No Such Nonsense

A little of this, that and... what was I talking about again? It's TV, sports, pop culture and politics - all the stuff that really matters in life.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Campaign for Real Honesty

Earlier this year, as part of one of my MBA electives, I spent some time looking closely at Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty. The campaign, originated in the UK but now used around the world, encourages women to look at beauty in a different way. They use 'real' women - still very attractive, but with curves, or wrinkles, or grey hair. According to Dove's marketing materials, the campaign is meant to challenge stereotypes, "to celebrate the diverse, the healthy, the real, the truly beautiful."

Taken at face value, the Dove message is uplighting and welcome in an age where so many young women face crippling body image issues. And the company seems to walk the talk, creating a foundation to help boost esteem in young girls. All the same, our group was curious what women thought of the campaign. Was the idea of real beauty attractive?

Overall, the women we spoke to like the campaign. Some loved it -- and said they would buy Dove products because of it -- others liked the message but weren't as ready to change their buying habits. We didn't discover anything particularly earth-shattering. Until one of the participants in one of the sessions told us a friend had told her not to buy anything by Unilever. The reason, she said, was all about Axe.

Axe, like Dove, is a Unilever product. At the time of our discussion, the Axe ad campaign revolved around young men who found that Axe could make them irresistable to women. The women in question were almost anamatronic. Stick thin and expressionless, the women were objects in every sense. The campaign, like the Dove campaign, seemed perfectly suited to the target demographic. The problem, our participant explained, was the utter contradiction between the two efforts. Dove told women they should embrace their own unique, if imperfect, beauty. Yet the Axe campaign used the very types of unachievable 'beauty' that Dove seemed to want to eliminate.

When Axe was mentioned in the focus groups there was unanimous agreement that the ads were offensive to women. When the women were told that Unilever makes both Dove and Axe, the negative reaction was immediate. The women who had been most positive about Dove reacted most extremely. They were horrified, and felt that they had been lied to. They felt duped.

I'm not sure I would go so far. It is just advertising, after all. But Unilever may want to think about the backlash. By tieing Dove to esteem and real beauty, they set an expectation for who they are as a company. It is therefore incumbent upon the parent company to hold all their brands to a higher standard. I'm not saying to ax Axe - just give the women in the commercials a brain and a voice. Some guys may even be into that.


  • At 2:40 a.m., Blogger the2scoops said…

    Loved the piece Jenster. I wonder if anyone really realizes the ownership of Axe and Dove. It's not an obvious connection for mainstream consumers and doesn't really get a lot of press. Maybe this post can help spread the word.

  • At 1:46 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I thought this was really good, I didn't know about the connection. It seems it is all just about advertising and all Dove wanted to do was target the more "unattractive" people - which is most of the population - and by creating this fake campaign they were able to do that. The campaign is a good idea and that is what i thought when i first learned about it, but when this was only created for the sole purpose of marketing, it defeats the entire purpose.

  • At 6:31 a.m., Blogger Natsu said…

    I don't think the Dove campaign is "fake". I don't mind if AXE and Dove belong to the same macro-company. What Dove is doing is putting in the spotlight the bodies that are considered anathema nowadays. We ought to see those bodies from time to time. There are beautiful women, and there are "real" women. And if we only see the "unreal" ones, we almost believe that us, the real ones are unnormal. I don't mind, I'm 28. But some women and girls DIE because of the unreal-beauty standard bombing. So, Dove's campaign is necessary. Because we are seeing those women in the TV, in the ads, in the places where only the too-perpect, photoshopped girls ruled.

    Dove's campaign is good. Are they trying to make money? Well, that's capitalism. But I'd rather pay money for the company that uses MY money to make ads for which I feel good.

    Axe ads are ridiculous. I find them real fun. I mean, everyone knows that Axe doesn't hypnotize women, they are so ridiculous and exaggerated that I've always found them a joke. I find far more insulting to see thin models selling anti-cellulite stuff, or light yoghourts or all-bran stuff and dieting pills. I find far more insulting when a 25 year old girl sells an anti-age cream.

    I like Dove's campaign because it's putting real women in the spotlight again. Maybe some girl will remember that the normal stuff is normal, and not abnormal or disfunctional. Beautiful exists, bur normal does too, and we should be remembered. So, if Dove is trying to make money of it, I'm all glad. I enjoy it, and I'm willing to pay for it. Because I'm paying to see normal women in the TV, so I can remember it's OK to be normal. And that is well worth a change in a few lotions.

  • At 11:53 p.m., Anonymous Jen said…

    Natsu, thank you for shinning a little light on the issue. For me, and being a mother of a little girl, it is crucial that I shine the light on all of the unrealistic advertisements and toys my daughter is exposed to everyday.

    Regardless of Doves parent company, it is still a positive change. In fact, I hope that this may lead other companies to see that maybe they could make more money for advertising realistic ideas that connect with real women and girls. I hope this is a trend that rubs off on the rest so eventually my daughters children can live their adolescence with confidence and not a consistent negative image of themselves.

  • At 9:56 a.m., Anonymous shannon said…

    I love you for shining a light on this. Many people think something's real change, when it's just marketing.

  • At 11:55 a.m., Anonymous Nicky said…

    The same parent company owning Axe and Dove is not as shocking as thwe same parent company owning Dove and Fair and Lovely, a brand of skin bleachers in Asia and Africa that uses advertising openly saying you can't be successful unless your skin is fair. All that, while Dove itself sells self-tanning lotions in the west (were you can't be succesful unless your skin is orange like a Fanta soda).

  • At 8:22 p.m., Blogger Criztawl said…

    I hope you don't mind but I have included your blog post on a Facebook group called Dying to be Perfect. It's group made to fight negative body image in the media!! Myself and some others have made this group to advocate, as well as for an assignment in our Early Childhood Education course. We have included a link back here with the post!

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