Advertising may be described as the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it. ― David Honegger
Fashion, and any other ad that features women, draw the most criticism for how they manipulate an image, especially when it comes to body shape and size. Women have, for as long as there have been print ads, used the examples they see in magazines and catalogs as a basis for judging their own bodies and, subsequently, their own self-worth. As a result, for as long as there have been print ads (which originally had to use illustrations rather than photographs), there have been people complaining that the example set forth is “not real,” and “impossible to achieve.” Yet, while campaigns such as Dove’s “Real Women” at least try to move the industry, and women’s opinions, the opposite direction, years of sales evidence points to the fact that people don’t buy products when the image is too realistic. Sexy sells every time, even if it is totally a work of fiction.
What’s amazing is that we know better. We know that ads lie to us, that images have had varying effects applied to them, that claims are deceptive and that some bust-to-waist ratios defy the laws of physics. We have experienced these things our entire lives, we’ve criticized them in conversation, we’ve had countless studies done to prove the degree to which some industries lie more than others (Big Tobacco, anyone?). Still, at the end of the day, when the dollars are counted and the sales added up, the ads work.
The original picture (seen below) is hardly recognizable by comparison to the finished product. If one were to drop the same copy over the grey/blue background of the original image, it would get lost. Even changing the colors wouldn’t help that much. As an ad, the original image doesn’t have what it takes to stand out from the crowd. On its own, sure, it’s a nice portrait of a lovely young woman. But if we’re selling tequila we have to apply a number of varying effects to create an image that gets attention. Reality isn’t a concern because reality isn’t our goal. We want an image that looks interesting. The copy, which is a modification of a quote by Ernest Hemingway, encourages one to drink for the specific purpose of leaving reality behind. So, we created an image that is interesting, with little concern for reality.
In our criticism of manipulated photos and all the varying effects applied to them, we forget, I think, that we’re really not interested in looking at reality. We don’t read novels for the reality. We don’t go to the movies for the reality. Even reality television is an over-edited caricature of reality (and the whole genre is losing popularity). We get our fill of reality when we look in the mirror. Fortunately, the varying effects of good photo manipulation hides reality just long enough for us to pull out our wallets. The economy works, we keep our jobs, and the world continues spinning. There’s reality for you.