They are thin, possess flawless skin, and have beautiful hair. They are the models and celebrities we see in television, print, and billboard ads that tout the latest shampoos, antiaging shampoos, and skin cleansers. The message is clear. Buy our product and you too can look like this. Beginning in 2004, Dove a division of Unilever, started to send out a radically different message when the brand launched its “Campaign for Real Beauty”. The first step in Dove’s campaign, a tactic to support its skin-firming cream, introduced the nation to billboards that showed unretouched photographs of “normal” women of various sizes in just their underwear. Dove sent the message that women do not need to conform to the standards of beauty the fashion industry determines. Every woman, regardless of her age or body size, is beautiful. The campaign continued to build strongly over the next couple of years, and gained more steam with the viral release of the video “Evolution”. The ad featured an average-looking woman who enters a film studio. The video then speeds through a series of hair, makeup, and shocking computer-enhancement techniques. In 60 seconds, she emerges as a gorgeous model on a billboard. Immediately after the final shot of the billboard, the video blacks out to the statement, “No wonder our perception of beauty is distorted.” This viral video was followed with “Onslaught”, an equally powerful ad, which shows the intensity of personal care, diet, and exercise advertising as viewed through the eyes of a young girl. The ad ends with another powerful message, ” Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does.” An important part of the Campaign for Real Beauty is the Dove Self-Esteem Fund. With young girls reporting alarmingly low levels of self-worth, this arm of the campaign works to provide confidence-building tools and workshops for young girls. Dove partners with the Girl Scouts, the Boy and Girls Clubs of America, and girls.inc to educate girls on the importance of self-esteem. Dove reaped a lot of public relations benefits from the campaign, but it is not without it’s critics. Some charge that Unilever, which owns Dove, is as guilty as the rest of the industry in promoting false ideals of beauty. Ads for the company’s Axe brand often are cited as flagrant examples of messages that objectify women. In addition, the antiaging and firming creams Unilever sells, thrive on women’s insecurities about their looks. If she is supposed to be satisfied with her natural beauty, then why does a woman need these products? In addition, there was controversy concerning the airbrush techniques Dove used to photograph these “normal” women. An article in the New Yorker cited a prominent photo editor who claimed that he had done a large amount of retouching and mentioned what a challenge it was to make the women look attractive. Unilever’s response was that it did not digitally alter the photos, but retouched them only to correct color and remove dust. Still, this was a damaging accusation against Dove and its ad agency Ogilvy & Mather, especially since the “Evolution” campaign criticizes retouching tricks. Finally, there is the question of whether such an emotionally charged campaign actually boosts sales. It certainly helps to break through the clutter and bring recognition to the brand, but does it resonate with the consumer over the long term? Dove reported a doubling of its sales in the first five years after the campaign launched. Will this unconventional beauty theme continue to strike a chord-while it sales beauty products at the same time?
Once you have read and reviewed the case scenario, respond to the following questions, with thorough explanations and well-supported rationale.
- Dove’s campaign assumes that advertising has the power to determine what we find attractive or unattractive. Do you agree?
- Some people argue that fashion products are “aspirational”; they encourage consumers to think about what they could be rather than what they are. Do you believe this is true? Reflect upon your own buying habits in this area with respect to the self-concept and ideal self.
- Discuss how the hierarchies of effects within this particular industry might affect consumer buying decisions.
- Examine three personality characteristics identified in the textbook in Chapter 7 that would evaluate this Dove campaign differently. Why do they view the campaign differently? How might this affect the marketing team at Dove? What would you recommend?
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