The Dove Campaign: Conforming or Transforming?
By Jessica Hopper
Ad courtesy of Ogilvy & Mather
Who hasn't seen the Dove advertisements that feature women of different shapes, sizes and colors posing proudly in their underwear? What many people don't know is that these ads are about more than a smart way to sell skin care products to women.
The award-winning ads are part of Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty, an effort the company says "aims to change the status quo and offer in its place a broader, healthier, more democratic view of beauty." It might come as a surprise to some, but the campaign didn't begin and hasn't ended with the moisturizer ads.
The springboard for the campaign was a global study sponsored by Dove that researched women's attitudes toward themselves and beauty. The result of the study found that only two percent of women considered themselves beautiful. With that knowledge, Dove went on to sponsor research specifically addressing women in the United States.
Dove then partnered with advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather to begin the campaign. Brian Collins, the executive creative director of the Brand Integration Group (BIG) at Ogilvy & Mather, spearheaded the project.
Collins and his team agreed wholeheartedly with Dove's desire to challenge society and the media to re-define beauty and in so doing, raise the self-esteem of women worldwide. At the National NOW Conference, where Collins and his team were given an Image of Women award for the campaign, Collins said, "This is a simple idea, that beauty, whatever that means, is a self-defined and democratic idea." Collins went on to tell the audience, "What I really want everyone to do here is hold the advertising industry accountable."
Those are courageous words from an advertising pro like Collins, but Collins isn't your typical advertising executive. Always putting creativity and vision first, he and his team are responsible for the dream-like Hershey chocolate factory in Times Square and the New York Times best selling book, "Brotherhood" which provides a pictorial glimpse into the lives of the city's firefighters following 9/11.
Dove asked Collins and his team to create an exhibit that showed different forms of beauty. The team asked over 60 well-known women photographers to submit one photo that summed up their definition of beauty. The exhibit, entitled "Beyond Compare," was just that: a unique work of art worthy to be shown in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But Collins and his team chose not to show the exhibit in prestigious art galleries.
BIG team member Laurie Cohen said, "One of the things that was really important to us was not to show it in a gallery setting, but in a public space." Collins understood that the only way to reach the "everyday woman" was to put the exhibit in places that everyday women frequent.
"We started out in places where the general public could access them," Cohen said, "And the tour actually went through different kinds of malls." The tour would eventually travel throughout the United States, Canada and Europe.
The exhibit was free and any donations given went to the Dove Self-Esteem fund. The global fund requires each participating country to sponsor an organization that nurtures women's and girl's self-esteem. In the United States, the fund helps sponsor the Girl Scouts of the USA.
Eventually the exhibit was turned into a book. The message of the exhibit was further translated into the Dove ads that so many of us have seen. The campaign has evolved into an interactive campaign that features ads asking consumers to vote whether the woman pictured is wrinkled or wonderful, oversized or outstanding, flawed or flawless. Women are asked to send in photos of women in their lives that they consider beautiful or to share their own personal self-esteem stories.
During the 2006 Super Bowl game, Dove showed a commercial with young girls talking about their self-esteem. Definitely not your typical Super Bowl fare, but Dove's campaign is about going beyond the usual gimmicks.
Collins once told Fast Company Magazine that "design can change people." While some people love the campaign, others think it doesn't go far enough in challenging the status quo, and some feel that the ads still rely too heavily on using sex to sell. However, the bottom line is that Dove and Collins have succeeded at getting people to talk about body image and the meaning of beauty.
The campaign is a step forward for the advertising industry. At the NOW conference Collins said, "The way I see it, we [advertisers] should always be doing work that does well at doing good all the time. This is not hard."
NOW's Love Your Body Day Campaign has addressed the advertising industry's portrayal of women and its influence on body image since 1997. Read more about NOW's campaign, or buy a girl you care about a 2007 Love Your Body Calendar.
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