an Ad a Day

A look at the marketing that surrounds us.

Dove: PSA or Ad?

Posted by Rosepixie on September 26, 2009

This is a Dove ad that has gotten a lot of attention, both praise and criticism.

I like the idea they were going for here, because they’re right that the beauty industry is incredibly harmful to girls and women and those images and messages are unimaginably damaging.  However, Dove is unquestionably part of the beauty industry.  They sell beauty products and this was an ad.  Ostensibly it’s an ad for a self-esteem program on their website, but they wouldn’t have made it with the name “Dove” all over it the way it is if they weren’t also trying to get viewers to think about their products and see them favorably.  If you go to the website, the main pictures in the middle are all about self-esteem, which is great, but the first link at the top is for their products and there’s a big ad along the side stating that if you enter the UPC from one of their products they will donate $1 to a self-esteem program.

I’m not terribly fond of “buy our stuff and we’ll donate to this charity” promotions.  Dove has buckets of money.  If they were truly serious about donating a meaningful amount of money to these programs, they wouldn’t tie it to people buying their products.  They aren’t in need of customers, they have plenty of them (even I buy their stuff), so it’s not like they need to tie it to sales this way to make the donation possible.  They don’t.  And how many customers do you think realistically go and enter that code?  Again, if they really meant it, they could donate for every sale, not every customer who manages to learn about the program, buy a product and bother to go enter a code on the website.  I just have trouble seeing it as real charity when it’s got so many weird strings like this for no real good reason.

So, I kind of wandered off topic from the ad itself there, but I think it all ties back to the same idea.  Dove is marketing an idea that they don’t really seem to be behind.  They say they’re encouraging “real beauty”, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman over maybe size 12 in their ads and I know I’ve never seen a woman with a visible disability or anything like that.  So their definition of “real” beauty still seems pretty conventional.  And I have trouble taking their dire warnings about the beauty industry seriously (even though they are absolutely right about it) when they are part of that very same industry and filled the ad with the very images they are supposedly against.  The message is great and if this exact same video had been produced as a public service announcement or by an advocacy group I’d be all for it, but as it is, I’m deeply skeptical of it because it’s made by the very industry it’s saying is evil.

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4 Responses to “Dove: PSA or Ad?”

  1. Eva said

    It might be interesting to link to some of their other ads and see just how tightly they conform to the beauty industry standards of “thin and flawless”. I’m guessing they’re pretty mainstream (which is sad).

    On one hand I agree with you that this is somewhat disingenuous and only motivated by marketing. On the other… If marketing is the only way that this message gets promoted, isn’t that better than nothing? Dove should definitely be taken to task for weird stuff like donating on code entry instead of purchase and not using models that espouse the virtues they claim to support, but it seems like we should encourage them to do better rather than just shooting the horse before it’s had a chance to run.

  2. Rosepixie said

    The models in Dove ads are not all model thin (although, as I said, I’ve never seen one that looks like she even wears a plus-size dress), but they do all have flawless skin.

    I’m not trying to “shoot the horse before it’s had a chance to run”. I said that I really liked some things about this ad. The problem is that it does come from the beauty industry and it’s an ad, not a public service announcement, so that makes it questionable. I appreciate that they seem to be trying, but if they mean it, why not work on trying to influence other companies to change how *they* advertise too, instead of keeping this campaign so unique? And the same parent company that makes and markets the Dove products also makes and markets the Axe products, which are about the worst example of objectification of women in mainstream advertising. So if they really mean it, why don’t they work to change the campaigns within other branches of their own company as well? It’s not that this is bad, it’s just that I have trouble believing they mean it and that is frustrating. I want to see someone mean it.

  3. Eva said

    Those are all good points, and you are definitely doing something positive by questioning their choices in a way that has the potential to reach them and others.

    My point was more that you seem to be set against the idea that Dove could possibly do this sort of campaign and not be disingenuous. If they see people saying “well, they’re in the beauty industry, so there’s no way they mean that”, my fear would be that they would decide that it wasn’t worth the work and stop trying.

    Do you feel that their being in the beauty industry precludes them providing positive body image messages? Or am I misreading the last paragraph of your post?

    (I also want to mention, the company is run by many people and well meaning employees may not be able to control all the groups in marketing, no matter how much they want to… I don’t say this as an excuse for bad behavior, but rather as perspective about their identity. They aren’t a _person_; they’re a large corporation. We should ask them to be consistent and espouse virtues we respect, but we can’t always expect them to be perfect. If we distrusted everything done by every company that wasn’t perfect I think we’d have to seriously rethink our system of capitalism.)

  4. Rosepixie said

    Clearly people saying “they’re in the beauty industry, so they couldn’t mean it” hasn’t stopped Dove from trying, since this campaign has been going strong for a couple of years now.

    That said, yes, I am deeply skeptical that any major company involved in the beauty industry as it stands right now could truly want to promote healthy body images. In *theory*, a company could exist that makes products that aren’t designed to “fix” the “flaws” women are told or imagine or decide that they have, but I have yet to see one. Shampoos make your hair thicker and shinier, because fine and matte hair isn’t fashionable right now (and we won’t even get into African American hair issues, because that’s a whole kettle of fish onto itself). Lotions promise to reduce wrinkles, because any evidence that you had a lifetime full of laughing and crying to show that you are no longer 25 is so far out of fashion that people spend tens of thousands of dollars trying to “fix” it. Lipsticks promise to make us sexier/more professional/more inviting/more feminine/more ourselves (?). Mascara promises to give fuller, longer eyelashes because… I’m not really sure why we need those, but I am certain that it’s something every woman NEEDS to have. And diets and everything are another whole mess all their own, as well. The number of problems and “solutions” the beauty industry has invented is enormous. So, yes, I have trouble believing that any member of said industry can be trusted when they convey such a message. Dove even sells an anti-aging shampoo (although I’m not sure what it’s supposed to do exactly) so clearly, they aren’t without many of the same agendas that the rest of the industry has.

    And yes, I also realize that companies are huge and run by many people. I said they should *try* to change things, not that I expected that they would accomplish much. Trying means a lot.

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