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Are size-zero female models always more effective than average-sized ones? Depends on brand and self-esteem!

Xuemei Bian (Department of Marketing, Business School, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK)
Kai-Yu Wang (Goodman School of Business, Brock University, St. Catherines, Canada)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 13 July 2015




The purpose of this paper is to investigate if brand might affect consumers’ response to replacing size-zero models (SM) with average-sized models (AM) in advertising and how individuals’ psychological states might underlie consumers’ reactions.


Three studies manipulating brand and model body size were conducted and advertising images to female individuals differing in self-esteem were exposed.


This research finds that brand moderates consumers’ model evaluation. Participants evaluated AM as being more attractive than SM for new brands, whereas for well-established brands associated with SM, participants rated both AM and SM as being equally attractive. Self-esteem shapes participants’ evaluation of AM and SM. For new brands, low self-esteem individuals evaluated AM as being more attractive than SM, whereas high self-esteem individuals evaluate AM and SM as being equally attractive. The results are consistent, regardless of whether it is a luxury and a generic brand. These results emerged for both model attractiveness rating and product evaluations.

Practical implications

A better understanding of the relative consequences of the use of AM versus SM is essential for more effective policy initiatives and better targeted marketing campaigns.


Limited research has documented the possible effects of brand on individuals’ responses to AM as opposed to SM. How individuals of different psychological characteristics may react distinctively to advertisements containing AM versus stereotype SM has not yet been explored until this study. This research takes the first step to bridge these knowledge gaps by looking into how brand and perceiver psychological characteristics jointly work with model features to determine how consumers perceive the AM as opposed to SM. This study provides empirical and comparative evidence of the advantages of using AM and SM in print media.



Bian, X. and Wang, K.-Y. (2015), "Are size-zero female models always more effective than average-sized ones? Depends on brand and self-esteem!", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 49 No. 7/8, pp. 1184-1206.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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