Recently, it was Betabrand, an online retailer of crowdsourced clothing based in San Francisco, that got a lot of buzz for the campaign it launched for its latest collection. Rather than using models, the company outfitted PhDs with the new clothes.
“Our designers cooked up a collection of smart fashions for spring, so why not display them on the bodies of women with really big brains?” founder Chris Lindland told AdWeek. Sigh… sure, why not.
This isn’t the first time the brand has done this sort of thing, so the company and its founder are committed to the idea. And we’re in favor of brands using images that reflect and celebrate all the wonderful and beautiful things that women are. But what started as a cool way to showcase a product and the women who would be using it has turned into the bland and somewhat offensive thing that Lindland describes in that quote.
The Dove “Real Beauty” campaign started it all. While the issues with the campaign, its many iterations and with Unilever in general have been noted, there’s also no denying the positive message and exuberant charm of the program during its early years. (It’s been around for a decade!)
As time goes on and an idea gets reused in different campaigns, it runs the risk of being diluted. Hey, it worked before, so why not try it again? We’ve reached a point where brands are starting to feel comfortable enlisting women, putting them in an ad and then crowing about how much they love women, real women, exceptional women, etc. In the case above, the quote implies it’s not really about the women at all. The brand simply thought it was being clever by putting “smart” clothes on “smart” women.
Ultimately, while putting real women in ads has become more of the norm, there’s still the idea that a “real model” is a thin woman who ticks off the traditional model boxes. You don’t want to see unhealthy models (or women being unhealthy trying to reach some unattainable standard). But if models work best for your campaign, go for it. Really, that’s fine. As Hello Beautiful notes about the BeatBrand campaign, the PhDs in the images look “modelesque” anyway.
There are still issues with beauty that we as a culture need to work on, which makes the “real women” idea a powerful one. But it has to be executed properly, with enthusiasm and sincerity, in order to make a statement that will turn that tide.