It is no secret that brands like to use attractive ladies in their advertisements. Commercials and print ads regularly use good-looking models and actors to pitch their products. But does the strategy work?
Researchers have been studying the concept of beauty in advertising for decades. There is undoubtedly a reason why the term “supermodel” exists, with many brands and advertisers putting their money on pretty faces and hot bods to pitch their products.
For a long time, the studies focused on whether or not attractive people sold products better than unattractive people. A slew of studies in the 1970s and 1980s pitted the likes of Cindy Crawford against Ugly Betty and confirmed that people like to buy products from a pretty face (Solomon, Admore & Longo, 1992).
Finally, in 1992, Solomon, Admore and Longo looked into how advertisers could maximize on their model investment further, offering the Beauty Match Up hypothesis that suggested that certain types of beauty were more effective at selling certain types of products. The hypothesis was built on the idea that there are multiple kinds of attractiveness. For example, one woman can be “cute”, another “sexy”, and a third “elegant”. What they found was that there were optimal match-ups between beauty types and products, and that basically the attractiveness-type needed to match the brand’s identity. For example, Cosmopolitan magazine frequently runs articles about sex, and they often employ sex-kitten type models. The model attractiveness-type reinforces the brand’s message, so it’s a good fit (Solomon, Admore & Longo, 1992).
Likewise, a brand can shape the public’s perception of them by using a certain type of attractiveness. For example, advertisements for the Mazda Miata used models that were described as “California looking” while Chrysler used models that were more like the “approachable girl next door”.
But are we really that shallow? Do we really only buy products from attractive people?
In 2001, Amanda Bower and Stacy Landreth challenged the idea that we only want the most attractive people on earth selling us our products. They felt that the main flaw in the slew of research a few decades ago was that they only compared supermodels to ugly people. But what about us normal folk? Doesn’t anyone want to buy what we’re selling?
To answer that question, the researchers put together a study to investigate whether highly attractive models (HAMs) sell products better than just normally attractive models (NAMs).
First, the researchers employed judges to separate beauty products into problem-solving products, such as zit-concealer and acne wash, and enhancement products, such as lipstick and jewelry. Next, the judges found full page ads featuring models that they designated as either “normally attractive” or “highly attractive”. The NAMs were all drawn from ads that used real-people makeovers, meaning they were just normal people who received professional hair and makeup styling. HAMs were professional models.
What the researchers found was that consumers trusted the HAMs more when it came to the enhancement products, but that both types of models were trusted equally when it came to problem-solving products (Bower & Landreth, 2001).
So, the bottom line is that we recognize different kinds of beauty, like to buy our products when the beautiful person selling it looks like they accurately represent the brand, but would slum it with a normal looking woman to buy our zit cream.
Bower, Amanda B. & Landreth, Stacy. (Spring 2001). Is Beauty Best? Highly Versus Normally Attractive Models in Advertising. Journal of Advertising, XXX (1), 1-13.
Solomon, Michael R., Asmore, Richard D., & Longo, Laura C. (1992). The Beauty Match-Up Hypothesis: Congruence Between Types of Beauty and Product Images in Advertising. Journal of Advertising, XXI (4), 23-34.