Magazine article Marketing

A Healthier Dose of Realism

Magazine article Marketing

A Healthier Dose of Realism

Article excerpt

Questions are being raised about marketers' slow response to the airbrushing issue.

When the equalities minister, Lynne Featherstone, extolled the virtues of Mad Men actress Christina Hendricks as the antidote to the army of digitally enhanced, stick-thin models, critics argued she was simply replacing one unrealistic and damaging stereotype of women with another.

However, Featherstone's comments succeeded in placing the issue of airbrushing in advertising high on the news agenda once again Meanwhile, reports on the subject from the Girl Guides and the growing momentum of the Campaign for Body Confidence, spearheaded by Featherstone's fellow Lib Dem MP, Jo Swinson, suggest this debate will not disappear soon.

Debenhams is one company that has taken the issue seriously; last week the retailer issued detailed guidance to its advertising agencies expressly forbidding them from airbrushing models to make them thinner or change their skin pigmentation. Campaigners see the department-store chain's stand as evidence of a 'tipping point' in the debate.

Swinson tells Marketing that she will shortly be presenting the ASA with a portfolio of scientific evidence to back calls for a voluntary code of conduct on airbrushing.

She points to the fact that the ASA's code states that ads must be socially responsible, adding: 'When there is a great deal of evidence showing that idealised media images contribute to body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem and even eating disorders, I believe that it is socially irresponsible to promote these unrealistic images without making it clear that they are not real.'

Slow progress

Marketers would be forgiven for thinking that this is already old news and, in many ways, the airbrushing phenomenon is nothing new. Indeed, Geoffrey Russell, director of media affairs at the IPA, points to Hans Holbein's famous and, some would argue, exceptionally flattering, portrait of Anne of Cleves from the 1530s as an early example of the art.

Nonetheless, campaigners argue the length of this discussion reflects badly on the advertising industry, which has simply gone round in circles on the issue. It is notable that it is a brand, rather than an industry body or regulator, that seems to have taken the lead on this issue. So is the advertising industry dragging its heels?

Not so, says the Advertising Association, which notes that, while airbrushing has risen up the agenda in recent months, 'there remains little evidence in the debate'. However, the body is also keen to emphasise that it will continue to monitor what is said and 'work to review more recent developments. …

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