A funny thing happened after Canadian lingerie retailer Jacob decided to stop retouching photos of its models: the sky didn’t fall in.
Customers didn’t protest; in fact, they loved it. The company didn’t collapse; in fact, it got a noticeable bounce from all the goodwill generated by the decision.
The only ones who even mildly complained, actually, were a few of the company’s models — the people who may be the only ones to benefit from the increasingly controversial practice of airbrushing fashion ads.
Jacob, a Montreal-based clothing retailer with 100 stores, made headlines last fall when it announced, without prompting, its decision to stop retouching the body shape of models used in its lingerie and apparel campaigns.
The decision was hailed by women’s groups and Jacob customers alike, and came at a time when the fashion marketing industry was under attack for the widespread manipulation of models’ bodies in advertising campaigns.
For Jacob, the decision was a no-brainer since it reflected the family-run company’s respect for women.
“The no-retouching policy was linked to who we are as a company and our values,” said Marketing and Communications Director Cristelle Basmaji, whose father founded the company in 1977. “As a company we are respectful of women, respectful of natural beauty.”
To help customers understand the issue, Jacob displayed the photos above at cash registers in its mall stores across Canada.
Jacob has never been known as one of the worst offenders in the world of model-chopping, but the new policy meant it would no longer make subtle changes that are now commonplace in the industry — trimming volume from hips and inner thighs, slimming waists, and using shading effects to create the illusion of bustier cleavage.
The company acknowledges, however, that it will still do cosmetic airbrushing in cases where a model has a pimple on the day of a photoshoot, for example, or a tattoo that needs to be concealed.
“We are very transparent about what we are doing,” said Basmaji. “For us, she is a natural woman and we’re keeping her body the way it is.”
Last year, the issue of model retouching became a hot-button PR nightmare for many fashion brands. Ann Taylor, London Fog, Victoria’s Secret and many more labels came under attack for obvious butchery of model images. Websites like Photoshop Disasters and Jezebel exposed many of the marketing world’s most egregious crimes, and numerous critics complained that overuse of image retouching was psychologically harmful to women in general and to impressionable teens who are more susceptible to eating disorders. British member of Parliament Jo Swinson even launched a public campaign to demand standards and accountability from the advertising industry.
Surprisingly, however, few fashion brands acted on matter, and only Jacob in Canada and UK department store Debenhams publicly announced new policies to end the practice of photo retouching.
“Lingerie is where we see the most retouching, and there are many examples of companies that have gone too far,” said Basmaji. “We want to be an innovative and entrepreneurial brand, and the no-retouching policy is an example of that leadership.”
Jacob now works behind the scenes to encourage other companies to follow its example. It was the first retailer to sign Quebec’s Charter for Healthy Body Image, and has a history of involvement in community and social causes that support women.
What other agencies, brands and retailers can learn from Jacob’s example, Basmaji said, is that respecting women and adopting progressive social commitments is also good for business.
“I think there’s a business upside,” said Basmaji. “Last September we had a lot of media coverage which led to increased traffic on our website, lots of comments on Facebook, lots of word-of-mouth buzz created by social networks.
“It’s hard to measure from an ROI perspective, but I’m confident it contributed to increased traffic which leads to increased women in our stores and more sales. … I have difficulty seeing there’s much of a downside.”
Interestingly, Jacob’s new policy did NOT prompt the company to starter hiring slimmer fashion models who might “need” less airbrushing. In fact, the opposite happened.
“It maybe helped us choose larger-sized women,” Basmaji said. “Our typical customer is not 18 or 21, she’s 28-32. We wanted to show a more natural-sized model, and we now choose at least a size 4.”
Jacob currently uses three well-known Canadians in its “I am Jacob” marketing campaigns: snowboarder Kimiko Zakreski, author Amber Mac, and actress Karine Vanasse. All have agreed not to be retouched in photos for the campaign, which is Jacob’s first “celebrity” campaign.
Customer response has been “all extremely positive,” Basmaji noted. The only doubts came from the model who was used in the before-and-after photos that were released to announce the new policy.
“When she came in, she didn’t know she wasn’t going to be retouched,” Basmaji said. “The agency and her were extremely open to the idea, but at the beginning she was nervous.
“She was happily surprised (by the photos) and even more happy at the reaction,” she added. “I think it gave her more confidence.”
You can learn more about Jacob’s no-retouching policy on its Facebook page. The images below are examples of the company’s “I am Jacob” spring marketing campaign.