An officer enters.
Officer:“Excuse me, Ma’am. I’m afraid you’re going to have to return that bottle to the shelf. Do a 180 and say goodbye to that shower buddy.”
Woman (clearly anxious): “But what did I do? I was gonna buy it — here’s my Balance Rewards card, and here’s my Visa! I swear! I’m a good citizen. I’ve already paid for five of those red noses — see?”
An alarm sounds, and three more officers sweep in, wearing dark riot gear. Their helmets read “Unilever Body Police.” The woman tries to run, and they body-block her. She screams.
Officer: “Uh, Ma’am, we don’t want any trouble. But we’ve been observing your waist-to-hips ratio, and I must inform you that under the new Dove Female Measurement Statute, you are limited to purchasing the shorter bottle with the pear shape. “
Above: "A Dove Tale," a nightmare scenario perhaps forged from my watching too much “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
But as you might have heard earlier in the week, Dove U.K. announced its new array of female-shaped bottles that, in the English version of the word, “Break the Mould.”
“From curvaceous to slender, tall to petite, and whatever your skin color, shoe size or hair type, beauty comes in a million different shapes and sizes,” Dove U.K. wrote on its Web site. “Our six exclusive bottle designs represent this diversity: just like women, we wanted to show that our iconic bottle can come in all shapes and sizes, too.”
Um, except it seems screamingly obvious that these six bottles represent a visual array of hunks of plastic, not women. Even Barbie has a head and toes.
The eye-rolling reaction was immediate in social media, made that much more powerful because this factory-based rollout seemed to contradict what the boundary-breaking Dove Campaign for Real Beauty was created to do: to give women confidence to feel comfortable in their own skins, by acknowledging that they don’t have to conform to societal stereotypes and standards — or typical, fake-aspirational ads — in order to be beautiful.
That campaign is significantly different from surveying these plastic bottles on a shelf and realizing that, well, you are the Venus de Willendorf.
The earliest executions of the Real Beauty campaign in the U.S. were billboards, which looked near-revolutionary for the time: a photographic lineup of diverse women posing in their white undies, rolls and freckles showing, apparently without benefit of retouching. (It was revealed later that the women’s skin was slightly retouched.)
My favorite of all was the 2006 video, “Evolution,” which went viral before “viral” was a term people even used. In a deft, sped-up way, the online video showed all the normal digital tricks beauty advertisers use to transform average-looking women into Heidi Klum types.
And Dove’s 2013 spot “Real Beauty Sketches,” which featured women describing their appearances to a forensic sketch artist, became the most-watched video ad of all time. In fairness, swelling with emotion and earnestness as it was, it also became one of the most easily parodied.
On balance, through the Campaign for Real Beauty (which now includes a play, a book, and a foundation), Dove and its global agency, Ogilvy & Mather, will be remembered for boosting self-esteem. How it came up with this extension, into the hall of tone-deaf ads, is a real head-scratcher.
So what do some industry experts think?
Gil Eyal, CEO of HYPRBrands, is rather forgiving. “Dove took a risk, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it went wrong…. At the end of the day, a marketing campaign that ignites a conversation and encourages brand awareness is the overall goal, and this campaign has received a fair amount of attention.”
But is any attention good attention? Marie Chan, a partner at Vivaldi, sees otherwise. “The key here is that Real Beauty is a mindset change,” she said. “For years, Dove took the insight that women don’t feel great about looking in the mirror when they see that their bodies are different from those they see in the media, and activated it brilliantly….. I think people are angry and hurt by these bottles because it draws attention to body differences — the antithesis of what we all thought Dove stands for as a brand.”
I asked Chan what the brand could have done differently. “Easy,” she said. “Check the concept with consumers next time before committing to this type of stunt. I guarantee you, most women would have told Dove that this is a bad idea.”