Airbrushing in Advertising: Right or Wrong?

Dove Evolution
Image Source: Wikipedia

The new coalition government is to look at airbrushing and their impacts in advertising campaigns. The Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone, will host a summit with media and fashion industry executives in the autumn, to tackle the issue of airbrushing in magazines and advertising campaigns.

As part of Featherstone’s “body confidence” initiative, there could potentially, one day, be laws introduced that would require all airbrushed images to contain a small ‘kitemark’ to show they are not real.

Image Source:

This may be welcomed news for campaigners against retouching, and those who believe airbrushing in magazines and such may be causing public health issues in young men and women. Airbrushing is known to distort reality, providing a ‘fake’ ideal that young people aspire to. In 2006, Unilever, more specifically Dove, launched an advertising campaign that addressed re-touching issues.  Some saw it as a hypocritical move by Dove, whom go about retouching images for campaigns every day – but others saw it as a daring step forward.

Video Source: YouTube

Yet the change in the law may bring about severe changes in the way agencies advertise with people, and may even negatively impact some companies and their views.

This poses the question, is it right for agencies to take the blame regarding airbrushed, or even ‘faked’ campaigns? Take for example Coca Cola’s recent back-firing campaign which resulted in a bumpy relationship with their digital agency Lean Mean Fighting Machine, following the use of the pornographic-film reference in a social media promotion for its Dr Pepper brand.

Oil giant BP was caught red handed not long ago when some official images of the Gulf of Mexico cleanup operation were found to be manipulated by their photographer. BP blames their photographer, yet the images still appeared on the BP website, and BP knew about, and confirmed the editing process.  So who here really is to blame?

The edited BP image on the top, with the original below:

The Photoshopped BP image

The Original BP image

Images Source: BP America Flickr
As published in the 28 July ’10 issue of Marketing Magazine, Guy Hayward, the Chief Executive of JWT UK, stated with regard to the Coca Cola campaign that “in a robust working relationship, the agency and client are in it together. So my view is that, no, the agency [Lean Mean Fighting Machine] should not take the blame.”

Mind you, some companies are using the topic of airbrushing to their advantage. Debenhams are trailing a new campaign for its Oxford Street shop window in which truly authentic and non-touched images of models are being used to advertise swimwear for the summer season. Next to each natural image will be a labelled modified image, annotated with where changes have been made.

The Debenams labelled window display
Image Source:

What are your views on image manipulation?

Campaign Live, Wikipedia, Brand Republic, Marketing Magazine, Telegraph, Flickr, Fox Kalomaski.

Note: I wrote this article, and was first published on the Fox Kalomaski Blog. Visit the original post…

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