Odds are, your firm isn’t in the beauty products business, but there are important lessons to be learned (or at least considered) from an ongoing debate involving two top companies in that industry.
You have probably seen the controversial comparison between Victoria’s Secret’s “Love My Body” and Dove’s “Real Beauty” ad campaigns. The focus of most of the comments from the campaign comparisons has been on the physiology of the ladies used in both campaigns – from weight to height to skin color to age. Some enlightened social media contributors may have even mentioned the perception of personality as a footnote. Overall, the discussion (and related controversy) has been primarily about the sexualization of women, with a particular focus on how beauty is perceived and promoted in our culture.
While those are all appropriate topics to stem from the original Reddit post that put these juxtaposed images in the social crosshairs, I would like to discuss the two campaign photos from a different perspective:
How does each photo attract its respective target market and reinforce its respective company’s brand?
(And using that analysis, how do exceptional professional service firms use imagery in branding their firms to attract their desired market?)
Both Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign and Victoria’s Secret’s “Love My Body” campaign showcase a group of models. Can you tell what the target market is for each brand based on each photo?
The target market for Dove may be a little more easily identified, based on many of the same comments that have made these dueling campaigns “newsworthy” enough to be editorialized in such news outlets as MSNBC and BusinessInsider, not to mention air time on Ellen, Dr. Phil and CNN. So what do you think Dove’s target market is, based on this photo alone? Women is a given. Women of all ages seems to be another clear market. What about women of “average” weight? Or happy women? Or friends and family? These are traits depicted in the photograph that differentiates it from the Victoria’s Secret counterpart, but that do not necessarily identify a market.
But those traits may point to the company’s overall brand.
What do the images on your website, on your marketing collateral or in your email newsletter reveal about your brand? Do they confuse or reinforce your brand?
Dove appears to be promoting its product line to women of all ages, potentially of all sizes, who perhaps want to be happier in their skin. This speaks to the company’s brand and public image. It says “we are a company that recognizes the need to feel happy in your own skin and we want to give it to you, regardless of your age, size, ethnicity or personality. Our products will make you happy.”
Do your public-facing images promote your professional services firm as “one-size-fits all” or personalized service? Do your images speak to data or human resources? Do your images convey a desire for local or international clientele?
As noted in thousands of scathing tweets, blog rants and Facebook posts, the women in the Victoria’s Secret ad are not smiling. Nor are they terribly diverse, interactive with one another, or considered “average” on anyone’s beauty scale. Some critics have also alleged that the photo lineup was likely created in Photoshop, rather than shot live with all of the models present. How does this different style affect the target market sought? Or does it have no effect at all?
Do your visual images online or in print brand your firm as focused only on specific niches or do you convey an everyman vibe?
It seems logical that the Victoria’s Secret ad would also be target marketing to women (they are selling bras and underwear, after all). But is it also targeting men by using models that the company believes personifies the epitome of female beauty and seduction? And which women is the company targeting? Supermodels? Women in their teens and twenties? Apathetic women? Or all women?
How does the depiction of homogenous, disinterested, tall and skinny women, none of whom are interacting with one another or the camera, reinforce the Victoria’s Secret brand? Does it enhance the company’s brand? Does it detract from the brand?
I believe that brands are reinforced not only by the content of our website copy, marketing lingo, and advertising campaigns, but also by the images we use to perpetuate our brands. As the old adage goes, a picture is not only worth a thousand words, but it also speaks volumes.
Test Your Firm’s Brand With a “Blind” Image Test
Here’s an idea that will reveal some useful information concerning your own professional service brand.
- Find out where your local Chamber of Commerce is holding a networking event in your city this month.
- Send a representative from your firm to the event.
- Have him or her bring a few of the images that you use in your marketing, including those used on your website, in your brochure and in your email newsletter.
- Make sure the images DO NOT contain any text, especially the name of your firm. Have the images printed out separately, without any context or verbiage.
- Ask several different attendees to give you the first three words that come to mind for each image and write the answers on the back of the image.
The answers may surprise you. They may not. But they will certainly tell you if there are any contradictions between the brand you are trying to establish and the one that is being, at least subconsciously, broadcast behind the marketing jargon. Even professional firm marketers can learn a few lessons from a retail industry marketing fail.