Using “Real Men” in Fashion Marketing


I encountered this article via Facebook a few days ago:  It’s only accessible through subscription, but you can at least find the photos here:

Last September, the British tabloid The Sun ran a piece in which they asked four male readers of varying average body types to recreate designer underwear ads made famous by the likes of David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo.  This concept was created in response to the work of brands such as Dove, which has garnered much media attention over the past year with their “Real Women” campaign, depicting un-touched, normal women in their advertisements.

As Nina Bahadur in the Huffington Post stated:

“These mock ads show how men are also held to the near-impossible body standards of models and professional sports players, and inundated with images of far-from-average male bodies on a daily basis. Studies have shown that idealized images affect men and boys, and may be linked to male eating disorders.  A 2012 study showed that when we see more diverse bodies, people become more comfortable with bodies of all shapes and sizes. So, more of this please.”

I will agree that men and women alike are held to such standards when it comes to fashion advertisements.  I will also agree that the images presented in such advertisements, which reflect the “idealized” consumer wearing the product, have contributed to the development of male eating disorders.  What I won’t agree with, however, is “more of this, please”.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I would like to see more of it.  I think the idea of an average Joe guy modeling underwear is very intriguing, and I wouldn’t think twice if I saw it while walking in a mall.  But fashion photography is not about being normal.  It’s not about blending in with surroundings  Part of using models like Beckham in these kinds of ads pertains to the notion of pushing the boundaries of appearance and public perception of how clothes should look and feel.

One argument suggests that using hot, buff models in ads is a company’s way of saying “this is the kind of guy who should be wearing our clothes”.  I, on the other hand, feel that there’s more artistic significance in the choice of using a professional model.  The company isn’t just advertising a garment; they’re advertising a mood, an experience associated with the brand.  To use normal guys modeling clothes would be unusual, in that it’s a break from traditional high-fashion advertising, but would it really make the same impact in a consumer’s eyes?  After all, modeling photos are supposed to pop, but how can you expect the same pop from a guy you see walking down the street that has no previous modeling experience?

That’s another thing, too.  Modeling involves a lot of skill.  It’s basically acting for a photographer.  When I used to model (yes, I will admit I did it for a short while), I always created a little character and scenario for myself.  Nothing too complex or involved, just a little something to create an emotion in me and bring myself to life in whatever I was wearing.  If you look at all the guys in the real fashion ads, you can sense an inner life behind their eyes and in their body positions.  With the regular guys, it looks like they’re just moving their body parts where the photographer told them to move them.

Having said that, I’m sure there are regular looking guys out there that could be very gifted models if given the opportunity, so I’m not about to suggest that “real guys” can’t model.  I mean, out of all the guys in the piece, the Dolce guy comes really close to nailing it.  However, if the fashion industry will ever embrace regular guys’ body types in advertising, it will have to be done in a completely original, out-of-the-box way.  The skill level of the model, the clothing, the concept of the shoot, the tone of the ad – everything will need to be focused around this new kind of model.

And when they pull it off, how awesome it will be.  🙂


This weekend I’ll do my World Cup Advertising Recap, so stay tuned for that.  If you have any thoughts on The Sun’s piece, sound off in the comments below.

Take care, all!



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