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Dove Real Beauty Campaign is a series of print and video advertisements for the beauty brand launched in 2004 which focuses on natural beauty rather than artificial or impossibly high beauty standards. Though several of the videos under the campaign have gone viral, they have been met with criticism for being too condescending.
Dove’s Real Beauty campaign first launched in 2004 with videos, commercials and print ads intended to celebrate physical variation in women. The campaign used images of six women (shown below) with different skin tones and body types posing in white underwear, suggesting that women do not have to fit in to model ideals or stereotypes to be beautiful. In 2005, Dove’s sales went up 20%. It was in part inspired by a study completed in September 2004 by researchers from Harvard, the London School of Economics and market research group StrategyOne that found only 2% of the 3,200 women surveyed described themselves as “beautiful.”
Real Beauty Sketches
On April 14th, 2013, Dove uploaded six videos realting to the Real Beauty Sketches campaign to their YouTube account, doveunitedstates. The videos included the overview video in a three-minute (shown below) and a six-minute version. The other four videos focused in on the experience of three of the subjects,Florence, Kela and Melinda, as well as sketch artist Gil Zamora. Within the first week of upload, the video gained nearly ten million views.
Within five days of its debut on YouTube, Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” ad was shared on Facebook more than 1 million times and tweeted about more than 22,000 times. On April 15th, it was shared on the women’s interest subreddit /r/TwoXChromosomes, where it gained 175 upvotes and 135 points overall. In the following days, scanned images of Zamora’s sketches (shown below) )were picked up by several online and mainstream news outlets, including Huffington Post, E! Online, TIME NewsFeed, ABC Newsand Yahoo! News.
Though the video was generally perceived as a positive piece, many bloggers began to note their criticisms of the ad as early as on April 16th, 2013. That day, Tumblr blogger Jazz Brice posted a lengthy critique, noting that although the video does include people of color, they are only on screen for approximately 10 seconds in the longer version of the ad. The post also noted the emphasis on “thin” as a positive descriptor, a point emphasized the same day on Feministing. Brice’s post was featured on The Daily Dot the following day. Also on the 17th, blogger Kate from Eat The Damn Cake emphasized the ageism behind some of the traits deemed negative, including moles and wrinkles. Over the next two days, the controversy surrounding the manner in which the video depicts beauty was discussed on Psychology Today, New York Magazine, Salon, Parade and AdWeek.
On May 21st, 2013, Scientific American published an article titled “You Are Less Beautiful Than You Think,” which argued that the Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” campaign is factually misleading when compared to a series of empirical evidence based on psychological research. In a study conducted by Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago and Erin Whitchurch of the University of Virginia and published in 2008, the researchers concluded that people tend to possess inflated perceptions of their own physical appearance in comparison to their assessment of strangers, a general psychological phenomenon known as “self-ehhancement.” Similar to the forensic sketching process in the advert, the study subjects were photographed and then asked to identify the unmodified version of their portraits from two computerized versions that are more or less flattering.
Drawing from some of the criticisms launched at the original ads, parody ads began to spread on YouTube. On April 17th, 2013, New Feelings Time uploaded a video titled “Dove Real Beauty Sketches – Men,” (below, left) to their YouTube channel. The video features the same set-up as the original Real Beauty Sketches, replacing the self-deprecating women with men with high opinions of their appearance, and the complimentary strangers with critical strangers. As of April 2013, the video has over 3.3 million views. On April 24th, YouTuber Nicole Conlan uploaded a video titled “Dove Real Beauty Sketches [Parody],” (below, right) to her YouTube channel. The video features the same set-up as the original Dove Real Beauty Sketches, but reveals all the sketches are of the unabomber.
On April 29th, AdhocVids uploaded a video titled “Real Beauty Sketches: #Balls,” (below, left) to their YouTube channel. The video mirrors the original Dove Real Beauty Sketches, replacing the women describing their faces with men describing their balls. As of April 2014, the video has over 1.4 million views. In addition to the parodies of the advertisement, Zamora’s sketch drawings also spawned a series of photoshopped spoofs (shown below).
Dove Real Beauty: Patches
On April 9th, Dove released a new advertisement on its YouTube channel which featured women wearing patches on their skin they were told would improve their self-esteem. Though the women reported feeling more confident, it was later revealed to them the patch was only a sticker. In less than a month the video gained over 19.9 million views.
The video was met with a lot of critism. The same day the ad was released New York Magazine published a piece titled “This Dove Ad Is Garbage,” explaining the ad made the women seem dumb and asserting they should have included at least one woman getting angry when she found out the patch did nothing. Other websites that covered the backlash include Forbes and Jezebel.
On April 22nd, Above Average Network released a parody of the patches ad that featured women being asked to look in a “mirror,” which was actually a hole in the wall through which they could see a man in a gorilla costume. The women in the parody immediately realize they aren’t looking at their reflection, even as the Dove spokeswoman tries to tell them they’re not as ugly as they think they are. In less than 24 hours the video gained over 20,000 views.
Laughing Squid – Dove Real Beauty Sketches For Men, A Parody by New Feelings Time
Feministing – “Dove Real Beauty,” self-esteem, and One Direction
Eat The Damn Cake – the problem with the dove real beauty sketches campaign
Psychology Today – What’s Wrong With Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches Campaign?