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FutureNow Article
Friday, May. 16, 2008

Is Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” Real?

By Holly Buchanan
May 16th, 2008

dove campaign for real beautyThere’s been a big stir recently over allegations that Dove’s “Real Beauty” models were airbrushed. There have been a few different stories floating around, so let’s clear a few things up.

Here’s what Dove has to say:

The “real women” ad referenced in recent media coverage was created and produced entirely by Ogilvy, the Dove brand’s advertising agency, from start to finish and the women’s bodies were not digitally altered.

Pascal Dangin worked with photographer Annie Leibovitz (Ogilvy has never employed Mr. Dangin on the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty), who did the photography for the launch of the Dove ProAge campaign, a new campaign within the Campaign for Real Beauty. There was an understanding between Dove and Ms. Leibovitz that the photos would not be retouched – the only actions taken were the removal of dust from the film and minor color correction.

I actually thought Ad Age’s Jonah Bloom had a better idea for how Dove could respond:

Here was Dove’s statement as I imagined it: “We’re sure our consumers are smart enough to know that photos that are going to be blown up to the size of a billboard may have to be retouched. For the sake of the women themselves, there are certain things — a pimple, a stray hair — that might be airbrushed. The idea here was to use models of various shapes and ages, not to unduly expose them. We think we’ve made a point. But, we’ve also tried to raise women’s awareness of the issue of retouching and ask whether, when taken to extremes, it can create an unrealistic notion of beauty. If this New Yorker piece reopens the debate, that’s a happy coincidence for us, and something we definitely want to hear consumers’ views on it.”

However you feel about Dove or the Campaign for Real Beauty — it has sparked a conversation — a very real, very passionate conversation. And Dove continues to back it up with efforts outside of advertising, like the recent opening of a play in Canada “Body and Soul,” featuring real women talking about their feelings about aging.

But here’s the thing…

I know I’m going out on a limb here (move over, squirrel), but I don’t think Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty has anything to do with beauty. I don’t think women suddenly feel beautiful because of these ads. I think this goes to something deeper. I think this campaign has generated so much interest and success because it touches on a universal need for almost all women: approval.

Are women saying, “Oh, Dove thinks I’m beautiful”? Could be. But I think it’s a lot closer to “Dove thinks I’m OK the way I am. They approve of me. ” In today’s world, that approval is a lifeline.

Why? Because…

Women today are SO judged.

Stay at home with your kids and you are judged because you’re not working.

Go to work and you’re judged for not staying at home with your kids.

Whether it’s an advertising industry that surrounds women with images that tell her she’s not good enough (check out this video by Dove appropriately named “Onslaught“), or a corporate workplace where you lose points if you behave too much like a man or you loose points if you behave too much like a woman.

Women get it from all sides; they’re judged by men and they’re REALLY judged by other women. (I am appalled at the way some women treat each other.)

So when a brand comes along and does NOT judge. When a brand says, “We don’t care what other people say, we think you’re beautiful. We’re going to celebrate you for being you.” Do you know how powerful that is?

Does your brand want to connect with women?

Then stand up for her. Approve of her. Lock arms with her and walk a few miles in her shoes.

You can go the aspirational route; “Buy our product, THEN you will be approved and worthy.” Lots of products have had success with that formula.

But if you want to stand out from the crowd, if you want to create fanatical loyalty, try the Dove route. Try approval. There is SUCH A THIRST for it right now.

If you have a few minutes to spare, check out “A Girl Like Me.”

. .

About the Author: Holly Buchanan is co-author of The Soccer Mom Myth: Today’s Female Consumer: Who She Really Is, Why She Really Buys. If you’d like to meet Holly and judge her in person, join her on June 2nd for FutureNow’s Persuasive Online Copywriting seminar in Manhattan. Not only will you learn techniques for attracting customers online, you’ll get a chance to schmooze over hors d’oeurves and cocktails at our “Happy Hour with the Experts” reception.

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Comments (14)

  1. This is a GREAT article. It is so true that women are judged every which way and never catchig a break for ANYTHING. A brand that can come out and say – “To hell with what other people say!” is a powerful one as you mentioned. It’s hard to find that happy medium these days where approval is guaranteed.

  2. Holly, this is fantastic article! I can’t remember a time when I didn’t seek approval from someone, somewhere. Now, turning 50, I suddenly feel like it’s time to crawl into my woman-self. As if, after half a century, I’m suddenly allowed to be one on my own terms, not someone else’s.

  3. Two thumbs up Holly and I wish I had more thumbs

  4. I really enjoyed reading your article!I agree that black skin is beautiful, too. It’s just skin. However, millions of white people have darker skintones and naturally black hair.But I think they are very beautiful.

  5. Wow – you really nailed this one, Holly. A super article, and so on-point. The video is terrific, and is a real eye-opener. Fantastic!

  6. I am surprised you did not mention – at least en passant – the controversy surrounding Axe, a Unilever product, just like Dove. Dove is still brilliant, but still, I feel duped a little.

  7. I loved Jonah Bloom’s response. Companies can be so much more creative (and receptive) when responding to such questions. Dove lost a great opportunity to reach out to their target audience.

  8. Unfortunately, nowadays the main message is “Be a beautiful woman for your man/boyfriend”. And what is worst: we don’t see this at ads/tv/internet, we see most of the women aroud us saying and proclaimin this old-fashioned point of view instead of “Be a beautiful, inteligent and interesting woman for yourself”.

  9. Is this a “Wakeup Call” for parents? I believe that “living life, always in need of others approval” may be a sad commentary on our childhood experiences and “upbringing.” It’s wonderful when our children feel “super-secure” in the love of their families. With this foundation, they grow into happy and productive adults and great parents! We MUST get our priorities right and start focusing on raising strong, confident, good people. Our world’s future is at stake!

    It’s a shame that it takes “Dove” to tell us we’re “OK” and beautiful. It’s even worse to think, I’m not OK because I have a blemish or two, extra pounds, or a physical/mental challenge. Of course, manipulating inferiority complexes (and pride) is marketing’s “stock in trade!”

  10. Geo,

    on the Dove/Axe issue – that’s a whole other blog post. But with today’s transparency, it is a problem when two brands in the same company present opposing philosophies. We’ll have to see how that one shakes out.


    You are absolutely right – parents are the first line of defense against the negative images the media/advertisers throw at girls and women (and any negative images of men and boys as well).
    But I do want to make one clarification – needing “approval” isn’t always about having low self-esteem. It’s definitely a big part of it, thus Dove’s Self-Esteem Fund.

    But I think the need for approval, especially among women, is also about spiritual survival (to quote Marketing to the Mind). It’s about belonging and connecting.
    I know many women with very healhty self-esteem who still crave that connection that “approval” brings. That’s why it’s so powerful, it taps into such a core emotional and motivational center.

  11. The campaign for real beauty is an awesome campaign, and Dove is a great product. Unfortunately it holds no credibility for me as long as Unilever turns a deaf ear on women who are offended by the degrading images portrayed in their Axe commercials. They claim their product is marketed to 20 somethings, and that they are appropriate to the market, yet there are 13 year old boys dousing themselves with the stuff in middle school hallways, and their female counterparts covering their faces and running away *in fear*. What could a 13 year old girl be so afraid of that a perfume prompts her to run away? *She is afraid the perfume will bend her to the will of the boy, and through that she will be molested.* As long as Unilever persists in running these degrading commercials, no amount of warm and fuzzy self esteem training they sponsor for young girls is going to undo the mixed messages they are sending, and their “boys will be boys” attitude toward objectification of and violence toward women. I like Dove soap, but I will remain Doveless until they find a better way to sell Axe. As for feeling as though I have Dove’s “approval” for being just fine just the way I am, their Axe commercials say just the opposite, I have not at all attained Unilever’s “approval”, bs is bs, and no matter how you slice it, it is still bologna. Unilever is not at all interested in connecting with me, they just put a new spin on trying to sell me stuff, that is how it all shakes out….

  12. I have been told by many that I have beautiful skin. I am now 59 and am still told that I have beautiful skin. I no longer take for granted my skin. I have only used Dove soap on my face as long as I can remember, my mother used Dove soap. I use no foundation, creams, lotions, replinshers, restorations, just Dove.

  13. very impressive… that movie with the girl amazed me…. im good @ photoshop but omg!

  14. until they find a better way to sell crawl into my woman-self. As if,remain Doveless Axe. As for feeling as though I have remember, my mother used Dove soap. I use no Dove’s “approval”foundation for being just fine after half a century, I’m suddenly

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Holly Buchanan is a marketing to women consultant specializing in marketing to women online. You can read her blog at She is the co-author, along with Michele Miller of The Soccer Mom Myth - Today's Female Consumer - Who She Really Is, Why She Really Buys.

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