Airbrushing damages consumer trust in brands

Boots and Procter & Gamble have lent their support to a report that finds brands using heavily airbrushed images in advertising risk alienating female consumers.

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The report by the Advertising Association and its research unit Credos, says the majority of women (76%) prefer to see natural images, while 84% think it’s unacceptable for brands to alter the way women look in advertising images.

Almost half (48%) of young women are less trusting of brands that use airbrushing to change the way women look in ads, the report finds.

Its publication comes as brands come under increasing political and regulatory scrutiny over the use of doctored images.

Equalities minister Lynne Featherstone and fellow Liberal MP Jo Swinson have previously called for all airbrushed images to carry a kitemark or health warning to highlight that the image has been altered.

The Advertising Standards Authority has also been quick to ban airbrushed ads. L’Oreal was rapped earlier for using heavily airbrushed or altered images.

Karen Fraser, author of the report and director at Credos says: “The report tells us a lot about the images that women want to see and shows that beauty is good, but faking it is not. There is a trend away from over stylised advertising images – just because we can do it [airbrushing] it doesn’t mean that we should and we’re seeing the pendulum swing back towards natural photos.”

“Awareness isn’t the problem; it’s the unbridled use of airbrushing to create unrealistic images. Advertisers need to be aware of young women’s preferences and considerate when creating campaigns,” she says.

The report is supported by brands such as Boots which says it will continue to use “restraint” when airbrushing and Procter & Gamble which says it will “implement” the knowledge from the Pretty as a Picture report into its marketing and agency teams.

The report also suggests that the industry should get more involved with education initiatives such as the Succeed Body Image programme that has been trialled in schools in the US and Bristol and Media Smart to boost self esteem and support the Government’s ongoing Body Confidence campaign.

The Government is currently gearing up to launch a voluntary pledge in 2012, similar to the Department of Health’s Responsibility Deal, inviting the industry to commit to improve body confidence among women and girls.

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