Diann Daniel’s article, “Real Beauty = Real Sales?,” at CMO Magazine discusses the Dove and Nike campaigns using images of “real women,” and whether or not they can translate to the bottom line.
Daniel says Dove’s global Campaign for Real Beauty was based on a 10-country study of more than 3,200 women conducted by Unilever with Harvard University and the London School of Economics. The aim was “to learn about women’s views on their own beauty,” with a mission to “expand and challenge society’s rigid definition of beauty.” The campaign then put out billboards and print ads featuring non-traditional images of women (e.g., wrinkled, freckled, plus-sized) and asked viewers to vote on them via a website.
Philippe Harousseau, director of marketing for Dove, is quoted as saying: “The majority of women think that the images surrounding them offer someone else’s narrow definition of what ‘beautiful’ is and assumes an inherent dissatisfaction with a woman’s own beauty.” In contrast, the article says, “Dove believes that women are ready for a more authentic representation of beauty.”
According to Daniel, Dove claims that sales of products featured in the ads increased 600 percent in the first two months of the campaign. Still, she cites skeptics.
Gerald Celente, director and founder of the consultancy, Trends Research Institute, says: “Using the average person won’t sell anything. The purpose of advertising is to create desire beyond what the product can actually deliver. Do you want to see the floppy Big Mac that the fast food worker actually packages up and hands to you, or the perfect airbrushed billboard version? People are living lives of desperation; they don’t want to be themselves.”
Mary Lou Quinlan, CEO of the marketing consultancy, Just Ask a Woman, points out: “If we’re all fine the way we are, we don’t need to buy anything. That’s not what marketing is about.” Daniel cites her as arguing that the motivation to buy beauty products is based on aspiration and the promise of transformation.
Daniel says Quinlan is more in favor of Nike’s “Big Butts, Thunder Thighs and Tomboy Knees” campaign featuring messages like, “My legs…are envied for their strength…,” because they are about ambition, empowerment and pushing the limits.
The author, however, presents Harousseau’s counter-argument: “By using real women with real curves and real bodies, we are trying to broaden the definition of beauty and encourage women to take great care of themselves. It doesn’t mean that women will not continue to use beauty products to help them look and feel their best.”
Daniel says that both Quinlan and Celente acknowledge that Dove and Nike have risen above the clutter of advertising, though.
She says Quinlan thinks Dove has made a successful corporate campaign that has put a “shiny halo across the brand,” and that growing global diversity and evolving attitudes toward age guarantee this direction for women’s personal care products, saying, “There are so many influences driving what is beautiful now. The pressure will continue for marketers to be on the edge of that.”
Daniel cites Celente as saying: “Others might follow, but it doesn’t mean they’ll be doing it for intelligent or researched reasons. There’s simply a dearth of creativity.”
In addition, reader Kirk Petersen, Director of Marketing and Communications at DALSA Coreco, says: “I don’t see anybody taking any big risks here. The women in the campaign photo are still far from average ‘real women.’ It’s a little egotistical to think that, as marketers, we are leading a cultural revolution. Marketing very seldom leads cultural change - only occasionally when it is ‘on’ can it sometimes reflect the leading edge of change already taking place.”
To my mind, marketing and advertising have no choice but to always be “on” and to reflect the rapid changes happening in the world today. It may be true that consumers are still aspirational, but the question remains: what do they aspire to these days? The answer is always evolving and becoming more and more diverse each day.