Let me start with a question. Have you seen Dove’s most recent campaign?
Now, Dove is owned by the same parent company, Unilever who sells Axe, male-targeted grooming products with a looooooong history of ads like this:
Don't get me wrong - this ad is hilarious, just hypocritical coming from the same company promoting the "real beauty" narrative.
Yes, Unilever, tell us again how you lead the fight against unrealistic body standards in the media.
Dove (Unilever)’s body-shaped bottle campaign in the UK (in partnership with Ogilvy London) is yet another example of a company stumbling and crashing head-first as they attempt to traverse the space between women’s body-image in the media, and selling consumer goods.
While the notion that society needs equality between men and women has been around since the 1700s it just happens to be f***ing trendy right now.
But the Daily Dot says it best:
“When is a movement not a movement? When it’s a marketing campaign in a movement’s clothing.”
Movements in marketing, done well, are powerful. I just presented on this very topic at Oracle’s Modern Customer Experience in Vegas. But they must strike a tone of authenticity. The most recent ridiculous body shape bottles from Dove miss the mark. I particularly enjoy Jeff Beer of Fast Company’s take on it:
“Dove itself conditioned us against this type of thing. It's too easy. Too shallow. The quality of its past work, means there is no room for half-stepping.
When you raise your audience's expectation, you're simply not allowed to sink back into common gimmickry.”
While the marketer in me empathizes with the intention of this latest campaign (I get it, it’s difficult to think of creative ideas to break through the noise,) I can’t help but cringe at the thought of a room full of my peers nodding in agreement at this stunt, saying “you know what - this is a GREAT idea!”
And it’s not just me – the body-shaped bottle nightmare has driven headlines and mockery online:
“I’ve yet to meet the woman honoured and celebrated by plastic bottles on supermarket shelves." – Ruth Mortimer in Marketing Week
“Dove, I have arms, please advise” – Rachel Handler on Twitter
“With this campaign, Dove has moved from celebrating the diversity of the human body to celebrating the diversity of its products’ packaging,” – Clayton Purdom in AV Club
“Have you ever been in the shower, picked up your smooth, perfect soap container and screamed ‘I CAN’T LIVE UP TO THESE STANDARDS!’”? – Aimee Lutkin in Jezebel
Another buzzword nobody needs: Femvertising
Perhaps the worst thing to emerge from all of this is a term that nobody needs - “femvertising” or what Forbes defines as “harnessing feminism in advertising” something Dove has apparently created.
Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” back in 2004 in partnership with Ogilvy & Mather, Edelman Public Relations, and Harbinger Communications was… cute. And it was praised heavily for its message for women – love thyself (then go buy our stuff). The buzz around the campaign drove 30X the exposure than the paid-for media space.
But I have some qualms about this word, “femvertising.” Let’s recap:
· Feminism = the idea that women should be treated equally to men
· Advertising = paid announcement meant to sell product
· Exploitation = taking advantage of someone to benefit from their work
So before we all celebrate the ridiculous concept of “femvertising!” let’s stop and consider the importance of actual feminism, the motivation behind these attempts-at-exploiting feminism, and the very real consequences.
Dove (and every single company for that matter) can do more to support women instead of these dopey, minimizing, lazy, exploitative bottles.
Within the tech space, an industry with devastatingly unequal gender parity set against a narrative of lawsuits, it’s encouraging to read stories like this one, a real SaaS company (client) with two female co-founders who have built a culture of gender equality. They don’t just talk a big game, they bring the concept of equality to life in real business decisions.
Passing the mic back to Ruth Mortimer:
"I like that a brand wants to celebrate women. But here’s a useful guide to doing so. Employ lots of them.
Demand your agencies and suppliers are diverse. Celebrate women for their actual achievements, not just their appearance. Align yourself with causes that benefit women. Continue to show diverse people with diverse figures in your advertising.”
If basic decency isn’t enough motivation for companies to support women, women are the ultimate economic accelerator.
Companies with a strong track record of gender diversity are 15% more likely to have higher earnings than their peers. In fact, among all Fortune 500 companies, the ones with the highest representation of women on their boards significantly outperform the others. Read more.
This backlash about Dove shows it’s time to set the bar higher.
I’m going to take this moment to again share pioneering activist Jean Kilbourne’s incredible work to expose the power (and danger) of advertising, since the late 1960s. Take a few minutes to watch her videos. Just do it.
You know what, don’t get up, I’ll embed one right here if you’re skimming this post for the good stuff:
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