Oh, Dove. It’s time to get real.
The message the brand started out with–the one where Dove took decades’ worth of beauty advertising that treated women like objects to be fixed, and turned it on itself–is turning into something less than empowering.
The early iterations of the “Real Beauty” campaign were thought-provoking and buzz-gathering experiments that brought a new tension and a new debate into advertising: the inaugural ad, “Evolution,” launched a thousand criticisms of image manipulation in the beauty industry. With subsequent installments, like Real Beauty Sketches, the campaign drew criticism along with plaudits–here is a platform, after all, that speaks of broadening the definition of beauty, and yet implicitly argues that physical beauty is paramount–but the core message of empowerment still felt genuine, and it was delivered with style.
Lately, as the campaign ages, and as the rest of the brand world has upped the ante with female-positive linkbait, Dove ads seem to just be using women as props, insulting rather than serving them (see: the “Beauty Patch” spot wherein women are “tricked” with a placebo medicinal patch they are told will make them more beautiful). As the campaign progresses, each new iteration feels more forced and stunty than the last, and, again, each feels like it’s putting women in the exact spot that “Real Beauty” was meant to release them from–feeling like their entire existence is about physical beauty. Feel beautiful dammit! What’s wrong with you??
Now, it’s likely that a lot of these candid-reaction type commercials are really staged. But let’s just go with the assumption that this really is real–that these are actual, random women, just going about their day and then confronting this very public, made-up dichotomy: am I “beautiful,” or am I just “average”?
Any available scenario is icky. Maybe there are women here who had the audacity to never feel the need to define themselves based on how they look and now they have to face this humiliating choice. Or maybe there are women who do have issues and insecurities with their looks in which case–thanks! Or maybe many of these women really do think of themselves as “beautiful,” whatever that means, (and the spot mainly includes conventionally attractive women–looks like we’re just leaving the “average” women out of it), and just didn’t want to feel like jerks by choosing the “beautiful” door.
This is to say nothing of the fact that, as with the “Beauty Patch,” the whole premise–aided by cloying executional notes–feels infantilizing.
In the end, the best thing that happens in this spot is at 1:47, when one heroine looks at the door choices, and seems to say, “fuck this,” and turns around.
A message of self-acceptance is absolutely welcome–it’s needed–in advertising. And sticking with a big marketing platform long-term is a rare and excellent thing. Dove should be applauded for that, and the fact that clear, concise insights (and short briefs) drive its communications.
But maybe Dove needs to step back and stop trying to top itself, and reassess how the message behind Real Beauty can best be conveyed, in a way that’s more…real.