Beauty sells
Good looks in marketing go far beyond fashion, film

Jessica Paré is every Canadian man's dream. Tall, blue-eyed, she looks great in hockey pants or a bikini. I rarely watch a movie that gets a bad review, but after seeing the Montreal actress in a couple of television interviews, I couldn't resist checking her out in Denys Arcand's new film Stardom.

The film is a satire about how society jumps on, and worships the gorgeous. Paré plays a Cornwall girl's league hockey player who rockets to celebrity status after a photographer sends in her picture to a modeling agency.

"I was always mesmerized by the power of beauty," said Arcand in a press statement publicizing the film. "Ever since I was about ten years old, a beautiful woman could make me do absolutely anything."

But the "babe factor" is also important in marketing products other than films. If Jessica Paré's good looks can get people to watch a movie, they could probably also draw customers into a restaurant. Restaurant greeters, the ones who stand in front waving menus to draw in passers-by, are basically salesmen.

Walking down Prince Arthur on a summer day, looking for a terrace to grab a bite, would you be more influenced if Jessica Paré or Cathy Bates (the star of Misery) was waving the menu? To ask is to state the obvious: beauty sells.

In the film business, actors do less and less acting. They are increasingly a gang of babes and hunks like Julia Roberts and Pierce Brosnan, who stand in front of the camera looking beautiful. In his role as star of the television series Nikita, Quebecer Roy Dupuis demonstrates fewer facial expressions than are found on the statues at Easter Island.

But Dupuis has such rugged good looks, his fans don't mind that he can't act. By the time they have reached their teens most Canadians have seen all the standard boy-meets-girl, rags-to-riches plots, dozens of times. Watching them unravel again is just an excuse to watch a bunch of models parade around the screen.

The fashion, perfume and cosmetics industries also use beauties, often costing thousands of dollars a day to market their products. Tennis star Anna Kournikova has leveraged her good looks to build an endorsement career despite the fact her on-court performance leaves much to be desired.

Journalism is not exempt either. In review of the half dozen people that endured Beaconsfield High School and Concordia University at the same time I did, those who gravitated into media yielded an interesting contrast. The babes and hunks wound up on camera, the aesthetically-challenged drifted safely out of sight, into the bowels of radio or print.

If good looks sell in film, fashion, and media, it's reasonable to think that they have an effect in cases where beauty is not so directly tied to the product. You would expect a good-looking hair-stylist to attract more clients, and would wonder about the effects of beauty on how you judge your doctor, lawyer and dentist.

The corporate world also presents interesting questions. Say your the CEO of a company that has just had a bad quarter. Combing the halls of head office looking to trim the fat, you walk by the human resources department and wonder whether the task could be contracted out. You'd have to think that the human resource's officer's looks would have a subtle effect on your decision about whether or not to axe the department.

Outside of some highly visible industries, talk about beauty, and its effect on how we evaluate an individual's performance is a taboo as strong, as that surrounding a person's age, race or sexual preferences.

"Beauty is extremely powerful," said Arcand. "But ignore its effect is to leave you totally in its grasp." The reason is that what most of what affects the way we view others, depends on what friends and co-workers think.

Say you're that CEO trying to make a decision about whether to deep-six the human resources department, and you're not influenced by the fact that the person in charge looks like Claudia Schiffer.

Since that department is the responsibility of the vice-president, you ask his advice. If you are not conscious of the effect that beauty can have on the way we evaluate people, you may not realize that it will influence the vice-president's recommendation.

Whether or people want to discuss beauty and its effect on marketing, we live in an economy where 2.5 million Canadians describe themselves as working at their own businesses. They might want to consider effects when coming up with strategies on how to market themselves. Especially when competing for a contract against someone who looks like Jessica Paré.


Photo caption: If Jessica Paré's beauty can draw people into a movie theater, could it draw them into a restaurant as well?

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