Yeah, Does Size Matter When It’s Free?

After I handed out some sweets and resumed work on my previous blog post, I began to wonder whether the body size of the person giving out sweets has an impact on the uptake of sweets. I allowed myself to ponder this question as it can be relevant to the selection of people who hand out free, high calorific samples.

From my personal observations in the UK, most of those who hand out free samples look within the normal range, probably because a lot of averages are where most people sit comfortably. However, in the media world, many adverts try to convince people to buy their product by featuring very thin people (Anschutz, Engels, Becker & Strien, 2008; Klesse, Goukens, Geyskens & de Ruyter, 2012). This may be due to the fact that attractive humans have been proven to bring more trust and attention to many products than less attractive people (Bower & Landreth, 2001; Giebelhausen & Novak, 2012). For example, some sellers on eBay have used sexy preview images to successfully increase views (Giebelhausen & Novak, 2012). So people often like gawking at attractive people and, nowadays, the western world appear to view the supermodel thin body type for females and the muscular body type for males as the current ideals (Cafri & Thompson, 2004; Evans, 2003). Therefore, the “ideal” people may be able to attract more attention to free sample feasts than normal or larger-sized people. Hence, size may matter.


A topless waiter from Crewmen & Co.

However, is featuring the current “ideal” body types effective in promoting high calorie food and drinks, which has been related to weight gain (Pereira et al., 2005; Schulze et al., 2004)? It is better or worse to hire people with more body fat to hand out high calorie snacks?

People have, in fact, felt that adverts selling high calorie items such as chocolate with supermodel thin people, communicated confusing messages (Gieger & Fennell, 2003). For example, “Hey, you should be very slim, but you should eat these crisps“. The result of this can be increased concern about body size and reduced belief in the advert (Gieger & Fennell, 2003; Halliwell & Dittmar, 2004). Consequently, these adverts add to the many other things that can encourage things such as body dissatisfaction, and potentially, eating disorders and steroid abuse (Anschutz et al., 2008; Cafri & Thompson, 2004; Dittmar & Blayney, 1996; Tiggemann & Pickering, 1996). Hence, using people with the “ideal” body types in promotions can be damaging to the consumers and reduce the desire for high calorie food and drinks. Though reducing high calorie food consumption can be healthy, some coping mechanisms may be less healthy (Eisenberg, Neumark-Sztainer, Story & Perry, 2005).

Meanwhile, companies should not aim to associate negative feelings with their products, for instance, making people cry while eating their ice cream, not because they were crying beforehand, but because the ice cream was high in calories and they wanted to be very thin. This could discourage purchasing after trying out the free sample as satisfaction is linked to wanting more (Anderson, Fornell & Lehmann, 1994).

This is in contrast to featuring average-sized, attractive people in adverts, which can often make people more relaxed about their weight (Halliwell, Dittmar & Howe, 2005). This may be due to people being so used to having those “ideals” shoved in their faces and ears, it is a relief to know that it can acceptable to not be that “ideal”. Maybe, they can have that pizza then. Moreover, if the person is attractive, it does not matter whether the people was of the “ideal” or average-sized as they are just as effective as promoting items (Halliwell et al., 2005). Hence, average-sized people may be better at encouraging purchase after trying the free samples than the “ideal-sized” people, as they promote less negative feelings. This can also mean that people who are not supermodel thin or muscular can be attractive too.

The benefits of average-sized people giving out free samples can be further backed by homophily (McPherson, Smith-Lovin & Cook, 2001). This is where people more are likely to make contact with people who they see as similar to themselves (McPherson et al., 2001). Thus, as there are more average-sized people, more people may be likely to approach free samples in an average-sized person’s offer. Hence, average-sized people may be able to draw more people in to interact with them. Furthermore, matching people’s current self-image can improve memories and brand image (Hong & Zinkhan, 1995). Therefore, featuring average-sized people seems ideal for the promotion of high calorie food and drinks so far.

The appeal of similar sized people can also be relevant to people with larger than average-sized bodies. There may be people who see themselves as having a larger size and are more likely to approach people of similar sizes. Hence, featuring a larger-sized person can better convince a different range of people. However, there is an issue of people often being generally less persuaded by people who have larger than average sizes (Wang, 2008). Hence, despite larger-sized people may be being more able to target a different segment, others can be less encouraged by them.

On the other hand, free things can be seen as really great. The effect of the all powerful “free” can erase some of pain and guilt (Lee-Wingate & Corfman, 2010) and can make items be more attractive than greatly discounted items (Shampanier & Ariely, 2007). Hence, employing some “ideal” and larger-sized people can still be a viable option when the subjects are free samples. For example, there may be thoughts like “Oh no, I want to lose weight, yet I’m eating this… It’s free though!” and “It doesn’t look that great, but who cares? It’s free!” Still, choosing average-sized people seems to be best.

Yes, size does matter.

Copyright © 2013 Thoughts for Creation

About Thoughts for Creation

A blog containing pieces of information concerning consumer psychology, including package design, label design, marketing styles and some other topics. Link: ~ Thoughts for Creation


  1. I agree with what you’re saying here about people being more willing to buy products from those they associate with. The ‘flake girls’ adverts were actually ended in 2004 due to the fact they made women feel guilty about eating the chocolate rather then enticed them to buy it. However, I do think it is a bit of a leap to associate something like food advertisements with eating disorders, adverts which focus on beauty yes, but the focus of food ads is the product itself and while the individual onscreen may be relevant to the product they are not the main focus. With the Dawn French chocolate orange ad, for example, she was hired primarily for her celebrity status, I’m not sure many people were convinced eating the product was responsible for her weight. In fact the Dittmar & Blayney (1996) paper collects data after the fact, the people with eating problems had them before watching the ad and so the negative reaction to them could be due to the existing disorder not as a consequence of. Also I do not think high calorie food adverts can promote starvation in any way, shape or form, using a thin model may put consumers off the product but it does not convince them to stop eating altogether.

    • You have raised some interesting points worth investigating. Like whether food adverts can create rather than just contribute to idealising particular images and what was the exact reasoning behind seeing people with higher than ideal body sizes advising high calorie food as less contradicting. I too do not think Terry’s Chocolate Orange solely contributed to Dawn French’s weight, especially since supermodels may eat high calorie foods as well as there being other possible factors influencing weight, including genetics and physical (Ross et al., 2004; Wang, 2008). This, however, might be one of the reasons why high calorie food adverts with people with higher than ideal body sizes appears less contradicting.

      Great focus on the product rather than the model is a good scheme for adverts to consider that is not always followed. I only know the first video in this blog post is a Hardee’s Burger Advert, because I actively looked. It even took me a few watches to know what the burger looks like, because I was too distracted by Kate Upton. I think the advert did a better job at advertising jalapenos. Actually, I was eating a Subway sandwich with jalapenos as I was typing this at some points. Fortunately, it was not hot enough to make me want to take my clothes off in the middle of the MacLab.


      Ross, R., Janssen, I., Dawson, J., Kungl, A., Kuk, J. L., Wong, S. L., . . . Hudson, R. (2004). Exercise-induced reduction in obesity and insulin resistance in women: A randomized controlled trial. Obesity Research, 12, 789-798. Retrieved from

      Wang, L. (2008). Weight discrimination: One size fits all remedy? The Yale Law Journal, 117, 1900-1945. Retrieved from

  2. It’s always been a strategy to use an ideal body types and attractiveness in advertisements so you remember and make associations but I do think that companies do need to take some care when it comes to food advertising. Of course companies need to create adverts that make the food irresistible but care should also be taken to avoid any negative associations with the food in my point of view. However, Kyrois et al., (2013) does highlight a relationship between a depressed mood and compulsive buying, so perhaps this isn’t the case. I mean at the end of the day, if it’s been a bad one I do allow myself to indulge on sweet treats. Perhaps it’s the classic negative association of crying over a tub of ice cream that’s done it for me but nevertheless, these associations influence my behaviour. When it comes to model size though, I do think an average size would have a better influence making me concentrate on the food and enjoying it. I always seem to remember a particular Galaxy advert where the actress is so slim; surely she’s endorsing not eating chocolate! I haven’t really thought about this before while advertising food but it’s a great observation. Well done.

    Galaxy Advert (2012):

  3. Awesome blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from
    somewhere? A design like yours with a few simple tweeks would really make my
    blog jump out. Please let me know where you got your
    design. Appreciate it

  4. I’m sure we’re all aware that obesity levels are rising in the UK. Currently around 26% of British men and women are obese, and these figures are projected to rise, with somewhere between 41% and 48% of men, and 35% to 43% of women predicted to obese by 2030 (Wang, McPherson, Marsh, Gortmaker & Brown, 2011). This has been attributed to passive overconsumption of more widely available (and heavily marketed), processed food (Swinburn, et al., 2011).

    After reading your blog, I began wondering whether as more and more people become obese, whether advertisers will begin using overweight people in their adverts to appeal to this minority/future majority.

    As you’ve observed, generally adverts (even for fast food) feature either thin or average weight people. How long can advertisers keep this pretence up for? At what stage will fast food advertisers start to acknowledge the sheer number of fat people eating their food? Or will it be swept under the carpet forever?

    I’m trying to think of adverts featuring fat people. One that comes to mind is the John Smiths adverts with Peter Kay, which were pretty funny and popular.

    Recently, this advert also drew a lot of attention for Nike.

    On the one hand – you could say that it’s an inspiring message – we all have greatness within us. On the other hand – could it simply be Nike thinking ‘wait for a minute – we’re sponsoring all the biggest names in sports – but what about all the fat people who don’t even play sports?’, then coming up with an advert that makes Nike appealing to obese people.

    Your blog also made me wonder – do obese people respond better to adverts featuring people with body types similar to themselves? I couldn’t find any research on this, but it would certainly make for an interesting experiment….

  5. I do not agree with you completely about sense of smell and affect it on buy any
    product. On the one hand, sense of smell has logical effect to buy most of products eating
    and drinking. On the other hand, sense of smell does not affect too much when people buy
    some products. For example, most of people if they buy car focus on the price and quality.
    Also, most of girls when buy clothes focus on the look

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