thus be interesting to look at how the size of an advertising model affects the attractiveness of the watch. Therefore, the key motive for an advertiser or marketer is making the watch look more attractive to the consumer. The purpose of the present experiment is to examine both women’s and men’s attitudes towards the use of different size models in luxury advertisements. This study incorporated both underweight and overweight models in order to explore the effects the two body types have on male and female attitudes towards the models. It also examined the subsequent purchasing decisions concerning the watches advertised. Of particular interest to us was whether the attitudes towards different size models changed according to gender and culture, as people from Europe and Asia might likely have different views on beauty.
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It is vital for marketers to understand the consumer perceptions of models in advertising in order to improve communication in their target market and increase sales. From the experiment, we predict that the respondents exposed to the underweight model would be more attracted to the watch. This is because beholding the slim model may propel such people to achieve a slimmer body as opposed to the respondents who were shown the overweight model. Yet why is it that an overweight model cannot sell a product as well as an underweight model? How do consumers react to heavier models? By using the plus-size models, we assume that consumers will feel less pressure from society to be slim since they will view themselves rather fit compared to the overweight model in the advertisement.
Therefore, our research question is: Does the body size of the model influence the purchase of the product?
Consumer Behaviour Analysis
Boyd and Westfall have defined experimentation as “…that research process in which one or more variables are manipulated under conditions which permit the collection of data which show the effects, if any, in unconfused fashion.”
The variable we have decided to manipulate is the body shape of a woman from a watch advertisement. Therefore, the body shape of the woman is the independent variable. With the help of Adobe Photoshop, we were able to modify the picture of an average-sized woman from a Rolex advertisement. We produced two pictures: one in which the model was heavier than in the original picture and the other in which the same model was much slimmer. Therefore, we created two advertisements featuring both an overweight and an underweight model. In addition, we have hidden the brand of the watch in order to avoid bias.
We were able to control which pictures our classmates would be exposed to as they were divided into two random groups, depending on their date of birth. The first group, born on an odd day (26 students), were exposed to the picture featuring the slim model. On the other hand, students born on an even day (40 students) were shown the picture of the plus-size model. They were then asked to fill out a questionnaire of 15 questions on their appeal to the watch and the model, as well as the reasons behind this appeal.
The dependent variable in our experiment is the attractiveness of the watch. In parallel with our hypothesis, we expected the attractiveness and possible purchase of the product to be influenced by the body size of the model advertising it. Put more generally, we sought to find if there was a causal relationship between the body size of a model and the product purchasing decision.
In the group exposed to the advertisement featuring the slim model, the majority owned a watch and wore it daily. The majority of the group was female, about half was Asian and another half was European. Body size was important to approximately 90% of respondents.
Concerning the attractiveness of the watch, it is interesting to note that about half of the students were prepared to pay between £100 and £1000 for the watch. Only three pupils said they would not pay anything for it, and the highest bidder was ready to spend £13,000 on the item! A small majority of our classmates found the watch attractive or very attractive, whereas approximately one third remained neutral. If money was no issue, only 27% would buy the watch, because either they were male, they were happy with their present watch, or they did not like the design.
Regarding the attractiveness of the model, the majority of the respondents believed that she was very attractive or attractive. If the model was to advertise for a product category, 81% of the respondents claimed it would be for clothes or accessories. Thereby, they cited Zara or Gap as examples. Only 15% of the respondents thought a change of the model would make it a better advert and only 27% believed the advertisement was persuasive.
The second group, who saw the advert featuring a plus-size model, was composed of 72% females, with 62% of the respondents being Asian and the rest mainly European. More than three-quarters of the total found body size important, very important, or extremely important.
More than half of the respondents were prepared to pay more than £100 for the watch. In addition, the students were divided in their opinion on the attractiveness of the watch.
Almost 75% of the group found the model unattractive, very unattractive, or extremely unattractive. However, when asked why they would buy the watch, 10% said it would be for the beautiful model in the advert!
Overall, only 21% of respondents found the advertisement persuasive and 31% would actually purchase the product. Only a few people claimed that “the ad was disgusting” and that they “didn’t like the model” as reasons why they would not buy the watch. Not surprisingly, a large number of students believed the model would be adequate for a food or snack campaign, XXL clothes, or a weight-reducing supplement.
In light of these data, it would be worth comparing both questionnaires in order to draw some interesting marketing conclusions.
First, it seems like people exposed to the advertisement featuring the slim model were willing to pay more money (£1525) than those exposed to the plus-size model (£1230). In addition, respondents generally found the watch more attractive when the model was slim (38%) than when she was plus-size (18%). Overall, 13% of respondents exposed to the plus-size model found the watch “extremely unattractive”, compared to 0% for those exposed to the slim model. Besides, more people from the group exposed to the slim model thought that the watch was “nice” and therefore that would be their primary motive for buying it (73% vs. 59% exposed to the plus-size model). Finally, 66% of the respondents linked to the picture featuring the slim model would buy the watch if money was no issue, compared to the 75% threshold for the plus-size model. These results did not seem to fit with the previous observations.
A larger proportion of the class who saw the advertisement with the slim model had a neutral opinion when it comes to the attractiveness of the model (38%). This implies that people do not necessarily associate “thin” with “beautiful”. However, it is clear that the overweight model is not considered attractive (75% against 12% for the slim model).
According to our study, majority of people found that the advertisement featuring the slim model was more persuasive than the one with the plus-size model. Yet, somehow, a larger proportion of the respondents preferred to buy a watch that was advertised by the plus-size model, which appears quite controversial. More than half of our experiment participants preferred to buy the product because of the product itself not because of the advertising, but the rest of the group did take the advertising and the model into consideration, which means that the model’s body size had only a slight effect on consumer buying behaviour. However, in order to create the most effective commercial or advertisement, the marketer like us must take into account every aspect that will maximize sales and enhance a brand image.
As shown by our findings, the price of the watch advertised on the slimmer model appears to be higher, with the average being 1513 GBP, which is ______ per cent more expensive than the one advertised by the plus-size model. In relation to this experiment, we would highly recommend that all marketers should be very selective with the model. They will have to choose the right body size to represent the product or service so as to make it appear more expensive. That is the reason why many brands use skinny models to endorse their products, as slimmer model represent beauty, class, and sex appeal.
On the other hand, as we look at the plus-size model experiment results in detail, 20% of respondents who considered themselves slightly overweight thought that the model was extremely attractive. The reason for that might be that they projected themselves upon the model. Using a plus-size model tends to capture more attention from overweight people. If we use such a model to advertise the product related to the right target, we can highly benefit from such marketing. However, the plus-size model should not be used to represent the product targeted at the mass market. Since the majority of people still believe that the plus-size model can degrade the imagery and is associated with negative impressions such as cheap taste, lacking self-discipline and willpower, it might not be broadly accepted throughout the whole society. Using a plus-size model is also laden with issues of discrimination, exploitation, and controversy; therefore, the marketer has to be very careful with it. For example, a Lane Bryant Lingerie ad commercial featuring a plus-size model, Ashley Graham, was once refused airtime by ABC. The TV company said that the commercial was too sexy to be aired during family hour. However, the question is why will the channel not do the same thing with the Victoria Secret ads, whose models wear almost nothing and are on TV throughout the day?
As indicated by many experiment participants, the plus-size model should be associated with a fast food brand or a weight-reducing product, as such a model can potentially motivate customers of the similar category.
One of the most successful ads featuring an overweight person in a respectful manner is “Find your Greatness” by Nike, where a 12-year-old boy Nathan is running down the road and looking exhausted, while the narrator is speaking to the audience that “Greatness is just something we made up, somehow we came to believe that greatness is a gift reserved for a chosen few, for prodigies, for superstars and the rest of us can only stand by watching. You can forget that, greatness is not some rare DNA stand, it’s not some precious thing, greatness is not more unique to us than breathing. We are all capable of it, all of us.”. With more than 1,370,000 views on YouTube, this ad has received a lot of positive feedback and comments. Many said that the ad was so memorable, touching, admirable, and truly inspiring that it made them cry. Such ads encourage people to exercise and to be great regardless of their body size.
Typically, men like slim models more than women (Fig. 3). Therefore, marketers can make use of this preference to target male audience. To illustrate this principle, we could produce a lingerie advertising using a very slim model and target men’s audience, thus provoking their desire to buy the product advertised for their girlfriends or wives as a gift. Additionally, controlling for ethnicity, the present experiment proves that Europeans, in contrast to Asians, prefer slim models, which means that the marketer can utilize a slim model to represent a product in the European market. Meanwhile, using a heavier model would be more appropriate for the Asian market. The effective ads should therefore be customized to match the demographic preferences of consumers.
Experiment Limitations and Future Research Ideas
While this experiment offers good insights into how body shapes affect consumer purchasing decisions, several limitations should be taken into account when using the resulting data. To begin with, the experiment was conducted in one auditorium with 67 participants socializing with each other. This decreased the isolation of participants from external influence and instead encouraged them to share opinions or ask questions of one another. This ‘group’ nature of the setting weakened the participants’ commitment to replying accurately, especially after the rather unusual ad focusing on the larger body shape caused some laugher among the participants. Moreover, the fact that the experiment was presented to the group after a series of other experiments, some of which required greater levels of effort, most likely the physical and mental fatigue also had its toll on participants.
The two advertisements that were shown during this experiment also presented a pink watch with crystals, to which male participants would not necessarily have connected. Thus, when asked ‘would you buy this watch’, it is naturally that most males responded no, regardless of the watch price or the body shape of the model. Thus, a unisex watch would have elicited results that are more accurate. More importantly, the greatest area to improve on for future work is the choice of product category altogether. To start with, results showed that 26.5% of participants did not own a watch. This makes the experiment and questions such as ‘would you buy this’ completely irrelevant. The fact that this experiment was also conducted on a group of students also weakens the credibility of the results, as the purchase of luxury watches may not necessarily be a priority at this stage in their lives. Moreover, such watches are generally categorised as high involvement products which require greater cognitive processing when reaching a decision. The influential factors of such purchases expand beyond the attractiveness of the model. Insofar as consumers evaluate the functionality of the product, the significance the product depends on their social contexts, the values and lifestyles they wish to portray, the price-value ratio of the product, and so forth. While the experiment focused on the relation between body shape and purchase decision, it failed to isolate these influential factors. Thus, future experiments focusing on whether body shape influences purchasing behaviour should use a product that categorises as a low involvement good. Such goods require lesser cognitive decision making processes and often occur via impulse (i.e., cheap watches, drinks, food, cheap jewellery, etc.). Simply replacing the pink watch with such a low involvement product would have decreased the number of external factors that influenced purchase decisions and therefore would have presented greater accuracy in evaluating the hypothesis.
On a last note, as this experiment was conducted with participants from varying nationalities across Europe, Middle East, and Asia, their perceptions of beauty might differ. A further extension to this experiment could be to introduce a cultural dimension by including models from different ethnicities and body shapes displaying the same product. In such a way, it would be possible to denote whether there is a correlation between the participant’s nationality, their perception of beauty, and the model’s origin and body size.