Yesterday, Dove‘s new “Patches” video debuted, in the vein of their many pandering productions that inform of the revolutionary idea that inner beauty is more important than physical traits. We weren’t particularly impressed, and called them out for the exploitation. While I’ve seen a good amount of gushing coverage, there’s also been significant criticism of this new ad and Dove’s marketing policies in general. But what I find the most interesting in all of this is the question of what does a company have to do to get it right? If this approach is wrong, what’s a better option?
Yesterday’s post on the subject got a comment that said, in part:
And why so cynical? Why is it so outside the realm of possibility that Dove is a company with a conscious? That, yes, they are selling us “beauty” products, but is it possible that they’re not just blowing shit out of their ass they don’t believe to make a buck? Maybe they want to make money (because they would be a shitty company if they didn’t) AND they actually believe the things they say.
I mean, it’s not outside of the realm of possibility. And The Gloss (and those of us in the comments section, I’ll admit) are constantly going after beauty companies for telling us to change everything about ourselves. Dove does the exact opposite and yet they are assholes anyway?
Before we get into what a company could do better, we need to examine why this particular campaign falls so flat. Let’s get one thing straight: Dove only cares about getting your money from you. Dove does not care one bit about your self esteem or flipping the beauty standards in any way other than as an opportunity to make money. It’s not a cynical view of the world–it’s realistic. To think that a huge corporation like Dove actually cares about its customers’ self esteem is naive. There are companies in the world that care–it would be cynical to think that every company in the world is out to get you. But Dove doesn’t want women to wake up and suddenly find themselves above beauty standards. Nobody needs chemical deordorant or shaving cream in that world. You don’t need conditioner designed for color treated hair or to make curly hair straight in that scenario. Nobody would buy their products. Let’s let go of the idea that Dove legitimately cares about our well-being.
Intentions aside, the campaign is insulting, pure and simple. It perpetuates the idea that women can be bought and the idea that women are gullible. It’s built on the idea that women need to be told that they’re allowed to feel good about themselves, and that Dove has the answers to your self esteem issues, so you need to buy their products. As Kate Dries at Jezebel put it:
It’s definitely true that positive thinking works miracles. But that’s not what this campaign is really about; it’s about teaching women that Dove knows better. Dove is smarter. You should buy Dove because they’re on your side and they can teach you things.
Or as The Cut’s Maggie Lange put it in the delightfully titled “This Dove Ad Is Garbage:”
Shame upon you, Dove, for making these women seem dumb, and for not scripting at least one of them to act outraged that she had been duped.
This ad–like the rest of the Dove ads–is insulting. It’s self-esteem for dummies and the dummies are the women it’s aimed at.
So, this brings us to the idea of what a company could do to get it right. I don’t have an ad campaign planned out (there are people paid lots of money for that task), but I do know there are basic steps that Dove–and every beauty company–can take to avoid this pandering and exploitation. Dove isn’t telling you “you’re beautiful just as you are.” Dove is telling you “you’re beautiful just as you are, and I am more evolved than all the identical companies selling you things. I am your friend. Buy my products.” There are other ways besides taking advantage.
Advertising in general is pretty gross these days, but there are certainly ads that exist that subvert the norm without being so indulgent. My first thought is the HelloFlo Camp Gyno commercial from last year–one that was unapologetically honest about being female. That honesty is very much missing from this most recent ad, which is based entirely on misleading women. I don’t believe that the only alternative to “you need to buy xyz in order to be appealing to men” is a pandering video in which a bunch of conventionally attractive-yet-carefully-disheveled people are told they’re beautiful. Why not an ad that’s honest about the need for lotion on our elbows (look, dry elbows are uncomfortable) that’s not geared towards getting men to want to do weird sex things to our elbows or convincing us that because of moist elbows, we’re suddenly complete? Just tell me you’ll stop my dry skin from itching. That’s all I want from Dove.
What I’d really like to see from Dove are ads with real body diversity (and not just highly curated, palatable diversity), ads without a big reveal that shows the women duped into liking themselves, and something that doesn’t say “Dove has the answers to the problems plaguing you. Dove understands.” But maybe the answer is that companies that profit off of your insecurities will always exploit that for their gain. I don’t know if it’s realistic to expect any better, but that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to stop being critical and just let the exploitation wash over us.
Women want to be treated like people, and not like gullible children who can be bought with an emotional soundtrack and a tearful aha! moment. If Dove really cared about women’s sense of self, they would make videos about diverse beauty without their logo attached. Since that’s not the case, I’d much prefer that they focused on selling me my deodorant based on it’s lotion content rather than fake, branded self esteem.