In 2004, the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty launched it’s first “real women” ad. I cried. It was love at first sight. The ads, featuring real women rather than models, were as emotional and controversial as the conversations that ensued in my classroom.
Pretty powerful, right?
I was heartbroken. I felt betrayed. Unilever is like the worst kind of bad boyfriend. You know the one. You’re honest about your feelings and rather than honoring your vulnerability, he uses it to figure out exactly what you want to hear. He harvests your emotions then says all the right things, but there’s not an ounce of commitment backing it up. I hate that guy.
After reading all of the great comments, I decided to pull my head completely out of the sand and email Unilever. Here's a snippet from my email: I want to know if the Campaign is run by a group of people who are committed to empowering women and believe in what they are doing. The majority of women I talk to want to believe this. Who are the women and men behind the campaign? Are they marketing people or people fighting to make a difference. What's behind the curtain?
Well, Unilever emailed back. Here's what they said:
Hello Dr. Brown,
Thank you for contacting us regarding our recent ads. We appreciate the opportunity to respond to you.
Unilever is a large global company with many brands in its portfolio, and as such, takes its marketing responsibilities very seriously. Each brand’s efforts are tailored to reflect the unique interest and needs of its audience.
The point of the Dove ad "Onslaught" is to show the cumulative impact of all the beauty messaging that young girls encounter, highlighting the reality of these everyday messages. We believe we've started an important discussion about the potential impact on self esteem.
AXE ads are designed to be tongue-in-cheek and are not meant to be taken seriously. Every campaign is tested, not just with the target market of 18-24 year-old males, but also with their female counterparts and their mothers. If they don't understand it as humorous, the ads would not be used.
The campaigns for both Dove and AXE resist telling people how they should look and aim to build people's confidence in each of the targeted markets. While we wish to please all who view our ads, we do recognize that perception of advertising is highly individual.
We thank you again for your interest in Unilever and our brands.
Their response didn't do much for me. I appreciate the fact that they responded; however, it feels a bit like their standard "form letter to fend off feminists."
But even with the form letter, I've decided that it's too early to bury the bird.
I'm choosing to believe that the men and women of the Dove Campaign are doing good, meaningful work and can't be held responsible for the actions of a huge, multinational parent company (lots of people are doing good work in big companies and with funding from big companies, and I'm not sure that a "clean" multinational corporation exists).
I believe in Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty and the message that it's sending to girls and women. In fact, I'll use some of the critical thinking skills that they're teaching to keep an eye on Axe and Unilever!