Dove is one of the world’s leading beauty brands under the Unilever Company. Dove initially sold female-oriented products before eventually branching out to the male market with their own line of products in later years.
In 2004, Dove created the Self-Esteem Project which was done to “help the next generation of women grow up feeling happy and confident about the way they look”. Kudos to the advertising and marketing teams of Dove because they have delivered streamlined and on-point commercials and continue to do so today. Their commercials adhere to the goal and to the foundation of the project, and it has remained unchanged even after a decade.
I decided to focus on the following commercials: Little Girls, Camera Shy, and Mirrors. Little Girls was released in 2006, depicting young girls looking unhappily at the camera, accompanied by the Cyndi Lauper ballad “True Colors”. Accompanying text was placed in the video, which said how the girls hated parts of their physical selves and how with the Dove Self-Esteem Project, we can help girls around the world overcome these insecurities. Camera Shy was released last year, 2013, and it showed a series of women avoiding the “camera” they were being shot with. It began by showing a diverse group of teenage girls and older women who refused to have their pictures taken and aggressively shunning the camera away. It then asks “When did you stop thinking you’re beautiful?” in text then cuts to clips of young girls, toddlers and preschoolers, who beamed at the camera and acted as natural as ever. The song featured was a cover of Louis Armstrong’s When You’re Smiling. The third and most recent release is the Mirrors advertisement, with Rose Murphy’s Peek-a-boo playing in the background. This depicted women, presumably those in their 30s and older, raising the proverbial eyebrow at their reflections in the mirror, scrutinizing every little flaw, especially those under their eyes. It asked the question, “When was the last time you smiled back?”, which was then followed by little girls smiling and acting silly in front of the mirror.
Over the past decade, we can observe how Dove has become so influential because of their advertisements. They advocate beauty but not in the way the fashion industry and Hollywood have dictated. They don’t have famous commercial models but instead have regular women star in them. The power here lies with how consumers can identify with the everywoman starring in the commercials; they support the product that made them realize that they no longer need to look like celebrities because Dove empowers them to look beautiful just by being themselves.
But the error I think these commercials have is that their models have flawless skin and are not really ugly, despite the insecurities they claim to have and feel. And their insecurities have always attributed to some other part of their body, never mentioning internal issues and concerns.
As for the intertextuality of their advertisements, they have long passed the key test of convincing the audience of a certain belief or message. They use young little girls in these commercials, with Mirrors and Camera Shy juxtaposing shots of mature women and little girls. Dove tries to change that insecure attitude by inculcating the belief that all women are beautiful and they want to start that way of thinking as early as possible. And as observed, these commercials don’t even feature any product. It’s the message they’re supposedly selling and it’s the brand they’re truly marketing. Using these young girls makes consumers feel nostalgic of how they were then. The old-fashioned but classic songs add to the feel, but of course can only be fully appreciated and understood by the target market of Dove which are women from the middle class, those that can afford their products and can relate to the problems encountered by these girls. Because honestly, would the poor really put insecurity problems first over their current socioeconomic standing and problems?
These Dove advertisements have also had their fair share of criticism. Axe, a male-centric toiletries brand, promotes masculinity. Women in their commercials are presented as sexy and lustful while the men using Axe are portrayed as desirable. Ironically, Axe falls under the same brand Dove does – Unilever. This has brought forth the argument that Unilever is giving contradictory messages. According to the article by Kurtzleben (2013), Dove has released a statement saying that the different brands answer to the unique needs of their specific audiences. But with these commercials, don’t they influence the way men and women perceive themselves and act on those principles?
Despite this debate, Dove still releases these kinds of ads that continue to affect and influence the perception of women of themselves (albeit fleeting) as well as their purchasing behavior. To be honest, these Dove commercials have gotten to me as well and I can’t help but think that that’s really it, isn’t it? They target the insecurities of girls all over the world to get them to support the product they’re selling, but masking it as an advocacy to foster a better kind of self-love and self-image for these girls. Under Section 1 of the Philippine Advertising Board’s Code of Ethics, “Advertisements should always be readily perceptible as commercial announcements and should not create any misimpression that they are news or editorial items or public service announcements.” Now although it is a local Code of Ethics, advertisers worldwide must adhere to some similar code, under which should state the delivery of truthful advertisements and make the public know that these are in fact commercials. If Dove did not flash their logo at the end of every ad, I could have so easily taken their commercials as public service announcements or editorials. So personally, I think my argument with Dove is with their advocacy and advertisements. Although it isn’t bad in itself, it is quite sly with the process it’s done in.
Ad Standards Council. (n.d.). Code of Ethics: Standards of Presentation for Consumer Protection and Safety. Retrieved from http://www.asc.com.ph/our-standards/code-of-ethics/standard-of-presentation-for-consumer-protection
Dove. (n.d.). Articles & Advice: The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. Retrieved from http://www.dove.us/Social-Mission/campaign-for-real-beauty.aspx
Kurtzleben, Danielle. (2013, April 18). Do Dove and Axe sell the same message? US News. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/04/18/unilever-faces-criticism-for-real-beauty-ad-campaign