Beautiful, Average or Real

Beauty brand Dove has mastered the shifty art of the pandering marketing scheme. Since the launch of their Campaign For Real Beauty, Dove has seen word of mouth exposure worth an estimated thirty times their paid-for ad space. Simply put, their ads go viral.

Their most recent ad is no exception:

In this ad, you see women (and, of course, only women) given a choice of two doors to enter – one labelled Beautiful and one labelled Average. First, a few items of note about myself. My beauty brand, as far as shampoo and body wash is concerned, is an organic dish soap. I also use it as hand soap and, not shockingly, to clean my dishes. To say I am neither brand nor beauty obsessed is fair. Secondly, I play RPGs and, when given the choice between two doors, I take it very seriously. One of them may have a Beholder behind it.

Do NOT choose that door.

Do NOT choose that door.

While I am generally cynical of self-esteem targeted marketing, this ad in particular frustrates me. Women, probably on their way to somewhere they have to be, are required to make a public statement about their self worth. To add to this problematic scenario, women are presented with a predetermined binary of self-reflection, both of which focus solely on physical appearance. One is either Average, or one is Beautiful. Putting aside that Average means norm and that there is no reason one should feel ashamed for defining themselves as commonly attractive, how many women (or men) would freely choose either of these words to describe themselves?

I asked my friends and online aquaintences to describe themselves using just one word. I received 36 responses. Not a single person, when given a whole world of adjectives, chose either Average or Beautiful. The words people used to describe themselves were as diverse as the people. In fact, only the words smart, survivor and passionate came up more than once. For the record, my friends are brass, broken, chameleon, contradictory, defective, discombobulated, driven, emotional, fanfreakintastic, flange, goony, happy, hopeful, kooky, lexophilic, logical, loud, ludic, magical, mercurial, muppet-like, passionate, problematic, quirky, real, smart, striking, surviving, trepidacious, unapologetic, vanilla and weird. It’s pretty clear I have amazingly cool friends.

It seems to me that the only way to have the conversation Dove is trying so desperately to have is to manufacture it.



And even their manufactured conversation only has one right answer. The name of the video is Dove Choose Beautiful (because just choosing beautiful without Dove wouldn’t cost $4.77 a bottle.) The implication is that there is a right answer and that answer is Beautiful. Heaven forfend one should view oneself as Average. Note: not ugly, cruel or evil. Nope. Just Average. Those poor women. Why don’t they see themselves as Beautiful? After all, when defining oneself, it’s clearly more important than smart or passionate, right?

Which leads to the final problem with this ad. Women have to play. When I asked people to define themselves using one word, a few people refused. One person sent the word “no” as their response. People could choose not to answer. Every visual in the ad seems to suggest that these women could not reach their destination unless they picked a door.

And there was no "Fuck you, I'm busy" door.

And there was no “Fuck you, I’m busy” door.

I’m not implying that there isn’t a conversation to be had around beauty. That conversation is already happening. What I’m saying is that Dove’s condescending and manipulative ad has no place in this conversation. I, for one, choose door #3 (That’s the door where I ignore input on beauty from the company that also brings us Axe Body Spray and ads like this:)

But why don't the wimminz feel Beautiful, dammit!!

But why don’t the wimminz feel Beautiful, dammit!?


2 thoughts on “Beautiful, Average or Real

  1. Great article Heather. This ad frustrated me because it was saying that beauty should be the most important thing for a woman. Not self-confidence, not being driven or passionate…but beautiful. It’s advertisements like this that make young women question their beauty the moment they step outside because they believe it defines them (am I beautiful, or merely average)? There’s so much more to a person than just their beauty, yet Dove never digs deep enough to talk about it.

    • It’s really condescending. It’s telling me I’m good enough, while also being really specific about what good enough entails. Still, the campaign is clearly working for them. They’ve been running iterations on it for 10 years now.

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