Sunday, August 21, 2005

Essay 119

Here’s a rewrite of a response to a review originally referenced in Essay 113.


There’s ugliness at the heart of the Dove Real Beauty campaign.

Dove’s history is rooted in stereotypical and idealized beauty standards. The brand has forever been in the forefront of sustaining the status quo in this arena. Why the sudden rebirth? Don’t mean to sound paranoid, but there are eerie similarities between Dove and ex-KKK members now assuming elected seats in politics — they say they’re rehabilitated and reformed, but let’s withhold judgment until seeing indisputable evidence. Remember, Dove is wholly responsible for the issues it now criticizes.

Dove brags the campaign is redefining beauty standards. The problem is, it’s based on Eurocentric beauty standards. Dove basically ignores Afrocentric beauty standards, Asian beauty standards, Hispanic beauty standards, etc. Hell, having a few curves is already considered real beauty among many Blacks and Hispanics. Plus, the allegedly real casting offers a narrow-minded vision, particularly with the minorities depicted. The Dove girls appear to symbolize a White person’s — and probably a White man’s — definition of beauty. In short, this self-absorbed celebration is pretty exclusive.

Another ugly aspect of the campaign involves the art direction. There’s absolutely nothing real about it. The women merely resemble full-figured professional models. The makeup and styling are totally high fashion — no different than Oprah’s makeover programs. The photography is on the level of Vogue and Elle. Even the poses are classical, continuing a movement dating back to Peter Paul Rubens at least. Sorry, these women look anything but real.

The PR surrounding the work feels as fake as the campaign. Great ideas usually seep into the public conscience without a lot of covert prodding from the advertiser. Bud Light’s Whassup? Target. Got milk? iPod. Verizon’s annoying “Can you hear me now?” character. The list goes on. In Dove’s case, it seems the advertiser and agency are seeding too much of the hype — the buzz is calculated and fabricated.

The campaign concept is not original, and Dove openly admits it. Every major beauty brand has presented the same position at some point. Magazines like Essence publish annual photo tributes to real women. For better or worse, most advertisers abandon the direction upon determining real beauty doesn’t equate to real sales. Dove is nowhere close to being fresh or breakthrough. So why is everyone reacting with shock and awe?

Dove itself can barely maintain interest in the campaign. When Dove shampoo was launched a few months ago, Real Beauty was ditched in favor of spotlighting cartoon characters including Wilma Flintstone, Marge Simpson and Jane Jetson. So much for keeping it real — the advertising agency’s creative team apparently lacks adoration for its own brainchild.

A recent New York Times Op-Ed argued the Dove firming product doesn’t live up to its claims — that is, it won’t help firm fat. Here’s yet another contradiction to the notion of being real. And if real beauty should be cherished and unretouched, why hawk snake oil designed to hide the truth?

To contrast and compare, the infamous Miller Beer Catfight bimbos also garnered raves and controversy from American audiences — but miserable sales. Despite Dove’s contention that the Real Beauty campaign is getting positive responses, it will be interesting to see if it generates real profits. Situations turn infinitely real in shareholder meetings when discussions lead to the almighty ROI.

Finally, it’s all so damned cynical when you consider Dove’s parent company. Unilever has plenty of products still merrily showcasing the regular beauty imagery and models. Dove boasts about flipping the script, but the brand can’t persuade its own corporate sisters to join the revolution.


Mr. HustleKnocker said...

Strong! I'll have to step my commentary game up after that one. i think you quite eloquently laid out what got me so annoyed with all the congratulatory praise about the Dove work.

It's not awful work per se, but once you get to the heart of it, it's reflective of, well, like i said upfront--you nailed what it's actually reflective of.

(By the way: I'd be curious to get your take on Monique's Fat Chance show.)

monica said...

thank you, thank you, thank you.
i'm not exaggerating when i say: my thoughts exactly. why has no one else questioned the fact that this “redefining beauty” is essentially hiring plus size models that are just as ordinarily beautiful as the next moisturizer ad. i can see where dove is headed and i commend them. i suppose they have realized as well as most that, sadly enough, a snaggle-tooth smile will never sell lotion.