There’s Something Off in My Ad

It’s a skincare ad, right, so it’ll have a close-up of a beautiful woman, a product shot, a few quasi-scientific claims and a logo. Dusted. But back up a minute. When skincare brand Trilogy shot their new print campaign recently they retouched the jeewillikers out of the shot, like usual, then ran the original, untouched image in the glossies. They then put up both versions on their Facebook site, sat back smugly, and waited for the praise to flow in. And it fair gushed.

A blogger came across the ad in print with no prior knowledge of the campaign and it stopped her in her fast-flicking tracks. There was something off. The model had (whisper with me)… moles. Small, brown blemishes on her face and arms and, boy-o, did they stand out in the women’s magazine environment. Something that you would barely notice if you met her in the street became the defining feature of the shot.

“Keeping it real”. By Lucia Ondrusova/ImageBrief

Imperfection where perfection is the norm creates tension in the viewer. These images are arresting because they’re appealing and slightly repellent at the same time. When you purposely create or willingly allow imperfection you trigger an emotional response. The viewer’s discomfort stems from her lack of acceptance of her own imperfections. The emotion she feels is shame (just a tiny bit). But the appeal of the image is that it says, "I’m real, like you. I relate to your every day life." That’s called validation. Imperfect = vulnerable. Vulnerable = human. Human = authentic. And brand authenticity equals brand strength. If you’ve heard researcher Brené Brown on the subject of vulnerability and shame resilience on, you’ll know what I’m on about.

Meg Moss, Director of Online Image Curators at ImageBrief says the trend toward buyers requesting ‘real life’ images is growing by the day. "Buyers are using terms like ‘Instagram-like’ or referencing shots from Flickr in their briefs. They still want a well produced, art directed shot. They still want models and stylists. But they also want less static imagery. They want to see candid moments with some of the gloss taken off. Not so staged or posed, and with a sense of fun." When I press Moss to ponder what’s behind the trend, she points to buyers wanting to cash in on the sense of familiarity Instagram fosters. "’Real Life’ images are more intimate, more personal, more in sync with our lives. They make us think ‘that could be me.’"

Perhaps, in these straitened economic times we’re all a bit more real about life: about what’s important, and what we can afford. We’ll always be swayed by the aspirational but the challenge for the builders of brands these days is to make us believe the aspirational is also relevant, desirable, and most of all, attainable.

Credit: Patrick Stevenson/ImageBrief

By Simon Moss, Co-Founder, ImageBrief