Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty”—which proudly features “real” women of different shapes and sizes—has attracted international attention and scored several major advertising awards to boot. But it turns out it may not sell much product. A new study has concluded that traditional ads featuring rail-thin models had it right all along: yes, they make women feel worse about themselves, but such ads are still more likely to convince women to buy.
In the study, 194 college-age women viewed ads for products ranging from handbags to financial services. After seeing materials showing thin models, subjects were more critical of their own attractiveness, weight and appearance, says co-author Karen Becker-Olsen, assistant professor of marketing at the College of New Jersey. They were also about four times more likely to turn down a pack of Oreos offered as a thanks for participating.
But the report, due out in October, found that “even though these women felt worse about themselves, they were more likely to buy the brand,” Becker-Olsen says. This held true even when the product was chocolate. Why? Advertising is aspirational, she says, and an ad featuring a stunning model “sells the hope of being better.”
So have Dove’s curvy models hurt its bottom line? The company doesn’t think so. “We’ve achieved healthy growth since the campaign was launched in 2004,” says Dove Canada’s Alison Leung. She adds that Dove has the No. 1 body wash and bar in the country, and won’t be abandoning its “real women” positioning any time soon.
Yet Becker-Olsen is skeptical. Based on her research, “I’m not sure you’d get long-term brand impact with a heavier model,” she says. If she were marketing a product to young women, she’d choose a thin model instead. M
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