Soap. It’s probably not something you think about much. At least until you, or someone around you, has forgone using it for a few days. It’s something you need, not something you want, and as a result soap and other personal care products like it have become commoditized. Without effective branding, there is no incentive for a consumer to choose one company’s products over another’s, since essentially they all work in the same manner. Personal care brands often design and market their products differently to men and women, so that they can more effectively target their advertisements. It’s common for their campaigns to appeal to each gender’s desire to become more desirable to the opposite sex, which is why we see advertising campaigns featuring the insane machismo of an Old Spice deodorant commercial, or the suggestive moaning of an Herbal Essences shampoo commercial. Rarely, though, have they been as socially topical as Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, which launched back in 2004.
While they do produce men’s products, Dove has always been a brand that focuses on women; their most popular line of products, Dove Beauty Bars, are advertised as the secret to softer, smoother, more beautiful skin. The concept of beauty, and an understanding of what women consider to be beautiful, are crucial elements of Dove’s marketing strategy. As society and women’s perception of what the word means has evolved, so has Dove’s, and their advertising has reflected that. In the 11 years since its launch, Real Beauty has worked to combat the negative self image women have constructed of themselves based on society’s continued promotion of a narrow definition of female beauty. Dove’s marketing is aimed squarely at “… [making] beauty a source of confidence, not anxiety,” to quote their website. The campaign predates social media’s domination of the advertising landscape, and the company’s decision to adopt this cause as their central marketing tenet seems prescient now, given the activism that has developed in response to online cruelty.
Dove has garnered a lot of praise throughout the campaign. ‘Real Beauty Sketches,’ a advertisement focusing on how women perceive themselves versus how others see them, has become one of the most viewed advertisements on Youtube, and ‘Evolution’, which highlights the manipulation of women’s bodies in advertising, won several awards. Dove obviously discovered something that resonates with women. But they have not been without their detractors, especially of late. FastCompany ran an article earlier this year criticizing Dove’s latest ads for “…putting women in the exact spot that ‘Real Beauty’ was meant to release them from—feeling like their entire existence is about physical beauty.” And they’re right; Dove’s new advertisements, while still challenging society’s concept of beauty, seem to force women to pass judgment on themselves without providing them with options. asking women to choose whether they are beautiful or average feels gimmicky, and doesn’t speak to the real truth about beauty: It shouldn’t be so closely linked to appearance. Everyone has something that makes them beautiful, and it might have absolutely nothing to do with how they look. This puts Dove in a quandary, because the products that they make are strictly related to physical appearance. It might be time to move on from the campaign, because it’s beginning to look like Dove might still be part of the problem that they made their responsibility to address.