Everyday, women are bombarded with thousands of messages both explicit and implicit about how they look, and more often than not, how they can look better to presumably feel better. From the covers of celebrity tabloids, to “how-to” videos on YouTube, to a galaxy of social posts, and everywhere else in the media, it’s a constant one-way conversation that typically tells women they could be so much more appealing if… and holds them to impossible standards. As a husband and father to two teenage daughters, I see the challenges put upon women of all ages by a society that constantly equates appearance with worth, and then judges those appearances.
Starting in 2004, Dove moved away from more conventional beauty advertising and instead asked its audience to “vote” on whether the women depicted in its ads were “flawed?” or “flawless?” Besides from ushering in a huge aesthetic shift by using models that more closely resembled what most of us see when we look in the mirror, the campaign also created an actual dialogue about perception, beauty and identity. This dialogue went directly against all the dictatorial, one-way messages in the market, and instead opened up a meaningful discourse about how women view, and in turn, value and feel about themselves.
Though it may seem more commonplace now in 2016 with the advent of so much social technology, back in 2004 this type of two-way conversation in service of not only a larger brand narrative, but a societal one as well, was the exception, not the rule. In doing so, Dove not only gave back women ownership of their identities, but gave them co-ownership of the brand, too. Finally, here was a beauty brand in touch with the realities of its audience and the difficulties of keeping up with impossible standards. Dove essentially reframed the entire conversation around beauty by asking us as an audience what it even means. Is it a digitally-altered and expensively produced version determined by a relative minority in the media and fashion industries? Or is it, as the saying goes, in the eye of the beholder? or in the hearts and minds of all of us to determine our own self-worth? By asking these sorts of questions, Dove created a gravitational force around their brand by taking power away from the media when it comes to beauty and giving it back to women.
The campaign proved an immediate success, generating a terrific amount of earned media, awards and praise from all types of groups. But more importantly, the campaign opened up and created a real, socially-constructive dialogue that goes beyond just superficial concerns, but into how women truly value themselves. And what’s more, both the campaign and dialogue have proven lasting. Over the past twelve years Dove has used their platform to address unrealistic standards created by makeup and Photoshop, beauty and the aging process, to cultivating mentorship and self-esteem for girls and young women. A current campaign timed to coincide with the Olympics looks at how female athletes are perceived, and spoken about in the media. Dove’s commitment to empowerment is holistic and reflects an interest in every aspect of a woman’s life, from recreation to friendships to career and onwards. It’s a privileged position the brand has earned by cultivating its audience’s trust, and then crafting narratives that honor that trust while advancing the voice of all women.
Image via Flickr courtesy of user AK Rockefeller at https://flic.kr/p/pak7gP
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