By: Louise Ottewell / November 4, 2021
Tags: Brand, Social Media

Blurred Lines

When it comes to social media, it is generally accepted that there will be some degree of filtering or editing applied to the majority of photos you scroll past on any given day. For some, it’s barely perceptible but on others, the faces of people who you know in real life, can end up looking like creatures from another planet with eyes, lips and body parts stretched and airbrushed to new levels of extra-terrestrial. Known within the medical field as ‘Snapchat dysmorphia’ or the ‘Instagram face’, the ease of access to filters and their prolific use is adversely affecting the way we judge our appearance.

How people present themselves on their own personal channels is entirely up to them. But when it comes to your business, you have a moral and sometimes legal obligation not to distort the truth. So, how should you showcase images of your products, services, and team online without being misleading? We put our social media marketing hats on to present our top three unfiltered tips for building a positive brand reputation online.

It’s all about trust

Unless you’re posting a parody or have put together some artwork which clearly isn’t meant to be realistic, it is vital to establish trust through your business’s social media channels and to do this, you need to be authentic.

For example, there is little point in misleading your audience with unrealistic expectations of a shampoo that claims to restore hair loss when in reality, it does nothing different to an ordinary bar of soap. It won’t take long for the truth to get out yet still, businesses actively plan scam campaigns in the name of greed.

We’ve all seen videos from the cosmetic industry showcasing ‘miracle’ foundations which have in fact been filmed using filters that give unrealistic, fake results. Even high-profile celebrity brands have been caught out this way, which doesn’t sit well with consumers who have parted with money for something that was never going to work in the way they were promised.

Know how much is too much

What is considered to be an acceptable level of digital enhancement to one audience, could be unacceptable to another, so make sure you keep this in mind when promoting your products and services. If your target audience is Gen Y, it is likely that you’ll find them more forgiving of edited imagery compared to Gen X or baby boomers.

Retouching images to the point they don’t reflect the real world isn’t just something you have to be mindful of keeping in check for product promotion, it also applies to the people in your business. Maybe you’ve had corporate headshots taken and want to retouch areas of your face that make you feel self-conscious. This sort of enhancement is usually minor and can make a huge difference to the final result, without being misleading. Knowing when to stop is the tricky part as you don’t want your professional headshots to look completely unrecognisable.

A good photographer will present you in your best light and then any subtle adjustments to reduce dark undereye circles or shine on your forehead can be made afterwards in the digital darkroom. Requesting to look twenty years younger however, is not something we’d recommend. Not only does this distort the truth, it is also embarrassing when you have to face the ‘I didn’t recognise you from your photo, was it taken a long time ago?’ question.

We are constantly bombarded with images of people to the point where seeing someone ‘real’ is unusual and therefore more likely to stop the scroll compared to yet another line-free, over enhanced face that looks the same as the other 42 you have seen today. It almost feels like the world of the Stepford Wives has come to life.

In an episode of Four Corners which aired in 2020, the show exposed TikTok policy documents which were leaked showing that moderators were instructed to suppress posts by creators who they considered to be ‘ugly, poor, or disabled’.

“If the character’s appearance or the shooting environment is not good, the video will be much less attractive to be recommended to new users,” the TikTok documents said.

TikTok did issue a response to say that those guidelines were no longer current however, many TikTok creators living with a disability argue against this.

Advertising has become more than selling products, it’s morphed into a stealth way to set concepts of what good looks like, even if that was never the initial intent.

Stay on the right side of the law

In Norway, if there is a commercial intention to receive payment or compensation, it’s illegal for influencers to share retouched images without acknowledging that they have been adjusted. Anyone breaking these laws can be subject to fines or even imprisonment. The goal of keeping audiences in check with reality and preventing pressure being put on people to achieve unnatural and unrealistic looks, has been embraced by the majority.

Some brands such as Olay have vowed to stop retouching their images completely in a bid to commit to authenticity. Dove famously began their ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ in 2004 which features women of all different body types who have had no alterations. Not only did this help shine a light on how people look in reality, it also increased sales by several billion dollars, which we think is a win-win.

If you’re advertising, you must ensure you comply with the law. The ACCC (Australia’s competition regulator) is tasked with protecting consumers from businesses who make false or misleading claims. This applies to statements, quality, style, performance and benefits (amongst others), so think twice before you stretch the truth. You might think it doesn’t matter but to someone, it could, particularly your competitors but more importantly, your customers.

Sculptor and video creator Richard Serra said back in 1973 ‘if something is free, you are the product’. You can therefore be pretty certain that whether it’s social media, store loyalty cards or free to air television, your purchasing and viewing data will be used for advertising purposes. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this when used in a responsible manner by companies, it’s those who step over the blurred moral line who can cause harm, particularly to vulnerable, more impressionable people.

Louise Ottewell

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