The Nemcova Bikini Effect

31 07 2008

If you’re a woman, new research says the picture at right will make you feel worse about yourself.

But it may also make you love my blog.

An Ad Age article cites a study by business professors at Villanova University and the College of New Jersey, inspired by Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty,” shows that ads featuring thin models made women feel worse about themselves but better about the brands featured.

I’ve decided to call this phenomenon “The Nemcova Bikini Effect”, after the noted Czech market research executive/swimsuit model Petra Nemcova.

On a simplistic level, it’s easy to say that marketers are harnessing self-loathing as a way to drive sales.

I think a more nuanced answer is that it’s in our DNA to seek status and advantage as a means to survival.

Good looks are a ~$160 billion a year global industry, encompassing make up, skin and hair care, fragrances, cosmetic surgery, health club and diet pills. We want brands that promise to make us look better than we actually do. Some good facts can be found here. (I love linking to a guy whose blog proudly says “Born in Nepal”. The world really is shrinking, and in a good way.)

Some highlights of the study:

  • Women in a sample of 194 college students aged 18-24 expressed more negative feelings about their sexual attractiveness, weight and physical condition after seeing thin models than before.
  • Despite the negative effect on their body image, women preferred ads showing thin models and said they were more likely to buy products featured in those ads than in ones showing “regular-size models.
  • “The really interesting result we’re seeing across multiple studies is that these thin models make women feel bad, but they like it,” said Jeremy Kees, a business professor at Villanova.

Unilever’s Campaign For Real Beauty continues. But, you have to wonder: when the campaign runs out of steam, will they turn to the Nemcova Bikini Effect to turn the business back around?

What would you do?

Dove’s Campaign For Real Benjamins

7 07 2008

Social media reminds me of a Freshman-year high school mixer.

Imagine eager brands on one side of the room, mostly staring at the floor but occasionally casting furtive glances across the dance floor. On the other side, blushing consumers glance back. And then…

OMG! My brand sparked a conversation! Now what do I do?!?

What happens when a bold brand actually gets up the nerve to ask a consumer to dance, and the consumer says “yes”? Now they’re both stuck in the middle of the dance floor, with two questions:

  • “What, exactly, are we supposed to do now?
  • More importantly, where is it OK — or not OK — to put our hands?”

According to today’s New York Times, Dove’s Campaign For Real Beauty is “faltering because consumers do not connect its products to the cause.” Uh-oh. So last week, Dove launched a TV commercial that boils down to “buy our soap, and we’ll support the Dove Self-Esteem Fund”.

What happens to the quality of the conversation as Dove shifts from the moral high ground to someplace a whole lot closer to the cash register? Will things get awkward on the way?

Can the brand quietly end the conversation and look for one that pays better? Or will people who were enjoying that conversation feel rejected — and be vocal about it?

Unilever is a smart company, and very skilled at cause-related marketing. Still, this is a very high-profile campaign on a sensitive subject.

What do you think of what Dove is doing? What would you do differently, if you were in their shoes (or soap dish)?

Let me know if you predict success, or trouble ahead.