How do beauty product ads affect consumer self esteem and purchasing?

October 18, 2010

A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that ads featuring beauty products actually lower female consumers' self-esteem.

"One of the signature strengths of the advertising industry lies in its ability to transform seemingly mundane objects into highly desirable products," write authors Debra Trampe (University of Groningen, the Netherlands), Diederik A. Stapel (Tilburg University), and Frans W. Siero (University of Groningen). In an advertisement, a lipstick situated next to a stiletto heel represents glamour and a teddy bear in an ad for fabric softener signals softness.

The authors conducted four experiments to examine the different meanings gleaned from products that were advertised versus not advertised. In one study, the authors exposed female study participants to either a beauty-enhancing product (eye shadow, perfume) or a problem-solving product (acne concealer, deodorant).The product was either embedded in an advertisement (with a shiny background and a fake brand name) or it was depicted against a neutral white background. "After exposure to the advertised beauty-enhancing products consumers were more likely to think about themselves than when they viewed the same products outside of their advertisements."

What's more, those advertisements affected how consumers thought about themselves. "After viewing an advertisement featuring an enhancing product consumers evaluated themselves less positively than after seeing these products when they appeared without the context," the authors write. The same effect did not show up when the items were problem-solving products.

Ads for beauty-enhancing products seem to make consumers feel that their current attractiveness levels are different from what they would ideally be. "Consumers seem to 'compare' themselves to the product images in advertisements, even though the advertisement does not include a human model," the authors write.

"Exposure to beauty-enhancing products in advertisements lowered consumers' self-evaluations, in much the same way as exposure to thin and models in advertisements has been found to lower self-evaluations," the authors conclude.

Explore further: Context is everything: An Armani ad on 1 page changes perception of Honda ad on next page

More information: Debra Trampe, Diederik A. Stapel, and Frans W. Siero. "The Self-Activation Effect of Advertisements: Ads Can Affect Whether and How Consumers Think About the Self." Journal of Consumer Research.

Related Stories

Consumers have mixed reactions to puffery in advertising

January 19, 2010

According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, consumers don't always react positively to persuasion tactics that have nothing to do with the product (what the authors refer to as "puffery").

How does context affect consumer judgment?

March 22, 2010

Research into why people look favorably on a product shows that—as in real life—everything is relative. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, what we think of a product or brand, or how positively ...

Recommended for you

Biologists trace how human innovation impacts tool evolution

November 24, 2015

Many animals exhibit learned behaviors, but humans are unique in their capacity to build on existing knowledge to make new innovations. Understanding the patterns of how new generations of tools emerged in prehistoric societies, ...

How experienced buyers can mitigate economic bubbles

November 19, 2015

(—Over the last decade, many people got a tough primer on the effects of economic bubbles, as the bursting of the 2007-2008 housing bubble sent shockwaves through most of the major world economies. But property ...

First Londoners were multi-ethnic mix: museum

November 23, 2015

A DNA analysis of four ancient Roman skeletons found in London shows the first inhabitants of the city were a multi-ethnic mix similar to contemporary Londoners, the Museum of London said on Monday.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.