Thursday, 18 April 2013

Dove's Real Beauty Sketches: A Noble Effort Toward Uplifting Advertising


(Disclaimer: this post contains some feelings and opinions about gender issues, about which I claim no expertise or knowledge other than my firsthand experience of being a human lady in the world for the last few decades.) 

Recently, Dove released a video series on their website called “Real Beauty Sketches”. In it, they ask a group of women to describe themselves to an FBI-trained sketch artist. Then, they have a stranger describe each of those women to the artist as well and compare the differences between the sketches. Spoiler alert: the women don’t think quite as highly of themselves as maybe they should. The sketches created based off their self-descriptions are much less attractive than those based off the strangers’ descriptions. Watch the video now, if you haven't seen it already.


All in all this is a pretty cool campaign that’s being shared by women all over social media, and I think it’s a clever use of video marketing for a few reasons:

Jenise really smolders in version 2, eh?
1.  Dove projects a sense of transparency in this video, which is the kind of behavior that tends to  engender high loyalty from fans. Rather than setting up the premise for us then cutting to the results, we’re shown interview footage of the women, the sketch artist, and the strangers discussing the process of making this video and the information they did and did not have about what it was being used for. Supposedly they had no idea what was being measured, or what Dove was trying to prove. This gives the process a feel of authenticity and makes the results as well as the participants’ reactions feel more sincere.


2.  They take advantage of a longer form video (than a typical 30-second spot) to tell a story that expresses their core mission. This isn’t some quick, cheap laugh oft found on the Internet, nor is it some really over-the-top touchy-feely schmaltzy let’s-go-hug-our-mothers tear jerker (I’m not so much a fan of those types, as I don’t like others to know I have feelings). Rather, Dove had an idea, didn’t have to limit themselves to a typical commercial length, took their time but didn’t dawdle, and produced a well-crafted 6-minute (or thereabouts) video. Well-paced, well-shot, well-edited, and they were smart enough to break the main video into separate smaller videos (more to share!).

3. Advertisers take note: It’s ok to make people feel good! I promise you can still sell stuff that way! No, really. Listen, advertising can be kind of a dirty word. Ok, it can be a VERY dirty word sometimes, and make no mistake about it, this video is advertising for Dove. Though they never mention any of their products or discuss the relationship directly, this is an ad. But it’s an ad whose goal (or at least ONE of the goals) is to make women feel better about themselves, showing them that their insecurities are baseless, that they are not alone in this struggle, and that they should be proud of who they are naturally rather than focusing on and exaggerating what we see as “flaws” but are really just “differences”. The differences help give us character, show our history, make us unique, and make us beautiful. Yes, it’s starting to sound like schmaltz, but for a beauty product manufacturer to be putting out the message, “Don’t focus on your flaws” is a brave tactic and one that I admire. I’m happy to be advertised to if that advertisement makes me feel genuinely happy, and I’m a heck of a lot happier to spend money with a company that wants me to be genuinely happy.

All this being said, the cynical part of me has a few thoughts as well…

1. Who are these strangers helping to create the more beautified versions of the participants? It’s possible these “strangers” (AKA “potential Dove employees”) were handpicked for their kindness or generosity, or they were just outright instructed to be so. I mean let’s be honest, if these strangers were untrained and sincerely honest they would’ve had something negative to say about someone at some point. And maybe the participants were selected for their high scores on the “How Much Do You Hate Yourself” test. 
Florence gets an A+ in hating herself.
Also, the “strangers” (yes, I will continue to put it in quotes) are giving their descriptions from memory. I don’t know how long they looked at the faces, but I guarantee the participants have spent more time studying their own face than the “strangers” did. Also witness testimony is basically worthless. So. 
Let's hope this stranger is never asked to testify in court about the length of anyone's hair. 
(Can you tell I was way into sociological research in college? My instinct is to be skeptical of the methodological validity of this “study”. Then I remind myself it’s not a study, it’s an advertisement, and that pleasant sense of transparency and sincerity loses some of its glow…)

2. The whole premise might be kind of bunk. We don’t all hate ourselves, in fact multiple studies have shown that on average weactually think a little too highly of ourselves some times. If Dove was truly concerned with improving the self-esteem of women among those who are lacking, maybe they would provide role models of healthy self-esteem, rather than perpetuating the stereotype that all women are insecure and hate themselves. They don’t. 

3. This experiment is based off the premise that we will all agree which version is more or less attractive, with the assumption there is an objective measure of beauty (all while suggesting that this objective beauty matters and will determine the rest of your life. Read more on this angle here.) Doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose? First of all, everyone looks kind of like the troll version of themselves when they're drawn by a sketch artist, but on a couple of these, I wasn't sure I agreed the "stranger" version was more "beautiful" than the self-described version.
I'm more into self-Olivia than stranger-Olivia.
4. Finally I’m lead to this thought: Dove is making a point about women perceiving themselves as less attractive than others perceive them, but this isn’t necessarily just a “female” problem. It would be interesting to see this same concept applied to male self-perception. In fact, I think that would be more interesting. We already know all women are insecure which is why they are so easily taken advantage of (AM I RIGHT AM I RIGHT??)...

Barney knows.


-       ...but with men this topic is still more taboo. Definitely women receive more pressure from the marketing world to achieve supermodel-brand “beauty”, but surely the menfolk don’t all fancy themselves John Hamm (there can only be one) either. Maybe we could tackle this “Don’t be so hard on yourself because the fashion mags tell you to” issue as a human issue, rather than singling out one gender for being more or less affected/susceptible, as both undoubtedly are to one degree or another. Maybe I don’t really know anything about this and shouldn’t be making suggestions. [UPDATE: If you want to see what the male version of this "experiment" looks like, watch this.]



Despite these misgivings, hats off to Dove for trying something different and trying to sell in a meaningfully positive way. What do you think? Did the video resonate with you, or do you have misgivings as well? Do I talk too much? Leave your answers in the comments!















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