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Beauty filters vs. natural look: which one is more memorable?

We tested more than 200 images of women and men with and without beauty filters to see which category was more memorable. The results were surprising.
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More transparency, less filters

Beauty filters started as a fun way of changing our looks: from trying on different types of makeup to changing our faces for animals. Nowadays, the use of beauty filters has been mainly used to change one’s appearance to fit into the beauty standards on Social Media. The use of filters has been widely debated, not only because of personal use but also in the Marketing and Advertising world. Influencers have been one of the top strategies for marketers to promote products or services from their companies. They are known for using beauty filters in their photos on Social Media; not only on their faces but on promoted products as well.

However, with the growing demand for transparency in the Marketing world, industry regulators are starting to take action on Social Media and commercials. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled in 2021 that filters “should not be applied to social media adverts if they exaggerate the effect of the product”. In addition, companies like Ogilvy UK, are joining the natural trend and will no longer work with influencers who “distort or retouch their bodies or faces for brand campaigns”. This initiative aims to fight against mental health harm on Social Media.

Beauty filters on Social Media

How do filters affect influencers’ ad impact on the audience?

At Memorable, we asked ourselves how filters are affecting the cognitive impact of images and videos. Being experts in cognitive impact, our AI enables us to shed some light on the question of how much marketers and creators are missing out by showing real looks.

We analyzed more than 200 photos of men and women with and without filters to see which one was more memorable. The answer: natural beauty pays off.

Using the same photos, we compared them to see if the unfiltered version would win over the filtered version. Our results showed that in 70% of the cases, the unfiltered photos were more memorable than their counterparts. Natural beauty surpasses beauty filters when the goal is to stay in memory: even though a filtered photo might be considered to be closer to current beauty standards.

Beauty fiters vs natural look, which one is more memorable

How did Memorable estimate this?

Our technology, built through incubations at Harvard and MIT labs, estimates the cognitive impact of visuals across dimensions like memory and attention. We have collected millions of data points using attention and memory games on 2M+ ads, and we have trained models to reproduce the human patterns found in our data.Our models have been tested against real humans to measure their prediction accuracy. Our mean absolute error in memorability prediction is below 0.03, which is state-of-the-art for predicting how well someone will remember your ad or a specific scene after seeing it once.

Interested in measuring the memorability of your own visual assets? It’s super easy: just upload an image or video to our dashboard, and our tech estimates Ad recall scores, brand association indices, text saliency, and many other metrics.

Take a look.

AI analyzing beauty filters
CTA: Are you an influencer? Do you want to test your videos and make sure they’re eye-catching and memorable? Contact us here!

In these two examples, we see two different women and each with their unfiltered and filtered photo. Evidently, their no filter version has more Ad Recall than the other version. This indicator measures recall probability after an asset was seen by the average viewer. In other words: how likely it is to be remembered. As shown, there is a difference between the two combination of images and it shows that a natural face is more likely to be remembered.

The filterless movement

Dove has been one of the pioneers in the battle for real beauty: they only use real, unmodified pictures of women in their commercials and avoid the use of beauty filters to promote body positivity. Their main goal is to inspire women to present themselves in a natural light, which brings out the best, most honest version of themselves. A study made by Dove’s Self Esteem Project showed that 50% of girls believe that they don’t look good enough to post an image of themselves without edits. Together with Getty Images and Girlgaze, Dove launched #Show Us, a library of more than 5,000 photos created by women and non-binary people to break beauty stereotypes in the beauty industry, advertising, and social media.

On social media, new trends are calling out edited selfies and inviting users to post filter-less content. Content creator Faye Dickinson launched the “Filter vs. Reality” filter on Instagram and started a new trend, where it shows one side of the person filtered and the other one filterless, inviting people to show their natural selves. The filter reached over 142.5 million impressions in 2021, with over 10,000 celebrities, models, and entrepreneurs using it.

Additionally, many other influencers are starting to raise their voice about the subject. Emily Clarkson is one of them: she uses her Instagram account, with more than 248k followers, to promote body positivity and healthy images. Emily compares her photos with and without filters, to highlight how different images can look with beauty filters and editing.

Emily Clarkson Instagram
© Emily Clarkson Instagram

Sasha Louise Pallari, a make-up artist, led the #FilterDrop campaign, urging beauty brands and influencers to drop the use of filters when promoting or trying to sell beauty products. She called out influencers for giving consumers false expectations and creating false advertising.

Rozanna Purcell, an Irish model, is inspiring her 500k+ followers on Instagram with posts about eating disorders, self-worth, and accepting themselves for who they are and how they look.

Where are we headed?

As our study shows, natural faces appear to have unexpected benefits: they tend to be more memorable than filtered faces. For advertising, this means that filtered and photoshopped faces might not be the best alternative for increasing ad recall and brand awareness. This could be a win for all those in favor of natural faces!

Now, you can work towards that goal knowing that you will also be making your post easier to remember.

Are you seeking to optimize your next influencer’s campaign?

Book a free demo now!


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