This is the second installment of an ongoing series on body positivity and cause marketing. We’ll be covering both the benefits and pitfalls of recent PR campaigns by big brands, from Lane Bryant to Dove, that often appeal to women’s common insecurities. Read part 1 here.
My friend shook her head playfully. Her gorgeous, springy curls—which until today, I’d only ever seen flat-ironed into submission—tumbled around her shoulders.
“I love this new look!” I said. “What inspired the change?”
“Have you seen that new Dove commercial?” she asked. “The one about loving your curly hair? It totally inspired me to go all-natural. Dove’s campaigns are always so awesome.”
I didn’t know what to say. Although Dove’s many Real Beauty campaigns look good on the surface, I know they’re nowhere near as “real” as my friend—and many others—believe.
Take Dove’s “Choose Beautiful” video. It shows women around the world making the choice between two doors: One labeled “Average” and one labeled “Beautiful.”
Dove says, “Would you describe yourself as beautiful? In our latest film Choose Beautiful, we travel to San Francisco, Shanghai, Delhi, London, and Sao Paulo to prove that beauty is a choice—and the power of this choice is in your hands.”
You’d assume all of the people in the film were ordinary pedestrians on the street. After all, Dove is “proving” something, like in a social experiment. Plus, saying the choice is in “our” hands implies the women we see are just like us.
And Dove’s press release actually calls the clip’s participants “real women,” implying that these are everyday women, who happened upon Dove’s set all by themselves.
But they didn’t.
As Tom Ellis-Jones, a writer for Marketing Magazine, points out:
Scroll all the way down the #choosebeautiful Twitter feed, beyond all the largely positive, if PR-generated, comments since the campaign launched on April 7, and you will find a post dated back in October. This was posted presumably when all this was being shot, by Dezi Soley, an actress based in Oakland, CA “feeling blessed en route to Doors/Choose Beautiful documentary set.”
Check back to the edit and sure enough, there’s Dezi in the very opening shot of the San Francisco shoot, looking up at the two signs in front of her, pretending to interrogate her perception of her own beauty.
According to a veteran marketing professional, there’s nothing genuine about the women in the ad. The commercials are always cast; not necessarily with actors or actresses, but with people “picked and prepped” beforehand. In addition, the video itself is “slickly produced and heavily edited to get the best execution of the concept.” Ultimately, “the consumer never sees the ‘real’ women who don’t act or react the way that the client/agency wanted them to,” as these women are edited out.
But what about the message itself? According to a study Dove conducted (presumably also with real women), 96% of us wouldn’t describe ourselves as beautiful, which Dove believes indicates that 96% of women have low self esteem. Hence the two doors, and the encouragement to “choose beautiful.”
“Maybe the real question we should be asking is why do we have to choose—and especially between such vague, material choices,” writes Buzzfeed reporter Arabelle Sicardi.
Sicardi points out that not every woman wants to be considered beautiful. Feeling beautiful can be awesome, but it can also feel like “an obligation and a pressure.”
And plus, why is the opposite of beautiful “average”? Can’t I be both beautiful and average? (If we’re all beautiful, isn’t beautiful average?)
Can’t appearance be on some kind of continuum? Can I think of myself as “pretty” but not “beautiful”? What about “striking,” or “eye-catching” or “interesting” or even “smart”?
Dove is saying we have “the power to choose,” but it’s only giving us two very narrow options, and we can only choose one.
This isn’t the first time that Dove has tried to flog its products through social-media-friendly pseudo-science. Indeed, it has conducted a number of similar, and wildly successful, experiments over the last few years, and has pretty much perfected a formula of calculated social experiment + statistics + sad background music + earnest message about beauty ideals.
This strategy really pays off for Dove. Unilever, Dove’s parent corporation (and the brand that also owns Axe Body Spray, by the way), says, “Part of the success of our Dove Self-Esteem Project has been an increased willingness among consumers to spread the brand’s positive message and to purchase Dove’s products.”
In fact, my curly-haired friend said she’d not only bought Dove shampoo, but also Dove lotion and deodorant.
I think I’ll be staying out of that portion of the aisle—at least until Dove stops trying to use my self-esteem (or lack of it) to increase their profits.
Because ironically, the “beauty” in these #ChooseBeautiful ads is only skin-deep.
Aja Frost is a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and a regular contributor to Her Campus, The Prospect, and her college newspaper. Her work has been featured on xoJane and The Huffington Post. The only thing she loves more than writing is dessert. Follow her on Twitter: @ajavuu.