1. Thank you!
2. It depends. If we’re talking about the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty:
I have seen a lot of criticism of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. I’m hard-pressed to decide whether I think that criticism is fair.
Criticism I’ve Seen of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty is Fair, Because:
- Body type diversity in the “spread” photo is still narrow, when the wow factor of the campaign is meant to be how “real” and diverse the subjects of the ads are
- Photos used in the ad campaign are retouched, just like photos in a “typical” ad campaign
- Everybody is able-bodied, as far as the viewer can tell. Some people were unhappy that the campaign excluded people with visible disabilities.
- Even if the subjects of the ads are not typical fashion models, everybody has average or above-average looks. This is arguably a contradiction of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty’s guiding principles, one of which is to “challenge beauty stereotypes”.
- All subjects appear to be biologically female. Some people felt this excluded transgender female-identified persons from “real beauty”.
- Regardless of the reason why someone might feel uncomfortable about, or excluded by, the Campaign for Real Beauty, the fact that someone may feel uncomfortable about it at all runs counter to the supposed point of the campaign.
Criticism I’ve Seen of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty is UNfair, Because:
- Those criticizing the lack of size/gender presentation diversity in the campaign act like they don’t understand what an ad campaign is
- seriously, whether it is or is not an attempt to correct a social injustice doesn’t change the fact that they are there to sell soap to women more than anything else
- Those who identify as female, but do not present as what most people view as “female” make up a small part of Dove’s audience - and the audience of most any product that isn’t aimed at a niche market, really. They are, however, likely to make people who DO make up the bulk of Dove’s audience uncomfortable, thereby alienating them - which is not the point of an ad campaign.
- Many women are much heavier AND much lighter than the high end and low end of body weight shown in the “spread”. However, both of these extremes may well alienate Dove’s audience.
- Women who are very obese may not want to be reminded of it, especially through an ad campaign that is supposed to make them more comfortable with themselves - not dredge up feelings of low self-esteem.
- Any women who are NOT very thin, may feel uncomfortable about the inclusion of a woman who IS very thin because this can also dredge up feelings of low self-esteem - in much the way Photoshopped pictures of models in fashion magazines do. In the context of an ad campaign intended to call attention to, and appreciate, the women who may be most susceptible to feeling bad about Photoshopped models, I think including a thinner woman could’ve been a double-whammy of bad feelings.
- I think it’s rational of the company to err on the side of not including body types that actually have a lot of sociopolitical stigma attached. Instead, they use “average” body types, and artificially attach sociopolitical stigma to those bodies that are normal in the real world, depending on how they deviate from the abnormal ideal we’re used to seeing in advertising. The aforementioned “wow” factor of the campaign - the “real”-ness, the diversity of the subjects in the ads - is rather cleverly once-removed. Instead of confronting the sensitive consumer with the stark reality of an often personal and painful subject, a move that probably wouldn’t incite many people to buy soap, the campaign is placed in the context of the safer, idealized world of conventional beauty. In the world of conventional beauty, your proxy, the individual meant to represent aspirational you in advertising, is usually spitshine perfect. So, when they introduce “diversity” under the pretense of challenging the ideal, it’s not diversity compared to real life royal YOU as a standard - it’s diversity, as compared to Spitshine Perfect You, your ad proxy. The campaign is ABOUT beauty standards in advertising, so of course, the standards in advertising are the context, not what we actually see when we walk out the door in the morning. This level of remove from reality allows the campaign to talk about the degree of difference between “conventional beauty” and “everybody else”, without actually having to hurt the average target consumer’s feelings by bringing them BACK to reality - which, when the subject is so sensitive, could be like a punch in the face.
- Realistically, you can have an imperfect attempt at integrating social justice into advertising that sells products to a broad audience and raises some awareness, you can have a much more thorough attempt at integrating progressive social ideals that alienates most of its broad audience (due to common prejudices held by said broad audience), thereby selling nothing and dis-incentivizing future attempts at integrating progressive social ideals, or you can have an Axe commercial. Ad execs, marketers, copywriters - they are people, they need jobs, too. It’s all well and good to say “oh, well, they should take the moral high road”, but the moral high road doesn’t feed your family.
- Working within the confines of reality is exactly that - confined. The Campaign for Real Beauty is constrained by the prejudices of its target audience, and the need to convince said audience to purchase the product(s) in question - which requires not pissing them off, or making them squirm uncomfortably. The campaign does, however, raise awareness of how problematic Spitshine Perfect You is as a standardized, aspirational consumer proxy. It also manages to avoid being too condescending to women for being sensitive about body image, which is a pothole the campaign could have VERY easily tripped into.
- The successful precedent set by the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty - by which I mean “it raised brand awareness and moved product”, this is, after all, an industry ultimately driven by money - paves the way for more progressive ad campaigns in the future. I think some credit should be given for that. I rarely see that credit given.
None of that helped me clear up whether I think the criticism leveled at the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty ads is fair. Fairness and morality aside - I think the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty was a VERY clever, (95%) tasteful way to get its target audience’s attention. I do think it’s naive to expect any ad campaign to place progressive social ideals above potential profit, but I also think the aforementioned fact does not negate:
- the potential good any such campaign does through raising awareness
- the possibility that - while the socially progressive aspect of the ad campaign may not be the driving priority behind it, it is still a priority that is close to the parent company’s heart.
Now, I’m bringing morality and fairness back into it. Given how heavy our exposure to advertising is, the vector may be one of the most effective, hardest-to-avoid vehicles of conveying desired social mores. What this means for me is that I try to support products that market via messages I agree with. I may not agree 100% with any given message, but, to give an example, I’d buy Old Spice over Axe any day. Old Spice’s campaign isn’t perfect - it’s still got this asinine idea at its core that the only reason men (should) care about their body odor is to impress women. Axe, however, sells a comparatively abysmal message to its audience: “Use Axe, and brainless, gently sighing sex kittens will come fawn over you. That’s manly, right? Oh, yeah. If you’re manly, like an Axe man, then you’re into brainless sex kittens gently sighing all over you. You aren’t supposed to want other stuff, because that other stuff isn’t Axe stuff, which means it isn’t manly. Axe is the epitome of manliness. Hey, do you remember that time you crushed on a fat girl in middle school, and that kid on the football team found out and called you a fag? That sucked, didn’t it? You remember when everyone came back at the beginning of freshman year, and that fat girl was suddenly really hot? Yeah? And she went out with that football player? God, that really burned your beans, didn’t it? You know who that doesn’t happen to? Axe Guy.” In short, if you are going to buy a type of product, I think it’s socially responsible to support one with a better, if still imperfect, message, as opposed to taking a giant angry dump on it because it isn’t perfect, and then buying Axe out of spite. It’s never going to be perfect. “Better” is the best it can get.
3: If we’re talking about Victoria Secret’s Love Your Body campaign…
I admit, when I first saw this campaign in a Victoria’s Secret storefront, I wondered if I was crazy, or if there really was an intentional reference to Dove’s culturally significant Campaign for Real Beauty. I mean, they couldn’t be serious, right? Either it’s an:
- accident borne of a whole lot of ignorance about their own industry (did they miss the Dove campaign completely, and this a bizarre coincidence? Did they think the Dove campaign was for plus-sized underwear, so a Victoria Secret equivalent campaign for “average” underwear must require really thin models? Do they think Dove makes underwear?)
- remarkably cynical joke that assumes the target audience is as cynical as the admen
- remarkably cynical joke that assumes the target audience aspires to be as cynical as the admen
- remarkably cynical joke that assumes the target audience is really, really dumb.
It’s hard to tell which of those it might be. I mean, I’m fairly certain they are aware of the Dove campaign. I’m fairly certain the Love Your Body campaign is, in fact, a reference to the Dove campaign. But, do the admen think their audience is really cynical (“urbane”), aspires to it, or that their audience is that dumb as to not notice that they are being sold lingerie for “every body” via a single body type to which a profound insecurity and stigma is attached? Then, you add insult to injury by modeling a campaign that VERY blatantly reinforces the Spitshine Perfect You status quo, after a campaign whose goal was to sell product by promoting a message of body acceptance. That’s a pretty shitty thing to do. Do I expect better? No. I hope for better. I hope for smarter, even. I don’t think Victoria Secret will find that their campaign is nearly as successful as the one they are referencing (or possibly even parodying). Even though I don’t expect better, I can, at least, spend my money in ways that reinforce my wish for better, smarter advertising.
I wanted to end this by saying, “I won’t be buying from Victoria’s Secret any time soon”, but that would imply that I shopped there in the first place. I don’t. If you’ve gotta get your hands on one of those 5 for 25$ panty deals, I’d recommend Aerie instead. Their message isn’t perfectly progressive either (I’d venture to say it isn’t progressive at all), but at least they aren’t insulting my intelligence. Plus, their underwear lasts forever.
so this is that other
blog I made
Hm, wasn’t the Old Spice “Man your Man could smell like” campaign legitimately aimed at women? I mean, as opposed to being a “you should only care about smelling good to impress girls” campaign. I’d heard that the numbers people came back saying more often than not, women were the ones buying grocieries and various amenities (including toiletries for their male significant others) and decided they would take a stab at making a campaign that was funny, explicitly addressing women, and featuring a sexy guy so it would be at the forefront of their minds in the men’s deodorant aisle. It’d be like if Kotex found out that most menstrual products were being bought by husbands and boyfriends and started making goofy tampon ads full of gunmetal grey, dinosaurs, explosions, and self-satire.
Gonna copy-paste something vonmuir wrote once as a response to a blog entry I’d made wondering why women’s bra commercials are usually so ridiculous:
“As a former bra sales expert (really), the biggest marketing point for most of the lingerie was men buying for women. I did a lot of guesstimating based on ‘she’s about your size/the size of that lady over there/like my size but with boobs to here’, and we specifically had stuff labeled in more generic/’free’ size to sell to these customers.
“Of course, volume-wise, we got more women. But women are savvier to sales on things like underwear, and more apt to go to the ‘practical’ stuff for themselves, rather than the pricier matched sets and ~boudoir~ nonsense, which have much higher profit margins.
“so tl;dr - yes, women’s underwear commercials are more for men than anything else.”
Anyway, I’m personally indifferent about both Dove and VS’s campaigns, but coelasquid’s comments about the Old Spice Guy commercials reminded me of what Meg had told me about women’s underwear which I thought was interesting enough to share with you all!