In 2017, we witnessed a chorus of online voices denouncing the Dove bottle advertisement shown in Exhibit 19.3. The ad which celebrated the diversity of beauty in all shapes and forms, was misinterpreted by those who thought Dove was mocking women, and their comments on social media created a wave of negative publicity.
But was it really a slip-up as the voices claimed it to be? Had “Dove run out of ideas?” Did others feel the same way?
With a view to understanding Dove’s intent, let’s reflect on the legacy of Dove advertising.
The brand is considered the originator of femvertising — the practice of harnessing feminism in advertising. Starting in 2003, Dove’s advertising emphasis shifted towards depicting beauty without artifice, or “real beauty”. What followed were a series of campaigns such as Evolution (2006), Onslaught (2007), Pro-age (2007), Girls under Pressure (2008) and Self Esteem (2011, 2017, 2020).
At a time when market research indicated that only 4% of women thought of themselves as beautiful, Dove rejected the narrow depiction of beauty portrayed in the media. By challenging society’s deeply ingrained obsession with appearance, Dove became an advocate for women to appreciate themselves and recognize beauty in all shapes and forms.
In this context, the Dove bottle advertisement did not belittle or shame women. On the contrary, it celebrated the diverse shapes and sizes of the female body, showcasing the curves and lines of beauty. The advertisement’s creativity lies in the symbolism of the elegant Dove bottles as a representation of the feminine form.
According to the brand’s team: “Just like women, we wanted to show that our iconic bottle can come in all shapes and sizes.”
It is worth noting that such online dialogue, which stimulates debate and discussion and presents opposing views, can actually benefit the brand. By drawing attention to social values and deep-rooted concerns about beauty, the ad imbues Dove with a similar sense of purpose, increasing consumers’ interest and involvement with the brand.
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