One model in a ball gown stabbing another through the neck. A gang bang of a man perpetrated by other men clad in haute couture. A woman fishing a Jimmy Choo bag out of a pool, wherein lies a floating male corpse. If you've skimmed the ads in any fashion mag recently then you probably already know the ads I'm talking about. They're bizarre, fantastical, and incredibly violent, with an emphasis on sexual violence and strangely the product being sold -- general luxury clothing and accessories -- is secondary to the macabre storyline being played out. But that's not the scary part. According to new research from The Journal of Consumer Research, there's a reason for the recent proliferation of grotesque imagery in high fashion ads: we women like it.
Feel free to click through and check out some of these ads if you are so inclined. Don't blame me if your retinas spontaneously detach.
Offensive advertising is nothing new. I've posted about the Dolce & Gabbana gang rape ad (apparently a theme with them), the creepy fitness ads in Men's Health, the hilariously bad diet ads, the homicidal video game ads and even Lady Gaga's glamorization of rape and murder in her videos, among others. The twist this time around is that it turns out we women prefer these ads to their more peaceful counterparts. The high fashion industry is all about eye balls and one way to get those is to rip them right out of your sockets (and serve them on a bloody platter to a model wearing nothing but expensive shoes).
The researchers found that in many cases, the key to constructing an engaging fashion ad was not to make it likeable or conventionally pretty, but to make it engaging.
"The merely pretty was too easily passed over; grotesque juxtapositions were required to stop and hold the fashion consumer flipping through Vogue," the authors write. "For the brands that choose to use grotesque imagery -- roughly one-fourth, according to a content analysis -- the promise is that greater engagement with ad imagery will lead to a more intense and enduring experience of the brand."
The study -- which only examined a paltry 18 women -- claims that women see the ads as "high art" or as a "type of fiction" leading them to study the ad postulating about the story being told as well as the artistic details like lighting, composition and so forth.
On one level I can see the authors' point. I have found myself flipping mindlessly through a fashion mag only to be jerked out of my reverie by a bizarre ad. And I hate to admit it but I do stare at it longer than I do at, say, those stupid perfume ads where everyone is wearing white on a beach and yet no one has muddy sand on them. This attention however does not translate into purchasing the high end product being advertised. At least not for me. The more appalled I am by the ad, the more negative associations I attach to the brand. Not that I ever buy luxury goods - I've never owned so much as a knock-off of a designer purse - but I can tell you that even if I had a million dollars I'd never buy anything Dolce & Gabbana as I now think of them as the gang rape brand, the official spokesbrand for Darfur if you will. (Rather, I'd buy you a monkey, haven't you always wanted a monkey? Or a K car? I hear they're a nice, reliable automobile.)
I don't think I'm alone in this. I'm going to call shenanigans on this study: just because women may look at an ad longer - and 18 women said they liked macabre ads - doesn't mean most women like them. And if the point of advertising is to sell something then I'd have to see proof that these ads move merch before I'll believe my fellow sisters really do like it rough.
What's your take? Do you find these ads offensive or intriguing? Does it make the brand being advertised more memorable to you in a good way? Is there a "line" that shouldn't be crossed or do "lines" not apply to art ads? Have you ever bought a luxury item? (Just curious on the last one!)
Follow Charlotte Hilton Andersen on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CharlotteGFE