Kernels of Disappointment

So, one of the latest breakthrough products in our ongoing age of wonders is apparently “antiperspirant” that doubles as make-up for armpits, brought to us by the loving hand of the Unilever conglomerate:

The mode of invention for such marvels of appropriate technology is, of course, all the bold and costly research corporations conduct, allegedly on our behalf.

The real object of that research? Invention of new problems:

“Everyone is looking to consumer research for ideas,” [the industry expert] said. “It’s desperation time. Even companies that never were heavy into research, like the upscale department-store brands, are using it, looking for kernels of disappointment [they] can latch onto.” [Ad Age, March 5, 2013]

Dove Droppings: A Campaign of Real Fakery

For some time, the Unilever Corporation has been peddling its extensive line of unsustainably packaged, mostly ineffective and unnecessary “Dove” brand products under its “Campaign for Real Beauty” marketing strategy.

The basic idea is pure big business marketing Flipthink: Having been at the forefront of the hundred-year drive to push cosmetics and “aspirational” body and beauty images on women, why don’t we strike a pose as if we’re now really quite disgusted by and opposed to manipulating female self-perceptions? Hey, what a great way to sell whole new floods of crap to the Bubbettes! Genius!

Here’s what Unilever says on a webpage allegedly (when a corporation publicly admits whom it is targeting, you ought to smell a rat) targeted at 11-to-16 girls*:

Image Manipulation: It’s hard to know what’s real anymore. Photo imaging software ensures every food product looks yummy, every car looks sleek, and every model looks perfect. Just look at a typical magazine cover, television commercial, or billboard and you’ll see the media has created an ideal image of what females should look like. Big round breasts, a narrow waist, long flowing hair, full pouty lips, tall lean body, and voila! — perfection. We’ve reached a point in society where we idolize that look — then we look at ourselves in the mirror and compare ourselves to those models…

Catch Unilever’s diagnosis of the culprits involved: “the media,” our “point in society,” and, of course, “we,” the mirror-gazers. No profit-seeking, media-sponsoring, mind-implanting corporations involved whatsoever!

But that’s merely the half of it. Turns out, genuine honesty and realism have had the exact same place in this “Campaign for Real Beauty” as they occupy in any other marketing mix — none.

In a story titled “Retouching Ruckus Leaves Dove Flailing,” this week’s issue of Advertising Age reports that Unilever has been caught with its hand on the very photo imaging software it claims to be denouncing and transcending.

Ad Age’s story on the exposure of Unilever’s fraud quotes Pascal Dangin, the “prominent” image re-toucher who clandestinely worked for Unilever. Laurel Collins, the author of a piece of puff reportage in the immensely over-rated The New Yorker magazine relays this fleeting exchange she had with Dangin:

I mentioned the Dove ad campaign that proudly featured lumpier-than-usual “real women” in their undergarments. It turned out that it was a Dangin job. “Do you know how much retouching was on that?” he asked. “But it was great to do, a challenge, to keep everyone’s skin and faces showing the mileage but not looking unattractive.”

So, even in a “real” marketing image, the really real must be carefully selected and re-touched, as always.

Once again, Robert L. Heilbroner: “How strong, deep, or sustaining can be the values of a civilization that generates a ceaseless flow of half-truths and careful deceptions?”

*My guess is that the whole “Campaign for Real Beauty” is actually targeted at middle-aged moms, with the idea being to build brand loyalty to Dove among both moms and daughters by preying upon the moms’ own fear of aging and their desire to mentor their daughters in a vaguely feminist way. “Dove is real!”