Jess's Classics 2.0 post made me want to explore the subject of body image a little further. Is society subconsciously imposing a standard on us via media channels surrounding us, or even peer remarks on our bodies, as I explored in my last post on the subject? Gathering material on the subject to form the most accurate opinion possible, I stumbled upon Dove's marketing campaign, "Real Beauty".
As I am both a woman interested in my own self esteem and body image, but also a marketing professional, I thought it would be interesting to discuss a bit about Dove's long lasting "Real Beauty" marketing campaign, which both won awards and attracted much criticism over the years.
The Real Beauty campaign
The campaign started with billboard advertisements, then they promoted this long term messaging over the years by launching regular activations, like the fake "beautify" photoshop action that really reversed the photo to its untouched state. Some of the activations were really innovative and went viral. In 2006 they even won two Cannes Lion Grand Prix awards with their Evolution spot.
As a woman, this campaign attracted my interest because, to be honest, this is one of the rarest times where a beauty brand offers that kind of message. Especially knowing that their job is to sell beauty products, they would have much to gain to promote body insatisfaction and offer miracle solutions to sell their products.
As a marketing professional, I also find this campaign interesting to study and understand, because, no matter what criticism it has attracted over the years, it is still a long-running, award winning success - although I do not really know how it has affected product sales.
Now, what does the very existence of this campaign mean for global society standards about beauty and body shape? Is this, like many critics say, nothing but a vile marketing ploy to seduce people who, like me, question society's standards and the ethics of companies who make money on women's insecurities? Or can we really consider it like a first step to question standards and give women their confidence back, like minimalism could be a first step in questionning consumerism?
The Sketch Artist Action
The conclusion Dove draws from this experiment, is that women have a real self esteem problem in today's society, they don't see their own beauty. And they would probably be much happier and achieve many more things if they were made aware of that and had more self confidence.
I'll go into the criticisms and my own opinon a bit later below, but I think it is refreshing to be told, for once, that we are more beautiful than we think, rather than being told we should look taller and slimmer.
Here is the video if you'd like to take a look.
Critics on the campaign
To mention only this latest sketches video, critics mainly mention that the "real beauty" of Dove is not that real, and that these women are still casted within a certain age and physical attributes range. Some also say that it conveys the idea that being beautiful should be important to women, reducing them to their physical attributes.
Finally, a critic that I find very interesting to discuss, says that this video conveys the idea that women are their own ennemies, and not a sexist society or an external standard. You can find a great article on Forbes summarizing and analyzing these critics.
Opening the debate
Speaking of which, the debate around the message of this campaign reminds me of this questioning I had about minimalism. Is "real beauty" a trend Dove is surfing on to sell more products and fabricate an image of social responsibility, or a real sign of change? Let's be honest, Dove, and Unilever, are a business, and you can't ask a business to be totally desinterested, selfless and oblivious of sales and profit.
The real question I want to ask is: is this campaign actually useful for women, for everyone to start being aware of this subconscious standardization that make us complex about our bodies and lowers our self confidence?
And, in my personal opinion, the answer is yes. Back to the fake photoshop action campaign, I am not sure how many women are aware of the extent of the photoshop possibilities and how retouched the magazine images are. Even this sketch campaign is jaw-dropping - it brings a tangible proof that the way we see ourselves is biased, and that we are actually better looking than we think we are.
Besides, given how viral this latest video is (over 28 million views to date), whatever the viewer's opinion is on Dove's intentions, it does bring the subject forward to discussion. This very post is a proof of this, and there are many more articles, written by actual journalists on influent websites, that discuss their views on women's body image, self confidence, photoshop, "real beauty", sexism in society etc. It does create the debate, and in that aspect, I think it is useful.
An interesting question...
As I mentioned above, one of the critics on the sketches video is that Dove suggests that women are their own enemies, rather than victims of a sexist society. But what if it was true? What if it was actually Dove's point? Yes, society imposes a standard on us, via many elements from advertisments to Barbie dolls, but what is the role of women themselves in that social pressure?
Dove suggests that we lower our own self-confidence, we undermine and undervalue our own physical attributes - meaning that maybe, if we are made aware of it, we could reverse this inner thinking.
Hippocampe suggest, in the Empty Emptor post comments, that it is women, rather than society as a whole, that impose this standard on each other. Which is actually a very interesting question, I mean, think about the last time you got a comment on your body shape referring to weight loss, being thin or tall, who did it come from?
I'll probably work on a post dedicated to this very last question, after I do a bit of thinking and research. In the meantime, please share your own opinion about all this! What do you think Dove's intentions are? Do you think the Real Beauty campaign is useful?
Further reading and sources:
Dove US's Youtube channel - all spots and videos
Dove's website on the Sketches campaign - sketches videos and women's testimonies
Ad to recruit the women for the campaign - criticism on the "Real Beauty" cast
The fake "Beautify" photoshop action stunt - video and explanations
The Sketches Action - Video and explanations
Sketches video parody - are men overconfident?
Wikipedia - Details on the Dove campaign for Real Beauty
Campaign Coverage - Is this a real game changer?
Campaign Coverage - On the campaign criticisms