In the digital age people are often seen more in pictures than in person, which creates unique opportunities to enhance attractiveness. Even those with little digital experience can use photo-editing software for simple touch-ups, like erasing skin blemishes, and those with advanced graphic skills can transform personal appearance better than a plastic surgeon.
This ability to digitally alter can be especially enticing to marketers whose success depends on the attractiveness of the people promoting their products. Most of us would be amazed to learn how many advertising images we see daily, including those of people, that have been digitally enhanced. While most of that retouching is imperceptible to all but those who do it, sometimes the alterations are not only obvious but obnoxious.
For instance, the actress, singer, and dancer Zendaya recently criticized the digital fashion magazine Modeliste for slimming her legs and torso in images the publication used. Similarly, some perceptive people noticed that an advertisement for Huggies’ Little Movers Slip-On Diapers contained a picture of a toddler whose legs appeared to have been airbrushed in order to create a thigh gap!
Such digital manipulation is disturbing to many, particularly to those who lament the unrealistic standards that our society often places on people to look a certain way. It can be refreshing, therefore, to hear of opposite occurrences, i.e., instances in which the temptation to photo-retouch is rebuffed: case in point, Kate Winslet.
Winslet is the English actress who gained international fame for her starring role in the 1997 epic film Titanic. She’s also received accolades for a variety of other dramatic and comedic work, which resulted in Academy and Emmy Awards. Like many other celebrities, Winslet also earns income as a commercial spokesperson. More specifically, she’s become the face of Lancôme, the French luxury perfume and cosmetics maker.
The market for cosmetics is a large and competitive one, with major global players like L'Oréal (Lancôme’s parent), Procter & Gamble, and Unilever posturing for a bigger piece of world-wide revenues estimated at over $260 billion and growing. Of course, in an industry based on beauty, looks really matter, hence the desire to gain endorsements from some of the world’s most recognizable and attractive faces, like Winslet's.
Some firms, however, have felt that extraordinary natural beauty and carefully applied cosmetics aren’t enough for their ads, so they’ve digitally enhanced their endorsers, sometimes to the chagrin of their customers and others. One such controversial case involved actress Julia Roberts, whose naturally pretty face was graphically enhanced in an ad for, of all things, Lancôme cosmetics.
It’s especially interesting, therefore, that Winslet has declined digital alteration of her own Lancôme ads. In fact, no photo-retouching is reportedly a clause in her contract with the cosmetics company. Why does Winslet take this surprising stance? She feels an obligation to the generation of younger women to be a transparent and truthful role model: “We're all responsible for raising strong young women, so these are things that are important to me.”
Winslet’s principled approach is likely a function of her own unfortunate experience: As a young girl she was teased about being overweight. As a result, she realizes how important it is for others to be accepted for how they look. Of course, some may argue that make-up is itself a way of artificially altering appearance. There seems to be a difference, however, between using cosmetics to accentuate ones natural features and using digital technology to significantly alter them.
Winslet’s rejection of photo-retouching seems to support societal values such as honesty in communication and respect of personal differences, but is her choice effective marketing? Since 2011, revenues at L'Oréal (Lancôme’s parent) have risen by 10.7%, while gross profit has experienced a very similar increase—10.6%. Of course, Winslet’s impact on these numbers may be minimal; still, the corporation’s success is one positive sign.
Meanwhile, revenues for Mattel’s iconic and unrealistically beautiful Barbie doll have declined: “sales dropped 16% in 2014, marking Barbie’s third consecutive year of falling earnings”—results that some attribute to society’s appetite for more authentic and real role models.
In short, Winslet’s approach to marketing make-up seems to be both effective and ethical, making it a cosmetics case of “Mindful Marketing.”