The good, the bad, and the ugly of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty
The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty has been called a lot of things, from a “game changer” and “a breath of fresh air”, to “hypocritical”, “sexist”, and “sneaky”. So why has the campaign, whose major innovation was to use ads that featured real women rather than airbrushed models or celebrity spokespersons, sparked so much controversy? Taking a social psychological perspective, this article attempts to address the good, the bad, and possibly even the ugly side of Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty.
Dove launched the “Campaign for Real Beauty” in 2004, in response to the findings of a major global study, The Real Truth About Beauty: A Global Report, which had revealed that only 2% of women around the world would describe themselves as beautiful (Etcoff, Orbach, Scott, & D’Agostino, 2004). The main message of the Dove campaign was that women’s unique differences should be celebrated, rather than ignored, and that physical appearance should be transformed from a source of anxiety to a source of confidence. This message was delivered through a variety of communication means, including TV commercials, magazine spreads, talk shows, and a worldwide conversation via the Internet.Despite the immense popularity and commercial success of the campaign, it has also been subject to much criticism. Many critics have relentlessly questioned and brought into focus the campaign’s mixed messages, which have left some consumers feeling ambivalent towards the Dove brand. On the one hand, the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty can be viewed as espousing a positive message, with the goal of changing women’s attitudes toward their perception of beauty. On the other hand, consumers are also aware of the campaign’s conflicting goal, one that is imperative and alike to all advertising campaigns, which is to increase sales. Taking a social psychological perspective, this article will attempt to address the good, the bad, and possibly even the ugly side of Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty. The goal of the article is neither to praise nor admonish the campaign, but simply to examine the complicated nature of advertising in today’s society, and to motivate consumers to take an educated stance with regard to advertising campaigns. How many of the ads you enjoy (or at least tolerate) actually reinforce stereotypes, or contribute to lowered self-esteem? It is an issue worthy of reflection.
One of the greatest achievements of the Dove campaign is that it initiated a global conversation to widen the definition of beauty. The main issue being targeted was the repetitive use of unrealistic, unattainable images, which consequently pose restrictions on the definition of beauty. Dove sought to change the culture of advertising by challenging beauty stereotypes; they selected real women whose appearances are outside the stereotypical norms of beauty (e.g., older women with wrinkles, overweight women). The real women were attractive and likeable to their female audience because they were relatable and provided a “fresh” perspective within the media. The campaign’s success is evident in the tremendous publicity that it has received, for example, with the models being asked to appear as guests on many popular American talk shows, including The View, Good Morning America, The Today Show, Ellen, and Geraldo. Media exposure has provided $150 million in free media time for Dove’s campaign (“Grand Prize”, 2007). The campaign has also been the recipient of numerous awards. For example, the online video “Evolution” won two Cannes Lions Grand Prix Awards in June 2007 at the Cannes Lion International Advertising Festival in France. Furthermore, “Evolution” received over 1.7 million views during its first month, making it the most viewed video on YouTube in October 2006. Overall, much of the campaign’s success can be attributed to it being the first digital campaign to drive participants to a supportive online community that reached over 200 million people worldwide, with over 26 million people participating in the campaign online (Springer, 2009). As proposed by Vivek, Beatty, and Morgan (2012), the engagement of customers (or potential customers) through the online campaign may build trust because “individuals will feel that the company cares about them and has their best interests at heart” (p. 135).