Nothing whips up a mental image like the phrase "." A woman—usually white—walks towards the camera with her long, shiny strands rippling in the wind, not a hair out of place. Maybe she ties her hair into a knot to demonstrate its incredible strength; maybe she smiles at the camera, luxuriating in her luscious hair and the happiness that implicitly comes with it. Most people know this kind of hair doesn't exist in real life, but that hasn't stopped it from staying the ideal. Yet as new campaign reveals, the lengths brands go on set to manipulate those images are so clever it's almost comical.
The campaign, called Hair You Can Believe, shows exactly how the sausage (in this case, "shampoo commercial hair") is made. We've all likely watched enough America's Next Top Model or Kardashians re-runs to know that wind machines and hair dryers are commonly used on set—and we all know the power of Photoshop. Instead, Suave is spotlighting the extreme hacks marketers use—like hiding styrofoam balls underneath a model's hair to create volume or pinning hair extensions to a board to make it look long and splayed out. In some cases, there are actually people in green screen bodysuits invisibly helping a model's long hair flow in the "wind."
But in the wake of brands like Asos, , and Missguided getting positive attention for more authentic advertising, other brands are following suit. For Suave, that meant doing away with "perfect" hair that felt out of reach.
"We found that more than seven in 10 women think the hair they see in advertising is unattainable," Jennifer Bremner, Suave's marketing director, tells Glamour. The new campaign is a direct response to social media's demand for authenticity, she says—because despite Suave's finding that 82 percent of millennial women don't think brands should use industry tricks to advertise, according to celebrity hairstylist and Unilever expert , they're still very much the norm.
"From outrageous extensions to crazy wind tunnels, I’ve seen the craziest of the crazy," Stephen tells Glamour. But when women then come into her salon, show her a picture of a model's hair and ask for the same thing, she has to explain that it just isn't possible. Understandably, cue women who don't feel seen, or like it's their fault for not being able to get the look they want.
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So as Bremner says, it's not so much about doing away with aspiration, but toning the standards down and offering honesty about hair that's literally larger than life, stuffed with Styrofoam and put on a pedestal."Everyone just wants to see people in haircare ads that they can relate to," Stephen says. "We all want to feel represented and have products available to cater to our specific needs."
Just as the grassroots celebration of acne, grey roots, and cellulite on Instagram is counteracting the impossible standards women see in the media, Suave's campaign seems like it'll do the same for the hair care world. Even around Glamour's offices—where getting the right shot sometimes means rolling out a fan — our editors were surprised by some of the stunts used to create hair "worthy" of an ad. And given the money riding on getting that shot, it's no small move that Suave is discarding the precedent.
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"Marketers want to represent all women and champion this cause, but on the other hand, they tend to get more sales when they present the ideal," says Matt Johnson, Ph.D, a professor and associate dean at Hult International Business School. The risk used to be what Johnson terms a "big social faux pas" for brands: not just lost sales, but the risk of looking unattractive and losing crucial caché. Everyone was scared of taking the risk, Smith says, until it was proven to pay off. (That same thinking is the reason we're just now seeing curvy women in beauty ads too.)
Pay off it has for the aforementioned brands, but it's yet to be seen whether the same quake will come in the world of hair care. The appeal of shampoo commercial hair is hard to shake, but it's worth knowing what goes into creating that illusion behind the scenes. We may keep striving for the gloss, the bounce, and the best-ever ideal, but it's weirdly comforting to know that there's no finish line. At least, not without men in green bodysuits propping it up.
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