Dove's 'Real Beauty' Hits a Rough Patch

New Execution of Lauded Campaign Gets Blowback

By Published on .

Has Dove jumped the shark?

The brand's latest "Campaign for Real Beauty" video, in which women are tricked into believing they're wearing pharmaceutical patches that will make them feel more beautiful, is raising the ire of commentators in social and conventional media. Critics expressed outrage -- saying that the study was much more about Dove branding than women's self-esteem. Unilever, however, sees big viewership numbers and overwhelmingly positive social-media sentiment.

With 4.5 million views on YouTube alone over two days and 15 million globally via all channels by Unilever's count -- the "Patches" video from Ogilvy & Mather Brasil, Sao Paulo, is off to one of the strongest starts ever in the 10-year-old "Campaign for Real Beauty."

Then again, unlike prior installments of the campaign, it rolled into 65 countries simultaneously and had paid-media support from the start. And while Dove's campaign has long had detractors, "Patches" appears to have drawn more flak than usual. New York Magazine's website called it "garbage," and Gawker Media's Jezebel termed it Dove's "Most Bullshit Ad Yet."

Even beyond the outrage machine of social media, those critiques may have left an unsightly mark. "We see an initial down-trending with women for Dove on their buzz score," said a spokesman for YouGov, which tracks brand sentiment in online surveys of 4,500 panelists daily. "It's not dramatic at this point," he added. "But so far, it's definitely distinct."

Yet social-media monitoring service Infegy, in an analysis done for Advertising Age, found the broader social-media sentiment toward "Patches" 91% favorable and only 9% negative among the 49% of 2,181 Twitter and Facebook posts that expressed sentiment during the first two days of the campaign. That's similar to the 92%-positive sentiment Unilever found in its social-media tracking globally from more than 20,000 comments tracked by Radian6/Salesforce Marketing Cloud, said a spokeswoman from Dove's PR firm, Edelman.

In the "Patches" video, women are portrayed as going from seeing no difference to feeling more confident about their looks, then laughing or crying as they discover the patch had no real ingredients. None are shown getting angry. "All the women who participated in the social experiment feel that it was an extremely positive experience that has empowered them to be far more confident about their beauty, inside and out," said Steve Miles, Unilever's senior VP-Dove, in a statement.

He said Dove created the "Patches" video "to intentionally provoke a debate about women's relationship with beauty" given that 80% of women feel anxious about how they look and only 4% consider themselves beautiful.

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