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!”

Flattery in Marketing

A columnist over at The Onion’s “AV Club” writes today expressing mystification about why the actresses on that brutal piece of post-feminist woman-on-woman sexism, the utterly horrible TV show “Sex and the City,” were not actually conventionally super-beautiful. After all, especially for women, looks remain one of the few avenues of conceivable social mobility into the kind of plastic, bourgeois, Manhattanite social spheres which that putrid turd of a program cravenly worshipped.

Why, then, the intrepid AV Clubber asks, such plain-Jane starlets on the show?

the starsThe answer is beyond simple, if you have any working knowledge of the controlling force behind this and all other commercial TV shows: big business marketing.

The marketing rationale for this apparent “mystery” is that “Sex and the City” is nothing more than a vehicle of flattering ordinary, average-looking women into believing they could, if only they were single and living in SoHo, be one of the friends of cigarette-smoking “Carrie,” the show’s supposedly “smart” and “sexy” central character.

You see, if the actresses were really as stunning as you would expect them to be, based on knowing how the real world actually works, they would be fantasy-killers and, thus, drive away viewers. Knowing this, the packagers of “Sex and the City” cast four comparatively homely lead actresses. The implanted reaction: “See? They’re not models. Neither am I! I could totally hang with Carrie!”

This implanted reaction was a piece of smart, effective, conventional marketing. The purpose of “Sex and the City” was (and is — it’s massively being re-run) to deliver the maximum number of female eyeballs to its sponsors’ advertising campaigns. To do this, its producers simply decided to make the lead characters “attainable” in both looks and behavior, so that the “girls” in the audience would indulge the show’s proposed fantasy of decadent, pampered, narcissistic shopping, dining, and man-chasing.

Of course, once the eyeballs get delivered, the more ordinary “aspirational” flatteries return: “Buy this cosmetic, and you will look like Halle Berry.”Halle Berry

The lesson here was stated well by my favorite ad critic, Leslie Savan. To understand corporate marketing, Savan says, “follow the flattery.” Once you do that, many “mysteries” evaporate.