Study: Ads with plus-size models unlikely to work

Mar 16, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Advertisements and catalogs featuring plus-size models are unlikely to work on their intended customers, according to a new study by an ASU researcher and her colleagues.

Increasingly common ads and catalogues featuring plus-size models are unlikely to work on their intended customers. That’s according to a new study by researchers at ASU, the University of Cologne in Germany and Erasmus University in the Netherlands, which demonstrates a link between model sizes in advertisements and the self-esteem of consumers looking at the ads.

“We believe it is unlikely that many brands will gain market share by using heavy models in their ads,” said Naomi Mandel, marketing associate professor in the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU. “We found that overweight consumers demonstrated lower self-esteem - and therefore probably less enthusiasm about buying products - after exposure to any size models in ads (versus ads with no models). Also, normal-weight consumers experienced lower self-esteem after exposure to moderately heavy models, such as those in Dove soap’s ‘Real Women’ campaign, than after exposure to moderately thin models.”

Mandel and her colleagues performed a series of experiments based on the popular idea that looking at extremely thin models can negatively affect consumers’ self-esteem and possibly even lead to eating disorders in . That belief is why fashion show organizers in Milan, Italy and Madrid, Spain, recently banned super waif models from their catwalks.

In the new study, researchers took the link between model size and self-esteem even further by factoring in the consumers’ own body size and self-esteem before looking at the ads. Although they did confirm that exposure to extremely thin models can be damaging to most women’s self-esteem, they also found some surprising effects.

“We show it is not just the size of the models in the ads, but also the relative distance between the consumer’s size and the model’s size that affects self-esteem,” Mandel said.

In the experiments, hundreds of female students were categorized as having low, normal or high body mass index (BMI) based on their heights and weights. They were then invited to a lab, but were not told the true nature of the study. They were shown a variety of ads and told to answer several questions, only some of which were truly related to the study. The questionnaires showed the participants’ self-esteem shifted based on the model sizes they saw in the ads and whether they considered themselves to be similar to or different from those sizes.

Low-BMI, thinner women tended to experience a boost in self-esteem when they viewed all models because they identified positively with the thinner models and saw themselves as different from the heavier models. Higher-BMI, heavier women dropped in self-esteem when looking at all models because they saw themselves as different from the thinner, idealized ones and similar to the overweight models.

Normal-BMI women had the most shifts in self-esteem, depending on what types of images they saw and could therefore be the most influenced by pictures in ads. For example, if they viewed a moderately thin model, they felt similar and good; if they saw a moderately heavy model, they worried they were similar and overweight.

These findings could be used to prompt changes in behavior. For example, if a normal-size woman sees moderately heavy images in for weight-loss products, she might feel overweight and be more inclined to buy a diet plan or gym membership. The same premise could apply to using heavy images in public service announcements aimed at fighting the obesity epidemic.

Dirk Smeesters, marketing associate professor of Erasmus University, and Thomas Mussweiler, social psychology professor of the University of Cologne, worked with Mandel on the study, which will be published in April’s Journal of Consumer Research.

Explore further: Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Admiring celebrities can help improve self-esteem

Jun 05, 2008

A new study appearing in Personal Relationships shows how "connections" to celebrities, i.e. parasocial relationships, can allow people with low-self esteem to view themselves more positively.

Morbid thoughts whet the appetite

Jun 25, 2008

Can watching TV news or crime shows trigger overeating? According to new research in the Journal of Consumer Research, people who are thinking about their own deaths want to consume more.

How pop video models prompt poor body image in girls

Jun 04, 2007

The use of ultra-thin models in music videos can lead to poor body image in the young girls who watch them, researchers from the University of Sussex reveal in a new report published this week.

Body weight linked to children's self-esteem

Jan 20, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- National statistics show one in four children in Canada are obese, yet very little research has been done to find out what effects, if any, being overweight has on their self esteem and well-being.

Recommended for you

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Apr 18, 2014

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

Apr 17, 2014

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

Apr 17, 2014

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

Apr 16, 2014

Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Clippers and coiners in 16th-century England

In 2017 a new £1 coin will appear in our pockets with a design extremely difficult to forge. In the mid-16th century, Elizabeth I's government came up with a series of measures to deter "divers evil persons" ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...