Thought Bubble: Body image

June 23, 2016
6 min read

Following the election promise from London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, advertising that promotes a negative body image will be banned across London’s transportation network beginning July 2016. Here, Mintel’s expert trends analysts discuss how body image affects consumers differently in the US, UK and across Asia Pacific, as well as how brands are adopting more realistic representations in their campaigns.

CC (1)Catherine Cottney, Trends Manager Europe

According to an article on the BBC, Khan promised to ban adverts that promoted unrealistic or unhealthy body images as part of his manifesto. This announcement follows the furore surrounding Protein World’s “beach body ready” campaign in 2015 when 378 complaints were made about this to the advertising watchdog. Khan has asked Transport for London to set up an advertising steering group to ensure that ads on public transport and in tube stations adhere to regulations set out by the Advertising Standards Agency.

Consumers are clamouring for more realistic representations when it comes to advertising imagery. According to Mintel’s report Marketing to Men UK 2016, a quarter of men say they find it hard to identify with men that are shown in adverts.

Some brands have noted this demand and have sought to show a wider variety of ethnicities and body sizes as well as embracing, rather than covering up, perceived flaws. Designer David Hart chose all Black models in his New York Fashion Week 2016 show; Deodorant brand Right Guard launched a campaign designed to appeal to the average man, and Swedish retailer & Other Stories announced a lingerie campaign that will feature “real” models with body hair, freckles, scars and tattoos.

Sadiq Khan’s announcement reflects this shift, while the scale of this endeavour shows just how big of an issue it has become. Cracking down on advertising that promotes a negative body image will appeal to consumers looking for healthier portrayals in the media.

Increasingly empowered consumers have no qualms with voicing their disapproval when brands fall short of their expectations so we’re set to see the approach heralded by Khan become more common across a range of sectors. Embracing this sooner rather than later will stand brands in good stead with consumers who are coming to expect the diversity in advertising to reflect the diversity they see around them on a daily basis.

DWDelon Wang, Trends Manager Asia Pacific

With regards to consumers from the Asia Pacific market, the advocacy for liberal views has taken root of late, fighting against stereotypes, prejudices and societal divisions. For instance, black and white posters of children with LGBT parents were recently featured on the streets of Sydney. The Japan Tourism Agency has also urged spa operators to relax their traditional no-tattoo policies. Younger generations of consumers are shifting away from traditional mind sets of the older generation due to the proliferation of Western content and available access to ideas propagated on social networks. However, the issue of bodyweight and the promulgation of leaner bodies are accentuated by the popularity of social sharing and camera technology, placing a greater emphasis on individual physical appearances.

In countries such as China and South Korea, a widespread phenomenon of women being overly-concerned about their weight has led to an increase in eating disorders and image-depression. One of the recent crazes to hit social media in China was the #A4 challenge, where women compared the size of their waists to the width of an A4 sheet of paper. This led to a backlash by critics as it may promote eating disorders and body shaming.

In other markets such as Japan and Australia, the calls for freedom of individuality and freedom to non-conformity have led to marked changes in marketing and advertisements. For instance, La Farfa, the first plus-sized magazine in Japan was launched in 2014, aiming to make a change in consumers’ attitudes towards size. In Australia, Target’s recent summer campaign has received optimistic response for featuring models of various sizes.

As consumers in Asia Pacific become more liberal in thought, the eye of the public will soon turn to focus on weight discrimination and speak out to brands that are guilty of ingraining such ideals. Instead of waiting for discontentment and controversial issues to lash out at brands, new marketing campaigns and product launches should focus on embracing individuality and promote letting consumers feel comfortable in their own skin.

SG (1)Stacy Glasgow, Consumer Trends Consultant

In North America, Mintel’s 2016 Consumer Trend Pride and Persona predicted a tipping point where people would come to expect – not just appreciate – brands who recognize and reflect our increasingly diverse society. That prediction has come to fruition in a big way, and the shift has been accompanied by a move toward realness in advertising. Consumers want to see their world portrayed in branded communications – and not some false, unrealistic depiction of it.

Khan’s legislation across the pond is certainly reflective of this trend, and on this side of the Atlantic we’re seeing a wide array of businesses themselves embrace a healthier approach, eschewing communications that might be deemed inappropriate and instead incorporating a more relatable set of body types. That’s a wise move, as Mintel’s report Healthy Lifestyles US 2015 found that more than half of consumers say society is becoming more accepting of different body types.

In particular, we’ve witnessed bold action from US retailers. Last fall, Lane Bryant’s Plus is Equal campaign, which aimed to show plus-sized women in high fashion and promote a future where labels don’t exist, generated a substantial amount of buzz. Over the winter, David’s Bridal announced it wanted to more accurately reflect its consumer base as it launched an ad campaign featuring a size 14 model. More recently, Forever 21 launched an Instagram account for its line of plus-sized activewear.

Brands in all categories should continue to follow Khan’s lead. By depicting people that come in all shapes and sizes, marketing messages can make consumers feel good not just about themselves – but in turn, about the brand, too.

Catherine Cottney is the Trends Manager, Europe at Mintel. She works at the forefront of detecting trends, innovations and consumer behaviour from across the globe and manages a team of contributors in the Asia-Pacific region.

Delon Wang is the Trends Manager, Asia Pacific at Mintel. He oversees Trends content and Trends client servicing for the region.

Stacy Glasgow is a Consumer Trends Consultant at Mintel. Bringing together an exciting blend of CPG, agency and marketing experience, her time is spent traveling the US engaging clients across global CPG, Beauty and Financial Services in meaningful discussions around the consumer trends that will propel their businesses forward.

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