Roshida Khanom
Roshida Khanom is Director of Beauty & Personal Care Insights, EMEA.

10 years ago, research by Unilever revealed that only 2% of women considered themselves beautiful. In response Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty launched worldwide. The aim? ‘To create a world where beauty is a source of confidence and not anxiety’. In other words to challenge the highly photoshopped, socially accepted perception of beauty, so the remaining 98% of women could begin to enjoy how they looked in themselves.

Back in 2004 it began with a billboard campaign. Dove’s ads featured ordinary women who did not fit the stereotypical images of beauty. The bulletins showed unedited photos of ‘real’ women encouraged by an invitation to vote as to whether she was ‘grey or gorgeous?’, ‘fat or fabulous?’, ‘wrinkled or wonderful?’ and so on, causing viewers to question their initial perceptions of these women. Was it your own view? Or the one society prompted?

Later, in 2006, the Evolution advert was launched; a time lapsed video showing the process of an ordinary woman being made up and photoshopped for a traditional billboard advert followed by the line ‘no wonder our perception of beauty is distorted’. The process, which included enlarging and moving her eyes, lengthening her neck and slimming her face, demonstrated how unrealistic society’s concept of beauty really is.

More recently Dove’s campaign has focused on the internal perception of one’s own beauty, after all, the initial problem was that women weren’t feeling beautiful in themselves. But Mintel’s Body, Hand and Footcare UK 2013 report shows that women still show more concerns over body issues than men. An amazing 62% of women are worried about dry skin, and 42% are worried about excessive weight. Young people are particularly more concerned with certain areas of their body, with 18-24 year old’s showing an above average interest in cosmetic surgery as a result (Attitudes to Cosmetic Surgery 2013). Clearly the battle against low body confidence is far from over.

However, Mintel’s trend The Real Thing reveals that brands need to get real about having a ‘real’ image. In fact consumers are craving products and experiences that come with a stamp of authority and authenticity. Parts of the fashion industry are listening and, as consumers are becoming more selective over what they spend their hard earned cash on, some fashion brands and retailers are looking to engage audiences by using real people and real life stories that people can relate to.

Two high end examples are Marc Jacobs and DKNY. Marc Jacobs has opted to use competition winners selected from their Instagram and Twitter fanbase in the latest adverts for his Autumn 2014 range. The brand’s website will also have behind the scenes videos of the casting and fashion shoot to help consumers get to know these real-people models. Similarly DKNY designer Donna Karan decided to use a host of non-professional models ranging from tattoo artists to biologists in the catwalk show of her Autumn 2014 collection. Her aim was to make a statement by using normal people of all different sizes, shapes, colours and genders.

Using more realistic models is something consumers definitely want. Mintel’s consumer research has shown that a quarter of consumers (24%), rising to 34% of women, want to see more clothing photographed on larger models, and one in eight (11%) women aged 16-24 would like to be able to choose the model’s size and height when shopping online so they can see how it would likely look on them when it arrives. This is particularly important for retailers, as more than four out of five (84%) of online shoppers find it difficult to tell if clothes will fit, and 54% find there are inconsistencies in sizing between retailers.

These ‘real people’ campaigns are also going some way to counter the difficulty that fashion brands are finding in engaging audiences due to the high instance of second screening. Some are choosing to go further and are tying in with Mintel’s Trend Non-Standard Society. This highlights how those outside of the mainstream are getting a greater voice. US department store Barneys is one such brand whose ad featured 17 transgender models with their families.

These ad campaigns stand out. Whether it be to challenge a socially accepted status quo like Dove, or by using even more non-traditional models like Barneys, they are more likely to capture a viewer or users attention. As fashion retailers are needing to be more innovative and unique in connecting with their audience, Mintel predicts that models will become increasingly non-traditional and trends like the selfie movement may be taken advantage of by retailers.

While the number of these real campaigns is certainly growing, Mintel’s Colour Cosmetics UK 2014 report found that 56% of 16-24 year old women still believe that advertised images of colour cosmetics do not represent an achievable look. So there’s still plenty of work to do, and opportunities for this trend to grow, both for brands already committed, as well as others who haven’t yet joined in. So happy 10th birthday to Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign, keep up the good work, and may many more companies join you.