"Real women have real curves," Dove tells us in the latest stage of its Campaign for Real Beauty.
Yep. Women have curves. And advertising throws some-even advertising that purports to remedy longstanding offenses against reality and womandom. That's why this effort from Unilever and Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago, is so confounding. In terms of advertising honesty, as we shall see, it is less than meets the eye. But you can't but applaud marketers selling beauty products without trotting out the standard impossibly gorgeous, skinny, young models.
After all, don't those poreless, hipless, silken-haired, high-cheekboned, size-0, 20-year-old goddesses perpetuate a false standard of beauty? Don't they tend to trigger body-image anxiety in the 99.9% of women who aren't supermodels? Don't they imply the attainability, via the advertised product, of physical qualities actually attainable only via genetic good fortune?
Yes, which is why Dove can safely-if self-righteously-assert, "For too long, beauty has been defined by narrow, stifling stereotypes." The status quo screams for reform.
Thus, first in Europe and for the past year here, Dove has offered counter-images: older women, wrinkled women, freckled women and women too well-fed for the cover of Vogue. And these "real" ladies are all indeed radiant, reveling in their own very confident sense of self. The latest batch are six 20-somethings who are not only not size-0 but decidedly on the zaftig side. Not fat, exactly. Not even "Rubenesque." Just full-figured.
And flaunting it.
Why wouldn't they? Sizes 6 and 8 notwithstanding, they're all still head-turners, with straight white teeth, no visible pores and not a cell of cellulite. Which is part of the problem. Hips or no hips, they represent a beauty standard still idealized and, for the overwhelming majority of consumers, still pretty damn unattainable.
The main hypocrisy, though, lies in the product promise where-beneath the veneer of beauty correctness-lurks the misleading core of the sell: "Introducing new Dove Body Nourishers with 24-hour NutriSerum. Dove goes beyond moisturizing to nourish every inch of your skin."
Oh, really? You buy that? Well, to paraphrase one of our great contemporary thinkers: You don't know about the history of dermatology. I do.
While modern moisturizers do contain exfoliants that enable them to penetrate the skin, they aren't especially nutritious and they ain't no "serum"-at least, not in the "antidote" sense commonly understood. On the contrary, says Dr. Min-Wei Christine Lee, a Walnut Creek, Cal., dermatological surgeon and spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology, these preparations produce only marginal results. "If they [users] get 10% improvement," she says, "that's a good outcome."
Needless to say, of course, there is no language in these ads to put the benefits of "hydration" in context. On the contrary, there is only hyperventilated prose and bogus trademarking to imply miracle efficacy:
"Dove Fresh Radiance Anti-Aging contains milk peptides...."
Anti-Aging. Why not go all the way and promote New Dove Anti-Death Serum, now with Molecules?
Therein the confounding question: Is advertising that postures as refreshingly honest-only to engage in the business-as-usual of exploiting vanity, insecurity and self-delusion-better or worse than the standard supermodel Big Lie?
Tough call. We suppose the end of having women of normal weight portrayed as glamour objects trumps-if not justifies-the obnoxious cosmetic hype. We're delighted to see the real curves. We only wish beauty advertisers had the self-respect to play it straight.
Review: 2.5 stars
Agency: Ogilvy & Mather