Last week Julia Robert’s Lancôme advert and Christy Turlington’s Maybelline advert got pulled from all publications because the editors over photo-shopped their faces. This is not news; most beauty adverts are photo-shopped to make sure that the models resemble a smooth-skinned, extremely thin, tan-line free version of themselves. Does it make me want to buy that product? Hell, yeah! Is this ethical? Absolutely not!
Deception in advertising is far from a new concern. For example, many advertisements display products that are cosmetically altered to seem more appealing to the audience. Raw chickens are made to look baked and delicious with food colouring. Before and after photos are digitally altered to make it seem that wrinkles disappear with the twice-daily application of a cream created by former NASA employees. Many adverts use humour to win over the audience and reduce the pretentiousness of the message, since pretending to be ridiculous is the best camouflage for something that really is ridiculous.
We as humans love to live in a world of fantasy, whether it is 3D movies or the latest theme park. In 1938, Orson Wells broadcasted his play War of the Worlds over the radio and it became so convincing that it caused widespread panic as listeners really believed that the news bulletins in the show were real and that Martians were taking over the planet.
We want to believe in the unbelievable and this is why advertisers get away with these fantasy products in fantasy worlds. It gives us hope that we too can spray on some deodorant and have a swarm of models suddenly fall in love with us.
However, is it up to the audience to take these adverts with a pinch of salt, as we should be smart enough to know that all models are photo-shopped and that your chicken won’t really come out with that perfectly golden colour? Is it up to us to learn media literacy and know what we are buying is not going to be the ‘magic pill’?
Inherently we all learn a sense of media literacy as we grow up. We learn to recognise brand colours and logos and at the same time from trial and error we know that some products just won’t make us look like Julia Roberts or Christy Turnlington especially when they are photo-shopped.
Advertising is purely about selling and a product is not going to sell if we are not impressed by what that product does. Subconsciously we know that a pill won’t make us thin while we continue to eat pizza and pasta for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but diet pills still remains a multi-million dollar industry. So yes it is up to us to become smarter and more savvy, to understand that we cannot buy our fantasy lives but learn to love our own.
Megan Louw is brand manager at Demographica. Follow her on Twitter @meglouw