New Year, New You: Exploitative Timing and Misdirection in Weight Loss Ads
Image Credit: Females in Action
2015 has arrived. With the new year comes the usual flood of marketing tailored to the typical New Year’s resolutions, especially that most bedeviling of goals in American culture: to lose weight. The imagery of these campaigns makes the argument, “give us your money and we will make you the person you want to be.”
Image credit: Jessica Martel Fitness
In this advertisement, a fitness company transparently pushes the desired end product of the “workout and detox challenge” it is advertising – an unrealistically (for most of us) slim body, one that one might desire to show off by wearing minimal clothing. The viewer’s eye is drawn to the woman on the right because of her bright pink bra, which picks up on the colors in the text portions of the ad. The dark photo also stands out against the pastel colors of the ad. The results of the product are foregrounded, while the process of getting there retreats into the background. The downward-pointing arrow next to her implies that you, too, can decrease your weight. The gaze next travels to the alliterative and snappy “new year, new you” slogan, offered in a cartoonish and friendly font, and the tagline “body, mind, spirit,” implying that if you can get the body you want, everything else will follow. At the bottom of this rectangle, in the smallest font, the ad finally informs the viewer what the product is. In a darker pink bubble to the left, though, the ad immediately spins the challenge as a good thing, welcoming to the viewer to a “positive” experience. Next to these words is the smiling face of a similarly slim woman, reminding the viewer that not only will the challenge make her look good, but it will make her feel good as well. (I say “her” here not merely to balance out centuries of texts using “him” as a gender-neutral pronoun, but because I am fairly sure that the ad is directed primarily toward a female audience.) The bottom lefthand corner of the ad is the last to get the viewer’s attention, with dark text and a foggy image. The black text provides practical information. The very last thing the viewer will notice, then, is the background to this text, which shows images of vegetables and of tiny food containers. What the viewer will actually have to do to attain the goal of looking like the women in the ad is literally backgrounded and blurred. Only after showing the viewer the goal achieved, claiming that a new body will bring a new mind and spirit as well, welcoming the viewer to a “positive” challenge, and providing the practical information needed to buy the product does the ad finally admit that the viewer will need to make sacrifices in order to achieve the goal offered. At this point, though, it is too late: the viewer who wants that body is hooked.
Image Credit: Fitness Together
Some advertisers are much more straightforward about what is involved in the process of losing weight. The image above does the opposite of what the detox challenge ad did: it emphasizes process over result. The ad centers on the colorful apple, with the viewer’s eye next drawn to the weights in the upper left corner. The sacrifices asked of the viewer are not particularly great: the apple looks appetizing enough, with its freshly washed exterior, and the weights are only three pounds. Still, the ad does not obscure the lifestyle changes that will be necessary if the viewer is to lose weight. It communicates the desirable results of these changes in a much more subtle way than the previous ad, with the white tape measure, which almost blends into the background, tucked around the apple. The meaning of this rather clever device is evident enough with a moment’s thought – the viewer can attain a smaller waistline – but that moment of thought further separates the results from the process. This portrayal of pursuing one’s resolution is significantly closer to the reality.
These ads differ radically in their degree of realism, but they both make use of the tendency to make New Year’s resolutions about losing weight. They are excellent examples of kairos, or rhetorical timing – New Year’s is a time when conversations about changing oneself open up, a moment ripe to be exploited by visual arguments. Such advertising can misdirect or be forthright, but it ultimately sells the same idea: this is the right time for you to buy your way to a new body.