A new study from the University of Warwick has found women are turned off products placed next to ‘blatant’ images of attractive female models, but they are likely to buy the product if the images are used subtly instead.
Previous studies on how using attractive models affects women’s perception of a product have been contradictory, with some finding the effect to be positive, while others have found it to be negative. Researchers led by Dr Tamara Ansons, Assistant Professor at Warwick Business School wanted to find out why this was the case, so they conducted an experiment.
Women were shown magazine pages that contained different advertisements, one of which was for a vodka. Some women received adverts that did not feature an attractive model. Other women received adverts that had a bikini-clad model on the opposite page to a picture of the vodka – meaning they were ‘subtly’ exposed to the idealised female image. A third group of women were shown adverts with an attractive model on a whole page next to the vodka – meaning they were ‘blatantly’ exposed to the idealised female image.
“We found that the way the picture of the perfectly shaped model was used was very important in determining a positive or negative effect on women’s self-perception,” said Dr Ansons.
Researchers found that when consumers are blatantly exposed to idealised images of thin and beautiful women they are more likely to belittle the model or celebrity to restore a positive perception of themselves.
“This can negatively affect the products these models endorse through the transfer of the negative evaluation of the model to the endorsed product,” she said.
“However when subtly exposed to these perfectly shaped models consumers do not engage in defensive coping by disparaging the model. A sub-conscious automatic process of upward social comparison takes place leading to a negative self-perception. But that led to a more positive attitude towards the brand.”
The study in a paper entitled ‘Defensive reactions to slim female images in advertising: The moderating role of mode of exposure’ published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes could have far reaching implications for the marketing industry and how they use models and celebrities to sell their products.