New research by Dr Ben Barry reveals how fashion brands can better influence the purchase intentions of women by the type of models they use, but warns there are significant cultural differences to observe
Research into the way fashion brands use models reveals that women want those models, regardless of age or size, to inspire them with glamour, artistry and creativity.
Dr Ben Barry, an Ogilvy Foundation scholar at Cambridge Judge Business School, carried out a cross-cultural study of consumer response to size, age and race diversity in fashion advertising involving nearly three thousand women in North America, Canada and China.
He says the results reflect the different cultures. In North America he found the practice of using only models who reflect the Western beauty ideal to be ineffective.
“In fact, women respond to models more favourably, and increase their purchase intentions, when the model nears their size, their age, and their race.
“Jump to China where I found the majority of younger Chinese women actually increase purchase intention when they saw and idealised Western models. Older Chinese consumers had much more varied purchase intentions. Some responded favourably to Chinese models others were cautious about fashion advertising in general.”
Dr Barry focuses on the definition of ‘aspiration’ which is regarded as the foundation for effective advertising in the fashion industry.
“There are two key components of aspiration. One, the actual physical traits of the model and the second, the concept of creative direction. That has to do with photography, hair and make-up, the actual clothes – all of the fashion of the advertisement.
“Simply using the model who reflects the consumer is not enough to motivate purchase intentions. You have to use a model who reflects the consumer in North America but that model also has to reflect the glamour, the artistry, the creativity of fashion. So, women regardless of the type of model they aspire to want to aspire to that fashion image, that creativity, that glamour and artistry.”
“Interestingly, I observed that a proportion of the younger members of the Chinese sample were resistant to models that reflected the Western beauty ideal and actually increased purchase intention when they saw Chinese models. It was enhancing to see a model that looked like them but they also wanted to maintain their Chinese cultural heritage.”
Dr Barry, a modelling agent, hopes his research will now be taken up by the fashion industry.
“I hope my research will change industry practice and will start to get fashion markets, marketers in general, to reconsider their approach of only casting models that reflect the Western beauty ideal and instead start to cast models in North America that reflect their audience.
“In China they should be more cautious, realising that idealised models might only be temporarily effective and that they have to stay on top of that market to understand the transition in consumer attitudes.”