Tackling Ugly Truth, Dove Effort Evolves Beautifully

New Spot Punctures Our Anorexic, Breast-implanted, Tricked-up Barbie Doll Fantasies

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Call it Dovelution, the incremental adaptations of an ad campaign ever closer to perfection.

From the beginning, the "Campaign for Real Beauty" had the makings of something extraordinary, celebrating
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Dove's 'Evolution': 'No wonder our perception of beauty is distorted.' | ALSO: Comment on this review in the 'Your Opinion' box below.

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Dove's Viral Hit 'Evolution' is a Real Beauty
a concept of beauty far broader than the anorexic, breast-implanted, tricked-up Barbie doll of the culture's fantasies. Ogilvy & Mather went out and found lovely, radiant women who just happened to not be size 2.

New standard?
In a way, as we then observed, there was a certain hypocrisy afoot. These "real" women were themselves far to the right side of the bell curve. Poreless, big eyes, great bone structure, just generally impossibly beautiful -- except for not being especially skinny. The campaign that touted a new standard nonetheless established an impossible standard, and with it the bogus implication that Dove products could help you achieve it.

It was, in effect, a logical flaw undercutting what might have been an important cultural moment.

Good news. It was still an important cultural moment. The emotional impact of the campaign by far trumped its internal inconsistencies and was enthusiastically embraced, at least in the media, as a declaration of liberation. No more would women be enslaved by an unattainable, external, superficial, fundamentally sexist definition of beauty. They would find their own beautiful self, and flaunt it with pride -- even in a size 12.

Dove ethic
This Dove ethic corresponded so nicely with the lessons of inner beauty our parents always taught us, and with what sounds morally right, that it resonated far and wide. Never mind that it conflicts with all of our actual experience from the time we enter kindergarten. We all wish for it to be so, and so we credited Unilever with taking a stand.

At which point, the Dove Campaign for Wishful Thinking began evolving into something truly special.

The latest evolution is titled "Evolution," a web spot from Ogilvy, Toronto, that has gone megaviral. It's a time-lapse film of a woman -- a young, pretty-but-unexceptional-looking woman -- being transformed into a billboard model. She sits there, expressionless, in center frame as a team of hairdressers, makeup artists, lighting specialists and, afterward, Photoshop retouchers, pimp her hide.

The process clearly takes hours, and needless to say the seductress we see finally on the billboard bears scant resemblance to the woman who sat down in the chair. Then the title card:

"No wonder our perception of beauty is distorted."

A reality so unfair
Yeah, no wonder. Not only is the perception grounded in a tiny fraction of the gene pool, the actual goods are enhanced artificially. Dove's observation is so right, and the underlying reality feels so wrong. It's just so ... unfair.

Let us not dwell on the fact that both Ogilvy and Unilever have resorted to exactly such unfairness since time immemorial. The larger fact is they've latched on to a powerful idea here and have demonstrated magnificent sensitivity in following it through.

Another web video from Ogilvy, Toronto, shows interviews with young girls speaking of the pressures they face to conform to conventions of prettiness. There is not one iota of mawkishness in the exercise; the kids are as conversational and even-keeled as can be. Yet their words are achingly, heartbreakingly true.

Here, owing in large part to the 30-second form, is a rare opportunity for a commercial advertiser to define an important debate worldwide and transcend the petty venality of commerce. The bonus is, if they stay with this message come what may, they'll also turn over lots and lots of whatever it is -- apart from uncomfortable truth -- they're selling.

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Review: 4 stars
Ad: Dove
Agency: Ogilvy & Mather
Location: Toronto
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