DOVE IS KNOWN FOR RADICAL BEAUTY CAMPAIGNS.
HOW DID THEY MANAGE TO FAIL?
AMBER LOVE 10-MAR-2015 I’ve seen mostly signs of support and encouragement with @Dove’s campaign to fight beauty standards, but it’s not 100% there. When it comes to marketing products to women and fighting one ideal of beauty, any company will put themselves in a spotlight. This means consumers and activists will monitor you closely and judge accordingly.
Wouldn’t it be great if Dove products and packaging reflected the message they are getting all the viral attention for? Today, I spotted a rather harmful image to Dove’s PR. It shows a woman quoting Bon Jovi lyrics, an image of a Dove lotion bottle and the packaging telling her that her dark skin isn’t normal. And because women are constantly harassed online, I felt like I couldn’t even share the woman’s tweet here, though I RT’d, without altering the screencap to hide her name and avatar. [Edit: Don’t forget their #LoveYourCurls campaign backfired tremendously when they excluded women of color.]
SAMPLES OF DOVE’S HISTORICAL BEAUTY CAMPAIGNS
Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” showed what women say about themselves to a sketch artist who was hidden behind a curtain. Then the women describe another woman they only just met. The experiment showed how insulting the women were to themselves and how beautiful other women saw them. Not only were the ideas of physical appearances affected, but emotions of the subjects came through as well: one woman seeing her self-described portrait looked sad, but the one from another woman describing her was perceived as happy.
But before the 2013 real sketches, there was the 2008 video. Dove came out with the film, aka ad campaign, titled Onslaught. The message was nailed. “Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does.”
Hmmm. Actual commercials for Dove “beauty bar” which doesn’t even refer to its own product as “soap” because that’s far too masculine, uses words like softer skin. Yet, in the Onslaught film, they insinuate that ad campaigns using such marketing buzzwords in the beauty industry are bad for consumers.
Before Onslaught, there was Evolution. Evolution was a campaign that showed a pretty cool time lapse of what goes into making a female model’s head shot suitable for a print ad. This was more recently a concept brought to life by Global Democracy and reshared by viral site Upworthy, when a white, blonde model is Photoshopped to an unrecognizable version of herself.
There are plenty of YouTube videos showing the before and after of Photoshopping. Some get millions of hits.
One thing Dove (a brand of Unilever) does very well is marketing and going viral. During the 2015 Oscars, they had ads that were based on actual tweets. They analyzed keywords and found trends. They then took some actual tweets, crossed out the user names, and printed them on bars of soap. This was called their #SpeakBeautiful which is supposed to do the same thing as their #BeautyIs hashtag.
Don’t forget, Dove is still trying to sell you something. It’s not like they made these “films” (ads) out of universal kindness. They are lovely ads. They truly are. But they are ads.
DOVE IS NOT ALONE
I also recently saw that @ModCloth was getting a ton of praise for using its employees instead of professional models in a bathing suit promotion and that they expanded some of their sizes to 4X. I was a seasonal temp in the ModCloth warehouse in Pittsburgh. The company culture wasn’t about being nice to everyone and it sure wasn’t about lifting women up. The young 20-somethings who were in supervisory roles for the pick and pack of the warehouse, were displaying exactly the kind of behavior that psychologists warn against. They were thin – not a problem in a physical job if you take care of your body – but the two women split one frozen dietary meal between them for the entire day. I certainly kept my middle-aged thoughts to myself at the time because I’m not their mother nor a close friend and their habits aren’t my business. During the time I was there, I told the one girl whose name I can’t even remember, that I wasn’t physically able to keep up. Somewhere in that conversation she brought up how it was likely I’d build muscle and lose weight from all the running around in the subzero warehouse. I also got a good look at the clothes and accessories and found almost all of them to be shoddily made and not worth the prices they were getting.
Why would two thin women share a diet meal? If their meal sharing was a matter of affordability, then the way you live on less meals while getting in calorie count is doing what a lot of poor women do or what military personnel do. Your intake would include things higher in fat and calories like peanut butter, bread and milk – items covered under the WIC programs for a reason. So I seriously doubt it was a monetary issue that drove them to share diet meals.
This is my first time publicly admitting I worked at ModCloth, because I know most of my friends love to shop there. Their good experiences don’t erase my inside perception about what motivates or drives the company forward. Their good experiences make me feel like I must have done something wrong to not fit into the approved ModCloth culture. I begged to be moved to a position in packaging or shipping where I saw a person older than me who also couldn’t keep up get moved. They wouldn’t switch me for anything. But at the end of every shift, I was dead last in numbers and was told to improve. I felt like a failure at a warehouse job that was a fashion industry sector I actually had interest in. I failed and there was only one person I ever discussed it with until today.
ModCloth was a feminist success story in its own way. It’s an ecommerce only structure and was founded by husband and wife business team. Most of the articles seems to only address that it was co-founded by a woman rather than point out they were a team. I guess you need to cherrypick feminism sometimes.
When I was there, the holiday season boom they were expecting never happened and a job that was supposed to be from Thanksgiving through the New Year ended in December, before Hanukkah or Christmas or any other gift-giving event. Then in October of 2014, TechCrunch covered a second round of layoffs which cut their workforce dramatically. The company has apparently pledged to use only a minimal amount of photo retouching in their visual displays.
I CAN’T HELP MY SKEPTICISM
All businesses are just trying to make money. They aren’t charities though some end up affiliated with non-profits once they start making enough profit or bow to pressure. Needless to say, I am having a hard time overlooking my bad experience at ModCloth in order to congratulate them on showing bodies of various sizes in their catalog. The company is about the youth-obsessed market where thin is still very much in and people are fed countless ways about how their bodies aren’t “normal.” Unless there was a “Eureka!” moment and huge cultural shift within ModCloth, I am reluctant to take their all sizes, all colors, all shapes marketing as anything other than jumping on board a PR trend hoping to go viral and start bringing them some cash.
I have a problem seeing hashtags for eating disorder awareness and “beauty images” when you can’t even broach the subject of girls and women who have issues like eating disorders. I can’t applaud Sports Illustrated for spreading misinformation about featuring “plus size” model Ashley Graham when she appeared in an ad, not in a feature of their swimsuit issue. Sometimes companies are just going to get it wrong even with good intentions.