Atelophobia is the fear of imperfection and it is this human condition that many of today’s advertisements are geared upon affecting. While the majority of people will not likely claim to be perfectionists, it is clear that nobody wants to be disliked or alienated by others. It is this desire of inclusion that propels people to undergo extreme measures and seek quick solutions through the plethora of creams, makeup, deodorants, and surgical options available today. As a child growing up in a predominantly “white” neighborhood, I remember asking my mom why I could not have “yellow” hair like all the other kids.
My best friend was blonde and even my teacher was too, what was wrong with me that I was not? It seems that this desire to be on the “inside” is a trait conditioned very early in life and advertisers prey upon this need to compel us into buying their products. Analyzing the Loreal ad from the Elaboration Likelihood Model and its portrayal of the message source as similar yet superior to the audience, in conjunction with its’ appeals to fear, factual evidence and others, I will demonstrate the effectiveness of this ad in making the consumer feel desperately like someone on the outside looking in, thus turning them into the perfect consumer.
In terms of the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM), which argues that audiences process messages either centrally or peripherally, depending upon their personal motivations and abilities (Mullin, 2003, November 6), the commercial utilizes both routes to convey its message. Peripherally, the source is an attractive and active older woman who expresses similarity with her audience in that she herself has wrinkles around her eyes and has the same concerns about aging, as does everyone else.
She becomes emphatic towards the audience and according to Tubbs and Moss (2003) empathy improves communication and perception because it involves seeing and feeling things as the other person does. This increased perception also leads to the audience’s ability to trust that she is being honest. Another peripheral cue that allows her, as the source, to gain trust is the fact that she is looking at us straight in the eye, which depicts honesty (Tubbs & Moss, 2003). However, she does convey an air of superiority in that she is very well made up and even has time to play tennis during the day perhaps signifying higher economic status.
In this way, the target audience of women in their early 40’s and up who are starting to get wrinkles, are able to both relate to her yet still want to strive to be like her. This technique is referred to as snob appeal, in which people are made to feel like they are lower in status than someone who uses a particular product (Mullin, 2003, November 6). As ELM argues, these are all peripheral cues relying on the idea that people do not want to think about the facts, but would rather buy what the pretty people are buying because it is the simplest way to gain access into the “in-crowd”.
The ad also attacks the central route of message processing as described in ELM. In central processing, we exert cognitive effort and focus on arguments and evidence as a basis for our decisions (Mullin, 2003, November 6). In this ad, a visualization of “Advanced Dermo-Peptide Technology” is shown tightening the skin and offers statistical evidence claiming that 83% of users experienced “more resilient” skin. This set of factual evidence allows us to either negate or substantiate the arguments we have begun to establish in our heads about how we are going to feel about this product (Mullin, 2003, November 6).
Advertisers hope that it proves their product to be superior, but it is also aimed at giving us the feeling that we are making an informed decision. Even the name of the product, Age Perfect: Anti-Aging and Rehydrating Complex, offers the audience an opportunity to critically analyze the benefits of this product. The name sounds scientific and complicated and must therefore be superior. The target audience, who is likely concerned with this issue, has a high level of motivation indicating that they are centrally processing, so it is important that the ad give them enough evidence to refute the arguments they have in their own minds.
This model argues that being persuaded centrally leads to a more persistent effect as well as a higher resistance to other persuasions (Mullin, 2003, November 6). This is true because it takes more effort to process centrally and once we have rationalized something within ourselves, it becomes part of our beliefs, which we are more apt to defend since according to Professor Mullin, people have a need for consistency within their own attitudes and beliefs (Mullin, 2003, November 6).
This ad is effective because if the audience is unable to understand the statistics or other factual evidence presented and is therefore unable to process centrally, ELM would argue that the audience would then process peripherally. In that case, the factual evidence would serve as motivation towards the “bandwagon”, since lack of understanding will often lead people into following the status quo and doing what everyone else is doing. If the commercial can convey the idea that this is what everyone is using, then the message will still be effective even though it has not been processed centrally.
The bandwagon is so effective because people fear being left behind. Fear can motivate people into doing almost anything. In this society it is even a legally sanctioned excuse for murder when fear results in a self-defense killing. During the September 11th attacks, the fear of being burned alive compelled people to jump from the windows hundreds of flights above ground. Just imagine what fear could do when coupled with advertising. Advertisers play upon the fears of being left out or unattractive in order to sell their product because they know that within each person lies the need to be accepted.
In this ad, it claims that after age 50, skin care becomes an even more serious threat. They assert that skin will begin to sag, lose hydration, and become less resilient. This concern is obviously universally accepted since the ad offers no reason why these effects are to be seen as negative. In this society, it is not acceptable to look old, so saying that a person’s skin will begin to sag is a definite appeal towards fear as well as the broad cultural values of beauty and youth.
According to Professor Mullin, this appeal is most effective when the threat is serious, when the threat is likely to happen to them, and when specific steps are given to ward off the threat (Mullin, 2003, November 6). This ad provides for all three – the threat is serious because society deems it to be and the unattractive have less access to success, the threat will happen to everyone because nobody is immune to the effects of gravity and age, but this cream will ward off and delay the effects of aging and restore the user’s youthful appearance and beauty.
Fear turns us into consumers and when those fears are manifested in a commercial, it becomes only natural that we also accept the simple solution the commercial presents. This ad presents a one-sided argument because the nature of the ad is universally accepted. The majority of people agree that aging gracefully is important and also that the threat of being unattractive is serious. According to Professor Mullin, the goal of this ad is to change behavior, not attitude (Mullin, 2003, November 6). The advertisers simply want the audience to buy their product instead of their competitors.
A two-sided argument would not be any more effective because the issue is not controversial and it is not likely that anyone would argue for being unattractive. According to the Elaboration Likelihood Model, this ad would be very effective for persuading its target audience, since it presents a trustworthy and empathic source, provides an imminent threat and solution and attacks both fronts of audience processing so as to reach viewers of different receiver capabilities. It also appeals to our need to have the best.
The ad claims that it is an “innovation for mature skin”, implying that it is the newest and most groundbreaking product on the market, which thus conveys its superiority. It is also effective in that it may reveal a problem that the audience does not know they have. In the very beginning of the ad, it boldly states that after age fifty, skin care is an even more serious concern because it now requires certain special needs. Then it presents these needs using technical words such as resilience and hydration to further enhance the brevity of the situation.
All of a sudden, every fifty year old woman who sees this commercial must deal with her own problems of resilience and hydration, but luckily this product will solve all of those problems with a lofty 83% guarantee. This ad is further effective because the audience can not only see themselves in the sources position, thus relating to her, but they can also look up to her and strive to have what she has and what she has is this cream. According to ELM, appealing to different venues of persuasion ensures that a larger target audience is reached thus increasing the scope and effectiveness of a particular ad.
The desire of acceptance is a culturally universal more that enables advertisers to manipulate people’s desires and perceived needs. Once the threat of vulnerability is presented, most people will instinctively try to seek out a way to remedy it. Advertisers create needs, but also create solutions. In this ad, the target audience is presented with the threat of age. This problem turns them into outsiders by making them feel inferior because they are not remedying their ever increasing skin needs. It turns them into consumers by giving them a product that will “unlock” the door and eliminate their sense of vulnerability.