Have you seen the campaign for Dove where they campaign ‘for real beauty?’ I’m sure we all have. They’ve been doing that for years. Many people like it while some find it annoying. However they’ve most recently taken their campaign to Youtube and the rapport has been surprising.
Dove’s worldwide Campaign For Real Beauty started back in 2004. It was created by Brazil’s branch of the advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather and bought by Unilever in 2004 when it learned in a survey that only 4% of women consider themselves beautiful. Sure, women have always struggled with the self-consciousness of their beauty for years and even decades but this was a highly critical time. Do you remember who the top celebrities were at the time? Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera. These were young female women who rose to the top of the fame game with little attention to whatever talent they had and more attention to their looks. Breast implants operations were at an all-time high. Girls getting their hair bleached like Pamela Anderson were still very popular. There were huge concerns about eating disorders in young women. Pop and hip hop videos featured scantily clad women and it paid off in taking them to the top of the charts. Not a nice picture at all.
Some of you may argue that it has always been that way. Sure there have been problems from generation to generation. Mind you it was a lot different from the time I was growing up. Back when I was a teenager–from the mid-80’s to the early 90’s–we had a mixed bag of female stars to look up to. MTV was just starting to become a vice in popular culture. There was Pat Benatar who rocked out female empowerment but wouldn’t use ‘sex as a weapon.’ There was the always controversial Madonna who raised eyebrows with whatever controversial thing she did but always had a message behind it and urged female empowerment. There was Tina Turner, a rock legend who was strong enough to leave an abusive husband. We had full-bodied models like Cheryl Tiegs, Christy Brinkley and Elle MacPherson. However it was not completely perfect. I even remember one moment back in the 80’s talking to one of my classmates just after she bought a pack of diet pills. Also in the 80’s was Karen Carpenter, a singer who died of anorexia at a time when hardly anybody knew what it was. Just like Morgan Fairchild said “Rock Hudson gave AIDS a face,” Karen Carpenter gave anorexia a face.
By the 90’s things really started to get to a concern from parents. Soon came Kate Moss and her waif look followed by ‘heroin chic’ models. The term supermodel became present and a phenomenon at the beginning of the decade as models were able to command salaries over $1 million a year. Young girls went from wanting to be models to wanting to be supermodels. Imagine making millions just for looking good. Rap videos consisted of scantily clad women dancing and acting unapologetically immodest. Baywatch babe Pamela Anderson rose to the top of the fame game with her bleached-blonde hair and breast implants and would soon be emulated by girls everywhere.
It’s not to say the whole 90’s was completely vicious to girls. In fact the 90’s should have been a more positive time for women and young girls. There was actress/comedian Roseanne who wouldn’t let her overweight looks or attempts at male dominance stand in her way. And she’s send that message in her sitcom. There was Nike promoting Jackie Joyner-Kersee as she was seen as an achiever with little attention paid to her looks. There were more and more women assuming higher political office or higher business positions. There were movies with more forceful depictions of women like Thelma And Louise and G.I. Jane. There were even attempts from the media to promote intimate singers like Jewel and Sarah McLaughlin as well as the Lilith Fair. But right while that was all taking off, the teen revolution in pop happened with the likes of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera hitting the top of the charts. You could’ve simply dropped Lilith Fair in favor of ‘Tart Fest.’ By the end of the 90’s the more positive female role models like comediennes, athletes and business executives were being shunned by promoters in favor of tart-like girls that were cute or thin or both. Hey, they were easier to guarantee sales and ratings.
You could understand with the celebrity admiration and star emulation that has been wildfire especially in the last 15 years there would be some concerns. It became apparent that the obsession of beauty was not just about fitting in but having the looks that won. If a certain look or certain body is going to put a female celebrity to the top of the ‘fame game,’ you could be sure girls wanted to copy that. You can’t blame pop star Pink for singing in her song Stupid Girls: “What happened to the dream of a girl president? She’s dancin’ in the video next to 50 Cent.” Problem was the beauty industry wanted to take full advantage of it. They wanted women to think that their product would make them more attractive or they’d be inferior without it. I even remember hearing a radio ad for a plastic surgery office and the voiceover said: “How you look on the outside affects how you feel on the inside.” What does that tell you?
Dove wanted to change all that with their Campaign For Real Beauty. It was created by Brazil’s Ogilvie & Mather and its mission was: “to create a world where beauty is a source of confidence and not anxiety.” I still remember seeing ads on a bus in 2004 of women with regular bodies looking confident and the tagline ‘campaign for real beauty.’ Those pictures were taken by reputed photographer Annie Liebovitz. I also remember a television ad of a city square full of what appears to be blondes. Soon one woman takes her blonde wig off and the others follow. One thing I didn’t know at the time of the first ads was that the campaign also involved studies too about the opinions of the bodies. There were even some ads that invited people to vote on a female image if she was ‘fat or fab’ or ‘wrinkled or wonderful’ with results displayed on the billboard itself.
Like every campaign, this Campaign had to market attention. The Campaign won media coverage from talk shows, women’s magazines, as well as mainstream news broadcasts and publications. Unilever were able to purchase a $2.5 million 30-second spot during the Super Bowl XL of 2006 as part of the Little Girls branch of their campaign. With the purchase of a Campaign For Real Beauty website, the campaign was expanded into videos that started with Daughters, an interview-style piece where mothers and daughters related to the beauty industry and how it affected their perceptions of beauty. Further videos followed including Evolution, Onslaught and Amy. Evolution won two Cannes Lions awards for advertising film making. Unlike most campaigns, research was being conducted on this by Dove.
It’s not to say the campaign has had their doubters. There have been those who’ve accused Dove as being hypocritical since it belongs to the Unilever company: the same company responsible for Axe body spray products that feature overtly sexual women in their ads, Fair and Lovely skin-lightening products and Slim Fast diet bars. There would be defenders saying that Dove represents Dove, not Unilever as a whole. There were also females who posted their dissatisfaction of the ads because they believed Dove was telling them of the insecurities they felt. Also you have the odd person on the street who likes being cynical and say “They’re just doing it to sell more products.” Even if it was true, you should remember that the campaign came at a time when marketers were shelling out ads to make people insecure about themselves to get their product sold. If that argument was true, I could rightfully argue it’s great to see Dove use a positive message to sell their products instead.
However the biggest attention came as they released two videos of Dove Real Beauty Sketches on Youtube back in April of this year. The videos consisted of regular women being drawn portraits by a forensic artist. While drawing the women, he’d ask them to describe certain aspects of their looks. Before being drawn, the women were asked to get friendly with another person. Those people, both women and men, would be asked by the artist to describe their looks and features. Days later the women would return to the studio and see two drawings of herself. The first drawing would be of herself of how she described herself. The second drawing would be herself of how the other person saw her. The differences were very noticeable. It also changed the way they thought of themselves. The ads definitely caught a lot of attention as they’ve received more than 50,000,000 hits on Youtube.
The question is will it change how women, especially young women, look at themselves? We should take into account not all has been better ever since the Campaign For Real Beauty started. Girls still idolize celebrities, even no-talents like Kim Kardashian. Fashion magazines continue to sell. Girls still desire to be models. On top of it there are many complaints in recent years of female figures being photoshopped. That was especially made evident in a Youtube video entitled Fotoshop by Adobe where Adobe is pronounced “Ad Obey.” Even Dove did ads where it showed young girls in sports with a caption saying: “Six out of ten young girls would give up a sport if it made them seem unattractive.” The results of the Sketches video going viral are encouraging but its effect is still yet to be seen. Also it would be interesting if Dove releases another Real Beauty Sketches video in the future.
Dove Campaign For Real Beauty surely does take their Campaign to a new level with their Sketches video. This is only the latest in the Campaign’s efforts. Whether it will pay off in terms of a woman’s self-image is questionable in the future. I’m sure Dove will be paying close attention to the results.
WIKIPEDIA: Dove Campaign For Real Beauty. Wikipedia.com. 2013. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dove_Campaign_for_Real_Beauty>