Ads that keep it real…

Move aside models; your spotlight is dimming as everyday civilians are picked to front top advertising campaigns instead of the professionals.

The use of real people in advertising isn’t a new topic; Dove created its campaign for real beauty back in 2004. Typically known for its soap, the campaign re-energized the brand into a company that provided products to enhance, and not mask natural beauty. They used plus size women, women with freckles, and women with scars, as a reaction to the overtly skinny and airbrushed models used in magazines and on the runway.

After a global study in seven countries, from New York, to Toronto to London, just two per cent of women described themselves as beautiful. This was the turning point for Dove, instead of serving up unrealistic images like their fashion and beauty rivals, they would now dedicate their work to improving their customer’s self-esteem and making their products accessible to the everyday consumer.

Tom Collard, strategy planner at Saatchi and Saatchi says: “When you see someone in an advert similar to you, you will instantly feel tied to that brand or product.”

Christian Hartmann, account executive at Saatchi and Saatchi adds: “If you are being told to try something by someone you can identify with then you will find it approachable.”

This is now a growing trend as the list of brands using non-professionals has evolved. American Apparel’s provocative campaigns have been infamous in using its attractive young sales advisors to sell the brand. While Levis visited an underachieving town called Braddock in the USA, using real town people as the inspiration behind its campaign last year, and LK Bennett selected real working women in a number of different professions for its latest ad campaign.

However, it is Parisian brand The Kooples that has created the biggest stir for the individual and artistic lifestyle, by featuring everyday couples to front the label. Again that means non-models, and non-actors, so not quite the gloss and glamour you might expect from billboards and magazine spreads.

Darren Howells, account manager from PR agency BPCM, who worked on the campaign, says: “It is a way of making the brand accessible and feel real to the everyday person. It also gives it an edge, it’s more about the collection rather than the person that is fronting the campaign.”

French brothers Alexandre, Laurent and Raphael Elicha, the sons of the founders behind successful womenswear chain Comptior des Cotonniers, created the label in 2008. After proving a massive hit in France they crossed the Channel and brought the label to the UK market. They now have three stand-alone stores in London, a concession in Selfridges, as well as two stores in Birmingham and Manchester, with plans for more on the way.

Howells adds: “Using a real couple is an interesting way to promote the brand and makes them stand out, a brave move that seems to have worked in their favour.”

The couples were selected at random in bars, clubs and high streets all over the world, for their chic yet edgy aesthetic, however whilst they are captioned as ‘real’ they are still achingly beautiful, with perfect chiseled features, oozing an aura of mystery – just like a professional model. In fact, every ‘real person’ used in the Levis and LK Bennett campaigns are admiringly attractive too, there are no plus size women, with freckles and scars on show. No question this is leaps and bounds away from the sorts of real people we have seen at Dove in the last seven years?

Collard admits: “I didn’t even realise The Kooples couples were real until last week, there is nothing to differentiate them from professional models. I mean if you are going to use real people, at least make them real.”

Hartmann also stresses: “I am pretty sure they would have gone through the same screen processes as any other campaign to get the couples right. At the end of the day when it finally comes down to who you pick, they are not real people anymore.”

Unlike Dove who used real women to help quash the size zero debate, this new wave is different because these brands are using non-professionals to create an image and lifestyle for their consumer.

Hartmann says: “Using real people helps to identify with your target consumer, it allows you to go down to their level. However, fashion is still all about dreaming and in the long run you need to have that fantasy. The second it is believable it dies.” The Kooples couples therefore present more than just the clothes; they showcase an alternative lifestyle, mixing fashion with music, and Parisian romance with British rock ‘n’ roll. Howell asserts: “It was about portraying a lifestyle, a way of dressing and how the brand can compliment both men and women.”

This is continued by the online blogs for the couples, as well as listings for music festivals, cinema and exhibitions, allowing consumers to fully immerse themselves into The Kooples life.

Hartmann adds: “There is a few things we say to clients, and number one is you have to be interesting for your target audience, like letting a customer participate. You almost have to let go to let people be part of your brand.”

Meanwhile, the Braddock “Go Forth: Ready for work” campaign promoted what Levis originally stood for. In the last few years they had moved away from the pioneering spirit of the workforce, and stepped into a fashion bubble.

This campaign helped them return to their roots, working with the blue collared workforce to rebuild a struggling town. Levis even assisted in renovating a community centre and developing an urban farming programme for the town, so it represented more than just the jeans.

As for LK Bennett they used career high flyers, like Anna Dawson a geophysicist as one example, to present headstrong working women for their customers to look up to. London’s bespoke womenswear boutique Britt Lintner shares a similar story, by photographing and interviewing their clients and putting their stories up on its website. These are all independent highflying working women, who balance successful full-time jobs with a family; someone a potential customer would aspire to.

LK Bennett’s ‘Life is the occasion’ campaign.

Catherine Patha, creative and commercial director at Britt Lintner says: “Every brand has their own type of real woman or customer, and are probably drawn to a specific look. We have a different look to The Kooples, which has a different look to Levis and so forth.”

All these brands wanted to create a specific image, or lifestyle to aspire to; it was more deep-rooted than just popping a celebrity on an advert to sell their products. Every brands definition of ‘real’ was different to the other.

We have moved a long way from Dove’s mission to make every woman feel beautiful, and while we can spot a trend for the use of real people in advertising it is not characteristic of the size zero or airbrushing debate. These brands may not be using professionals but they are still looking for people with the right look to sell their brands lifestyle. If you possess the right image though, perhaps there is a place for you on a billboard or two, could you be the next Koople?


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