Girl Talk: For the love of Dove - our perception of a beauty giant, plus being true to personal convictions
All of us, everyday, are making moral and ethical decisions that best serve our personal values systems or, if you're into social justice, the betterment of others. In my experience, our choices are usually based on a few things: our experience, values, knowledge, the law and professional codes of conduct.
Of course, there are many hindrances to the process: numero uno being we're human and therefore prone to messing up (some more than others). But we have far greater expectations for those in government, big business, religion and media, because these are the institutions on which society is built (arguably, in which we trust!): they are in positions of power, privilege and influence*. We deplore hypocrisy at these levels with vehemence.
The below essay, though explored elsewhere online, has particular relevance in the context of the recommendations provided for in the Voluntary Industry Code of Conduct on Body Image. As the Australian magazine industry considers how it might balance its beauty and fashion industry interests with the best interests of readers, fledgling features writer Ellen-Maree Elliott asks, 'What's Dove got to do with it?'.
“No wonder our perception of beauty is so distorted.” So reads the evocative text that follows "Evolution", the Dove mini-doco-come-ad that went viral, viewed over 15 million times online. Women linked their friends to it, spammed inboxes with it and chatted about it at the coffee shop. Presumably they bought Dove’s beauty products too because it won the Cannes Lions Cyber and Film Grand Prix in 2007 (big biccies in the advertising world).
"Evolution" was followed by another mini-doco-come-ad, titled "Onslaught", which features a young girl barraged by images of the ideal (looking) woman in the media accompanied by images of all the ways you can become that woman: creams, powders, diets and plastic surgery smash each other out of the way in their eagerness to shape her self-image. The tag line for this one: “Get to your daughter before the beauty industry does.”
The ads, part of Dove’s "Real Beauty" campaign, touched a nerve with women worldwide. In September 2008, the campaign was reviewed on The Gruen Transfer. Russel Howcroft, CEO of George Patterson Y&R, said the campaign showed the power advertisers have to do good. "It is a superb effort, I think, on their behalf. In making this piece of advertisement, they’ve literally created a movement."
Behind the movement is The Dove Self Esteem Fund, which works in conjunction with The Butterfly Foundation, an organisation that provides support for Australians with eating disorders and their carers. Together, they run Dove BodyThink workshops in schools and publish free booklets online to help mentors instill positive body image in young people. The Butterfly Foundation has stated, "The Dove Self Esteem fund is an agent of change assisting young people to improve their self worth, body confidence and media literacy."
But there are those media literate, self-described cynics who question Dove’s motivations. Todd Sampson, CEO of Leo Burnett (and co-creator of the Earth Hour initiative) said on The Gruen Transfer that the campaign needed to be put in context. "It is a marketing strategy to make people like Dove more, so they buy more product. And what I don’t like about this ad is what society has wrapped around it. It’s given it this sort of moral high ground."
When Julie Gale, director and founder of Kids Free 2B Kids , presents to the community about the sexualisation of children and youth, she uses the Lynx “Get the Lynx Effect” campaign and online games. “I can’t tell you the response I get when I let people know that both [Dove and Lynx] are owned by Unilever,” she says.
One of the award-winning Lynx website’s games, The Dark Temptation Game Saga, involves a young guy who turns into a chocolate man after using a chocolate scented deodorant. The aim of the game is to dodge the crazy, mindless hot chicks driven mad by the smell of him to reach the end intact. "The women are starving... will you leave them in this predicament? Alone? Craving for you?" reads the text on the site targeted at 18-25 year old males.
Unilever is also the proud owner of Slim-Fast, the liquid diet product that helps to control hunger. And Streets ice cream. And Vaseline. The multinational has a myriad of brands, many of which have conflicting marketing values.
"People are bewildered and outraged at the hypocrisy,” Gale says. “On the one hand this company teaches girls to respect themselves and on the other hand, we’ve got another marketing strategy that completely objectifies women."
Unilever responded to Gale saying that it had struggled with these issues but that, ultimately, Lynx has always been a brand with humourous, toungue-in-cheek advertising that the target audience recognises as playful. David Evans, national research director for George Patterson Y&R (the firm responsible for "The Big Ad" for Carlton Draught) says he can understand where Unilever is coming from, as advertising practice is going in two directions.
“One is getting rid of the bulls***,” he says, which is what Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign aims to do. “And the other is taking the piss out of the bulls***.”
Evans says Lynx is attempting to do the latter, “[Lynx] didn’t seriously present that if you wore the deodorant you would be surrounded by beautiful women.” However, Evans echoes Gale’s concerns. “There’s too much ‘It was only a bit of fun’ and no-one taking responsibility. It could have major implications outside the target audience,” Evans says. “If you’re making ads, you should be an arbiter of taste. It’s not enough to appeal to the target market, it must also be an appropriate message for the target market to hear. Otherwise it’s just an irresponsible indulgence.”
Evans says that although the Lynx ads are arguably on the side of good taste, the website, which pictures scantily, suggestively dressed women with no faces, completely crosses the line into overindulgence. “I can’t imagine a site that better defines the objectification of women,” he says.
But what about all the genuinely good work Dove does with its charities and Self Esteem Fund? Does the fact they are giving up a percentage of profits and “putting their money where their mouth is” give them credibility despite the conflicting values of their brother brand?
Gale says, “If Dove thinks they’re doing the right thing by women, they’re being completely undermined by the Lynx campaign.”
Evans is more sympathetic, “Unilever is a giant company and they have hundreds of brands operating independently all over the world,” he says. “It has to hand down responsibility to the brand marketing teams and trust they adhere to the group marketing standard. Enforcing standards across two brands is easy, across 2000 it’s going to be bloody tough.”
So, it seems we come to the crux of the argument. Does Lynx’s advertising really undermine Dove’s unique and impressive mission? Should we boycott one of the only brands that promotes images of “real beauty” because its parent company isn’t keeping its brother in check? Ultimately the answer lies with the consumer.
Note: this is an edited version of a longer feature.
*Still, we do exert some amount of power, as Ellen-Maree notes: with our votes, money and voices.
Ellen-Maree @ Girl With a Satchel