Authentic Brands. Real People. True Connection.
It seems as if this is an easy recipe for business success, but not all organizations seem to "get it" - not yet at least. Consumers of the universe don't want to engage with a brand that gives off a false, inauthentic representation. In a media and digital saturated world, the message brands are conveying to their audience needs to be effective, meaningful and relevant, as it has a major influence on consumer behavior.
Despite which brand it is, the marketing structured behind these ads not only aim to convince us to engage with them and purchase products, but they portray people that represent that brand. Brands that portray people who are happy and have clear skin or are thin, can give off the perception that the end user needs to look or feel this way to buy into this brand. You often see this happening in the fashion, fitness and wellness sector of business, which then creates a misalignment with those models and the audience actually consuming this media. This misrepresentation can lead to disordered thinking, which can be a gateway into other disordered behaviors. Stats prove this to be true.
According to National Eating Disorder Association, the following are statistics on media consumption and it's impact on viewers:
- On a typical day, 8 – 18-year-olds are engaged with some form of media about 7.5 hours.
- Numerous correlational and experimental studies have linked exposure to the thin ideal in mass media to body dissatisfaction, internalization of the thin ideal, and disordered eating among women.
- Of American elementary school girls who read magazines, 69% say that the pictures influence their concept of the ideal body shape. 47% say the pictures make them want to lose weight. (Martin, 2010).
- Pressure from mass media to be muscular also appears to be related to body dissatisfaction among men. This effect may be smaller than among women but it is still significant.
Staggering, but true.
THE WAY IT'S ALWAYS BEEN DONE
It is clear that overtime these brands have established an underlying expectation for those to feel a certain way or look a certain way. The people being utilized have become streamlined in the way that they look – thin, white and female - which is not an accurate representation of the the American woman.
On top casting these types of individuals, photo manipulation plays a role in this, as photos become constructions of reality instead of reflections of reality. Photo editors for these major publications/brands tend to fixate on manipulating the skin and body. These images can often make those looking at them question, “Why don’t I have that type of skin or body?” “What can I do to achieve that?” These questions can start to consume someone’s mind and the obsession over these unanswered questions can aid in developing an eating disorder.
In addition to all of this, the rise of social media has shaped the way brands interact with their audience. The online world has become flooded with promotions from all types of brands, a lot of which you see from the fitness and health and wellness sector. Whether it's the brand itself, or an influencer speaking on their behalf, there seems to be this idea that we must change the way we look to fit into the societal standard. Instead of social media acting as a promo-centric space, these platforms can be utilized in a more positive manner by those brands and influencers.
BRIDGING THE GAP & FINDING A NEW VOICE
I think that the solution to this situation is twofold - between the brands and the audience. For brands, there needs to be a shift of conversation on their messaging and how they cast those to represent the brand. To combat this major issue, brands need to redefine how they represent people specifically women, in their advertising. Brands like Dove and Aerie are starting to revolutionize the industry by showcasing real women by not retouching photos and embracing the reality of men and women unconditionally.
On the other end of the spectrum, when the audience sees these types of ads that do still exist, they have to ask themselves how realistic the images are and how/if they relate to them. We have to remember that these portraits are constructions and not reflections of true people.
As someone who had an eating disorder and is in marketing, I have a strong focus on helping change the way brands structure the conversation with their audience. I think that although we are in the digital age, brands and users can utilize these platforms to spread positive messaging and create an inclusive community. I think some eating disorder survivors/body positive influencers have done a great job to light the match and spark a fire in shifting the conversation. Instagram influencers like Kelly U, _____halle__, nourishandeat, and Lexie Manion truly represent real women that have/had real struggles.
Like I said before, the formula is simple:
Authentic brands, real people, true connection.