Celebration of Imperfection
After a long era of scrutinizing and pressuring women to conform to ridiculously high social expectations all over the world, I can finally declare that we are one step closer to celebrating imperfection instead of worshipping perfection.
If you Google synonyms for the word “imperfection” the most popular ones that pop up are “defect”, “fault”, “abnormality”, “distortion” and “weakness”. Not a singular source would equalize imperfection with NORMAL or NATURAL and it would be correct from a linguistic point, but is it correct when it becomes the social order under which we live in? This concept has been most widely related to women in contemporary society – no one wants to see imperfect attributes of femininity. An average sociable person is disposed to about 2,000 images per day through TV, ads and social networks. Guess what, majority of these images illustrate flawless and idolized femininity. These ladies never get tired of domestic duties, they never get sick of work (unless it is a pain killer commercial), they never allow themselves to go out without a full make-up and hair done and they most definitely would not want to be associated with imperfection. These carefully edited standards and looks have been so deeply embodied in our unconscious that we are made to believe that this illusionary perfection is the norm. Well, it is not.
The norm is to let yourself relax for a second there and realize that not being ideal is the most natural and normal feature of humanity. Exposing your weaknesses to society is OK and the most significant progress here is that the marketing industry is finally on board with it.
Coming from my experience of exploring consumer behavior within the beauty & luxury segments, it has become visible that the consumer attitude has been changed. Women of different ages do not want to stick to the uptight version of an idolized image anymore. Russian women have always been a subject of an admiration and a humor at the same time – the image of a Russian lady who wears heels to throw the garbage or to do grocery shopping is very bright in European world. However, it is time to break the power of these stereotypes ones and for all. Based on observation of consumers and interviews that we conduct with them, our women stopped wearing uncomfortable shoes, stopped being fixed on the idea of looking fabulous 24/7 and, what is most importantly, the words “beauty industry” and “luxury” has turned from the image to go after to something that causes negative connotations. After a long time of successful immersion of the desired luxury image within the product positioning and product communication to the audience, value reversal is happening – luxury has started to be associated with pressure, imposition, and simply with something useless and unwanted. It has transformed from something that was “out of reach” to something that has become “out of mind”.
Russian consumers have come through a long ride within the beauty & luxury industries. From a complete lack of access in Soviet times – through the black-market Adidas costumes at the beginning of 90’s (that was a definite luxury for Russians at the time) , to acquiring as much products as they could purchase, drowning in brands and luxury during 2000’s and, finally, consumers seem to settle for a simple, rational, and responsible attitude towards themselves. They do not want to be pressured into looking perfect and those consumers with whom we speak to do not want to be hypnotized with the notorious “become a part of the luxury world” catch phrases. The pursuit of luxury life has become nothing more than a sign of being pressured into being perfect – reversal of values is happening and this major cultural turn should be acknowledged in order to form the new ways of how to communicate the product to the audience, which hypotheses to test and what communication to go for when developing a business strategy.
Marketing industry has started to illustrate the idea with making their sources of communicating a product to consumer normal every-day women. Em Ford (@mypailskinblog) has taken a courageous step in promoting beauty products and make up tutorials while revealing her skin disease, transmitting a brave statement that no one should hide their weaknesses and how the real look can differ from the one that society asks as you to follow (Picture 1). Various lingerie brands have been doing collection photo shoots with the ‘ordinary’ women that everyone could relate to (Swimsuits for all, Picture 2). H&M has launched their 2016 Autumn/Winter collection with a new television advert that celebrates the beauty that differs: muscular women, black women with natural hair, women with shaved heads, ethnic females in power, oversized women, etc. (Picture 3 and Video). Conde Nast, being the most powerful dictator of luxury there is, has launched a new 2017 Marketing Campaign called “Next Gen” challenging typical attributes of luxury targeting the new next generation audience that aims to find experience that makes them stronger, deeper, smarter. The new clip illustrates various cultures and ‘ordinary’, alive people that seek from luxury something completely different and the idea is to pursue the advertising companies to change the content with which they communicate their brand. (Video link below)
This is a major shift in communicating beauty & clothes and luxury segments to the target audience, because the audience itself has changed and these transformations have become more and more evident for Russian consumer behavior as well. Consumers are tired of flawless product communication, they wish to express their concerns and uncertainties and see as a brand ambassador someone they could actually relate to. Dream life sells, but normality and naturalness seems to work as well. Hence, marketing channels should be more oriented towards diversity within the beauty industry, otherwise there is a high risk to eventually lose your consumer if you do not spot the transformation now. Another point that might hold importance is how these new trends might reflect on qualitative research, focus groups especially. Focus groups are usually criticized for consumers sharing socially accepted thoughts except for the authentic answers. But if we think about this particular beauty/clothes/luxury branding, how could we expect to hear the truth from someone who is constantly pressured by idolized unexciting image of a perfect femininity? The answer is there and some brands already got the idea – create a communication channel that would illustrate ‘ordinary’ day-to-day heroes that those respondents we invite to the groups can relate to and authentic, not biased and fear free information is guaranteed.
Despite of one’s views and priorities, one thing should be equal to everyone – an opportunity to express yourself without being pushed by commercials, without feeling pressure to strive for perfection and definitely without equalizing imperfection with weakness. Women are changing, consumers’ needs are changing so product communication should adapt to these changes in order to win.
Contemporary women should fight for the right to show their imperfection and enjoy it. Diversity should be researched and explored and imperfection should be celebrated.