When life isn’t a beauty contest

Every Thursday night for the last couple of months I have been conducting cultural anthropology research. The average person (and my wife) may call this research 'watching Temptation Island' but, beyond the washboard abs, taut buttocks and the vacuous eye candy, there is a really interesting phenomenon taking place.

Every Thursday night for the last couple of months I have been conducting cultural anthropology research. The average person (and my wife) may call this research ‘watching Temptation Island’ but, beyond the washboard abs, taut buttocks and the vacuous eye candy, there is a really interesting phenomenon taking place.

At the conclusion of each episode, beautiful specimens from the deep end of the gene pool line up like livestock at the abattoir and are sent packing. It’s quite interesting to watch the facial expressions of the deposed as I’m sure this is the first major rejection many of these people have ever faced. They may have faced disappointments at work, family or in athletics but I imagine rarely, if ever, on the sole basis of their appearance and personality.

Other than the fact that they are baring their souls on a deliciously cheesy show, these rejected suitors shouldn’t feel badly. On an island filled with nothing but beautiful people, physical beauty becomes homogenous.

As I flipped through a magazine during a commercial break, I couldn’t help but notice that this homogenous beauty is what makes most fashion advertising a complete waste of money.

I couldn’t help but notice because 32 of the 35 fashion ads in my magazine (92%) featured only a photograph of an attractive model and a logo. Thinking it might be an anomaly, I checked three other popular magazines and came back with the same nine out of 10 ratio.

As I sit here on the couch pondering just how buried my washboard is, it has got me wondering when we are going to see the likes of an Absolut vodka campaign in the fashion advertising genre.

It boggles my mind that such a creatively driven industry (haute couture, anyone?) could be so bland when it comes to advertising. Oh there have been recent innovators like Diesel, Kenneth Cole and, to a much lesser extent, Old Navy but, for the most part it’s just straight-ahead, missionary-style, paint-by-number product/lifestyle advertising in the fashion category.

I have no doubt that this approach is supported by scads of research and hours of focus group footage heavy with ad savvy consumers pleading for an honest ‘show me the product’ approach. Indeed, I have seen consumers on the shop floor first-hand, clutching ads and looking for the exact featured purse or shoe. To a certain extent (and to paraphrase The Bridges of Madison County), the consumer ‘wants what it wants.’

However, we must not forget that in this fragmented media age (particularly in a crowded magazine environment), there is a tremendous need for advertising to cut through.

I am sure that consumers will tell you that a good fashion ad will have an attractive model wearing the product, just as they told me a good liquor ad should show a bottle and glass when I worked on spirit advertising a decade ago.

A consumer will also tell you that ‘value’ is a relevant and persuasive advertising message. What consumers and marketers forget, however, is the ubiquity factor. Pictures of beautiful models and words like ‘value’ and ‘quality’ are like an elastic band: they have been used so much that they no longer grab.

I do not understand why fashion advertisers believe that their beautiful photograph is unique on the glossy pages of my magazine. After all, they aren’t advertising in a phone book – they are placing ads in the print equivalent of Temptation Island (where everyone is a 10+ and the orthodontists go hungry). Sure, there have been controversial campaigns by Calvin Klein and Benetton in recent years that have managed to cut, but they miss the point. They are like the class clown who gets attention with belches but has nothing interesting to say.

It’s time for fashion advertisers to take their ad design as seriously as they do their fashion design. (This may mean bringing in outside or agency expertise as many fashion marketers are handling advertising in-house.) It’s time for fashion advertising to have a point of view other than ‘Don’t I look great in this outfit?’ In short, it’s time for the fashion industry to stop air-kissing and plant one on our lips. Because, as every Temptation Island hottie knows, you can shake your cute rear end all you want but personality ultimately decides who wins and who loses.

Jeff Spriet, is the founder and president of Wiretap, a Toronto-based guerrilla branding company. When he’s not watching Blind Date for strictly ‘research’ purposes, he can be reached at 416-535-9038 or by e-mail at jeff@wiretap.ca.