A new study analyzes the trend for magazines to embed ads that feature peculiar, and at times grotesque images, to attract attention.
The setting — women’s fashion magazines — is a Mecca for the outlandish. According to the study found in the Journal of Consumer Research, the ads were very effective at grabbing consumers’ attention.
The study lists the following examples from fashion magazines such as Vogue: a Jimmy Choo ad depicting a woman fishing a purse out of a pool that contains a floating corpse of a man, and a Dolce & Gabbana ad that features one beautiful woman in period costume skewering another in the neck.
“Why do we see such bizarre imagery in ads for clothing that cost several hundreds or even thousands of dollars?” ask authors Barbara J. Phillips (University of Saskatchewan) and Edward F. McQuarrie (Santa Clara University).
The researchers interviewed 18 women who regularly read fashion magazines to examine their reactions to macabre ads.
They found that in addition to expected modes of engagement with ads, some women approached fashion advertisement as a type of fiction.
“These women would be transported into the story world set in motion by the ad’s pictures, asking themselves, ‘What is happening here?’ and ‘What will happen next?'” the authors write.
Still others sought out imagery that could be approached like a painting in a gallery. “These women would immerse themselves in the images, examining its lighting, colors, lines, composition, and creativity,” the authors explain.
Overall, the researchers found that in many cases, the key to constructing an engaging fashion ad was not to make it likable 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.”