Marketing is responsible for creating body issues among boys, study finds

Brands must focus on “building emotional resilience” among boys, with new research suggesting they are increasingly suffering from body image issues.

Brands must make a bigger contribution to the health and wellbeing of males aged 8-18, with many feeling pressured by advertising to look good, according to new research by the advertising industry’s think tank Credos.

The research, which looked into the body image of young males, saw 53% of secondary school boys reveal advertising puts pressure on them to look good, along with friends, social media and celebrities.

Around a fifth of secondary boys say they have changed their exercise routine after seeing advertising (23%), while 67% of respondents said it was not acceptable for brands or products to use digital techniques to change the bodyshape of a model within their advertising.

“This new research shows boys are increasingly worried about their appearance. We have to recognise that advertising and the wider media play some part in shaping how young people feel about themselves – both positively and negatively,” says Credos director Karen Fraser.

“This work is about encouraging brands to further engage in the debate and make an even greater contribution to the health and well-being of young men.”

Promoting better understanding

It is the latest in a programme of work by the think tank designed to inform and encourage debate around gender representation in UK advertising. Alongside the research, industry-backed media literacy programme Media Smart is launching new resources today (8 August) that use real-life advertising campaigns for Persil, L’Oreal and Aldi to help parents and teachers talk to children about how ads are made, and how they can affect our self-perception.

Created with the support of the Government Equalities Office, the free ‘Get Media Smart: Body Image and Advertising’ pack aims to build emotional resilience in young people.

Matt Barwell, Britvic’s CMO, expects more marketers to get behind the programme. “Whether it’s using the power of our brands to encourage kids to get active, or getting behind Media Smart and supporting these new resources, at Britvic we know we have a role to play in supporting young people’s physical and emotional health and wellbeing,” he says.

“And as a father of three boys, I know that conversations about body image aren’t always easy, so I think parents across the country will really benefit from using these materials as important conversation starters.”

Ultimately, children must be properly educated on how the marketing industry works. Caroline Dinenage, minister for women and equalities, adds: “We live in a world where advertising surrounds us – on billboards, on our TV screens and on our smartphones. Those images can have a big impact on young minds, so it’s important we make sure children understand how the industry works.

“Through these conversations we can help young people to grow up with a positive view of themselves and empower them to take a more critical view of the world around them.”


Learn more about data and utilising insight at the Festival of Marketing, which is running on the 5 and 6 October at Tobacco Dock, London. For more information about the event, including how to book tickets, click here.

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