Since the dawn of advertising, we have traded in the idea of perfection. We’ve promised that perfect lives, perfect bodies and perfect skin could all be achieved if we only buy the right product or follow the right routine.
That's why it was such a shock in 2004 when Dove launched “The Campaign for Real Beauty” and showed something we never thought would be possible in advertising: reality.
The move away from perfect models to real people woke us all up from our idyllic retouched dream, forcing us to question why we found reality so repulsive in the first place. This ignited a global conversation that led to Dove’s iconic “Evolution” film two years later.
These campaigns reset an entire category and became a benchmark for any brands that wanted to disrupt their own worlds.
Over a decade later, we saw the same effect happening, only this time digital distortion became the heart of the conversation. Many brands introduced the notion that if a visual was retouched it needed to be clearly labeled -- or banned retouching altogether.
And while this is a huge step in the right direction, it should be the minimum. The people featured in these communications are still a long way from what we see when we look in the mirror. There is a difference between banning unattainable perfection and showing imperfection.
It is no longer enough for brands to be anti-perfection or anti-retouching. To succeed, beauty marketers, for example, need to be brave enough to embrace the reality of skin and to normalize seeing it in all its glory.
From industry giants to start-ups, a few courageous contenders are leading this new evolution. Topicals, a new brand on the skincare scene, is asking its Gen Z audience to redefine the meaning of “good skin” to help bring acceptance and confidence back into the category.
Meanwhile, L’Oréal’s leading dermatology brand, La Roche-Posay (disclosure: client) launched its first-ever brand campaign dedicated to shining a light on the 1.9 billion people who live with skin conditions. “Skin Is More Than Skin” not only shows what living with skin issues looks like, but what it feels like.
What's perhaps most shocking about this real depiction of skin is that it is shocking at all. After all, every single person in the world has had a skin issue at some point in their lives. Much as we were shocked in 2004 when we saw “real people” for the first time, the hope is that we can now embrace this new depiction of skin in the same way. And we hope to see more and more brands not only banning retouching, but showing real skin.
It may have taken us 17 years to come this far, but that doesn’t mean we need to take another 17 years to normalize it.
The time of perfect skin is over. Long live real, unretouched, imperfect, glorious skin.