Dove Firming Lotion Ads spark controversy

During recent days, there's been a lot of hub-bub regarding Dove's latest "Campaign for Real Beauty" ads for their firming lotion. One of the most interesting happened in Chicago.

The Sun Times did a feature on the ads, and supposedly a "he said/ she said" piece as well. I say supposedly because there was only one journo credit on the piece. And apparently she only wrote the introduction, which is a background on the campaign and the new massive media buys.

That "he said" portion was writen by Lucio Guerrero:

One word comes to mind when I see those Dove ads -- disturbing. And disturbing quickly morphs into frightening when I see the ad while waiting for the L at the Merchandise Mart. There -- in all of their 4-foot-high glory -- are the ladies of Dove more lifelike than I'd like to see in my advertising.

Really, the only time I want to see a thigh that big is in a bucket with bread crumbs on it (rim shot here).

I get that it's all relative, but that's all the more reason why they shouldn't be on a billboard. See, ads should be about the beautiful people. They should include the unrealistic, the ideal or the unattainable look for which so many people strive. That's why models make so much money. They are freaks -- human anomalies -- who need to be paid to get photographed so we can gawk at them.

I see "real people" all the time. I don't need "real people" to sell me things. I'm a "real person" and I don't want to see me on the side of a bus -- and trust me, in my underwear neither do you. (And speaking of underwear, what's with the lingerie these women are wearing? It's like Sears catalog, circa 1983.)

It was posted without a link to the "she said" point of view.

As for the "she said":

I find this really sad because I came up in a time when we were eager to grow into the bodies of women. We wanted hips, a nice back porch and breasts. We saw beauty, strength and power in the body of a woman. Becoming a woman and having the stick figure of Lindsay Lohan would have been a disappointment.
Now it seems everyone wants grown women to look like 12-year-old boys. (Ladies, if you are with a man who wants you to look like these scrawny stick-figure celebrities, I'm thinking that deep down he's lusting after another gender. But I digress.)

And folks, that's not it.

Bill Zwecker, of CBS's moring show in Chicago added this to their newshow blog:

In this day and age, when we are facing a huge obesity problem in this country, we don't need to encourage anyone -- women OR men -- to think it's okay to be out of shape.

What? I cannot see how anyone in their right mind would consider these Dove ads an advertisement for obesity. The models aren't obese, no matter what some might think. In fact there are even a few people who think that Dove chose models who were still too thin in comparison with the weight of the "average american woman". But that's neither here nor there nor the end of this bizarre story.

Richard Roeper, yes that's Roeper of Ebert & Roeper movie-reviewing fame, said:

But the raw truth is, I find these Dove ads a little unsettling. If I want to see plump gals baring too much skin, I'll go to Taste of Chicago, OK? I'll walk down Michigan Avenue or go to Navy Pier. When we're talking women in their underwear on billboards outside my living room windows, give me the fantasy babes, please.

If that makes me sound superficial, shallow and sexist -- well yes, I'm a man.

Uh, so is he saying all men are superficial, shallow and sexist? And if being a man is an excuse...not to mention his first antedote on the page makes me wonder what kind of issues he has with women...but I digress. On with the rest of the story. In a later article Roeper published some of the hate mail he got in response to this. It will be interesting to see what kind of backlash the paper gets, after all, circulations are at an all time low. ;-)

An article from the Mercury News the columnist writes:

Nevertheless, Dove had the brilliant idea to use our bad body image as a way of selling soap. Actually, the gals-in-their-undies ad is hawking a firming lotion to tame the jiggling flab of these "real beauties." But isn't that promoting the stereotype of . . . oh, never mind. At least it's better than looking at a huge-eyed waif trying to convince us that she needs firming lotion. It's a step in the right direction.
Witness blogger Kim Nicole, 21, who admits on her Web site, "Call me shallow or stupid, but if you put something on a typical model, I'm more likely to buy it.'' Then she offers a twist on the low-self-esteem issue that the Dove marketers probably hadn't thought of: "Actually if the real models are cuter than me,'' she writes, "now I'm depressed because I'm not even cute enough by everyday standards."

Which just sounds to me like Kim has self-esteem issues.

Over at MsMusings there's a point of view about the ads, which are yes, trying to sell something but it's a good step.

Though it's a bit odd to come face-to-face with gigantic posters of women in their underwear, the images are kind of refreshing. Not only do they reject the supermodel ethos of the advertising industry but they show ordinary women who are confident and happy with themselves.

In the end, I realize it's still a cosmetics ad that plays off our cultural obsession with women's bodies and promotes a product that claims to "firm" those bodies. But within that limiting context, it's revolutionary.

Similarly, a columinst from Cleveland calls the campaign "manipulative, cynical, even dishonest" but doesn't care.

But avoidance and denial only can lift you so far in a world where billboards, television shows and movies are forever glamorizing the voluntarily starved. That model's smooth panty line is our eating binge, especially on days when we're retaining water.

So, if Dove wants to celebrate women who look like me, they've got my vote.

In one of the many online responses to the Chicago Dove fiasco, one blogger over at Chicago Metblogs points out:

By the way, firming cream is not used to "make people look thinner!" as Zwecker incorrectly pointed out in his article. Firming cream is used to combat the simple fact that, over time, skin loses tension and resiliency. Especially around the stomach and thighs of women who have given birth to children. You gain 50 pounds from carrying around a child and see how tight and firm your skin is.

So does that make moot the claim that many have about this particular ad campaign? The fact that Dove isn't using models that are more bone that muscle or fat, and that are not air-brushed or photoshopped makes it ring more true. Especially for a firming lotion. Does it mean that to be a real beauty you cannot care about how elastic your skin is or that you'd rather not see celluite? No. And yes, Dove is selling something. This is an advertising campaign after all, not a pro-bono ad put together by the AdCouncil or something.

DC Bachelor calls the models obese, and then goes on:

A girl I was with this weekend pointed to the Dove girl and asked me if I thought she was fat. Yes, I think she is fat, but I can’t actually say that. I decided to give an answer that had a little more tact (since I’m all about tact):

“Well, being raised in the American culture I have to say she is fat.”

The model would look better if she lost at least ten pounds. Don’t blame me because my standards drive me to a girl who appears not to have eaten in days, blame the profit-driven entertainment complex that chooses to deny pretty white women a monthly menstrual cycle. Their constant bombardment through magazines, movies, and advertisements have shaped your tastes, whether you like it or not.

Right. A blogger who links to his blog posted a rebuttle of sorts. One commentor on that post reminds us:

Some reports are that MM was anywhere from a 12 up to a 16. Of course, the standards for women's dress sizes haven't remained constant, but she wasn't a tiny thing. Neither was she "fat," even by today's standards. She was only 5'5", and weighed during her career as low as 118 to as high as 140 with a 36D chest.

And she was and still is considered a classic beauty. Although maybe that's just because she was famous. ;)

All this might have something to do with the massive media buy Dove and Ogilvy made in many metro locations. The ads are hard to miss. In Chicago, NYC and Boston they have taken over subway stations, filling every available ad space with the ads.

The ads dominate this subway station in Boston. The far wall has maybe 48 spaces for ads...which pretty much run the length of the station, and all of which were Dove ads.

The ads are already starting to be defaced with graffitti though. Like the ad below in Boston and these ads in NYC.

Maybe people wouldn't be so freaked out if there were less ads in these locations. But then again, the ads are making people talk. And even those people who don't like them are giving Dove a lot of free press by publishing their opinions on the topic.

For more on the Dove campaign check out:
Ogilvy Düsseldorf – No real beauties.
Embracing Real Beauty Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3
Article/interview with 2 from the campaign

about the author

caffeinegoddess I'm a creative director and copywriter with digital, integrated, and traditional expertise. I love sound strategy and great executions.

Comments (11)

  • AnonymousCoward's picture
    AnonymousCoward (not verified)

    Maybe this is because I'm Canadian and not American, and maybe it's because I have some common sense.

    What are you talking about?

    The women in these ads are not fat. They're not even obese. I am young and healthy and right in the centre of my weight range and I also have a bit of roundness to my belly and thighs that resemble thighs rather than chicken bones. That's natural and healthy. And yet I see people walking on the street in the states and the average woman is, I'm sorry to say, much larger than the women in these ads. Gents, you're dreaming.

    I've noticed though that women seem to appreciate these ads much more than men. They tend to embrace the imagery of women who resemble human beings to sell products they use every day. By this standard, the ad reps at Dove are ingenious. They are not selling these products for men, not at all. Men would never buy anything from the firming line, not for their girlfriends, not for their wives, and for the most part, not for themselves. So who cares if they don't like the ads?

    Advertising is not strictly entertainment. It is not for our amusement nor it does not have altrustic reasons. Ads are made to sell products. If Dove's new campaign sells their product, good for them. It certainly worked for Women's Nike. When it stops working, they'll change their strategy. But for now, I have yet to see the problem.

    May 04, 2006
  • RLDavies's picture
    RLDavies

    It's staggering that the Dove "Real Beauty" ads have caused such an uproar in the USA. Dove has been using the "Real Beauty" message in all its ads for years in the UK. Apart from some press releases when the campaign began, it hasn't been news.

    Admittedly, its posters get graffiti'd on. But no more than any others. Let's face it, ALL posters get graffiti'd on.

    I think this is a very disturbing indication of just how divorced from reality Americans and their values have become. Everything they have seems to be derived from artificial and highly manipulated sources - food, entertainment, and now even what they think human beings look like.

    May 17, 2006
  • AnonymousCoward's picture
    AnonymousCoward (not verified)

    So you men out there are sick of looking at these billboards that don't appeal to YOU! Well welcome to our world for a moment. For as long as I can remember I have been bombarded with advertisements, commercials, television shows and movies on how I am SUPPOSED to look and low and behold never achieved. Women are constantly reminded that we will never fit this mold of super models and we should fell ashamed while you men eat, smoke and drink whatever pleases you without any reminders of what slobs you are. And in the mean time our society fills your head with the false illusions that you would ever have a chance with a model like Cindy Crawford. So do what I have been doing for the past fifteen years of my life in regards to these billboards. If you don't like them than just ignore them! After all the product being sold is for women and not for you finally.

    Sep 23, 2005
  • AnonymousCoward's picture
    AnonymousCoward (not verified)

    Heck, if the women in that subway photo are "fat" then you have "issues" I can't say as like women with big breasts that much, from a purely aesthetic point of view I think they spoil the line of the body, but that aside I quite like all but one of them, the tall one is a babe!

    That said my wife is a size 10 so go figure...

    I don't know must be something in the water in the USA, first they have a fit about hidden consensual sex in a video game they were happy to certify even though it contained graphic violence, cop killing, drug abuse & roasted nuns, etc. Now people are bitching about pretty women, Only in America.

    Aug 24, 2005
  • Dabitch's picture
    Dabitch

    Wow, what a backlash! Which just goes to show you that Luke Sullivans words about ye old zig zag are true - these days it's actually shocking to show normal women.

    That person who thinks this encouranges obesity, what are they smoking?

    Jul 27, 2005
  • suddenwaffle's picture
    suddenwaffle

    Ok, forget the whole argument about 'real' women for a second. Because really, that's not what the ads should be about. Unless they are just designed as a PR stunt to create a hooha around the Dove brand and the new launch, in which case, a helluva success.

    But are they good ads for the PRODUCT? Will it drive sales? Let's see:

    Do these images show or exaggerate the product benefit of a 'firming' cream? Obviously not.

    I think any immediate sale spike they get because of the frenzy will be shortlived. When women realize they've just blown money on this stuff and their thighs are still as thick as jiggly ham hocks, sales will stagnate. But at least they'll all feel great about strong, natural women, right?

    Jul 27, 2005
  • Dabitch's picture
    Dabitch

    Firming cream has never ever ever made thighs thinner and that is not it's promise. Firming cream firms skin. Hence the name firming cream. The idea isn't to get thinner thights but firmer (skin on the) tummy and thighs. We know that we don't get thinner unless we diet and work out. Only guys (it seems) so far think that's what firming cream does. Stay out of the ladies skin/bath and makeup dept. if you don't know what the crap we use does honey. ;)
    Besides, all these gals looks like they have great firm skin to me.

    Jul 27, 2005
  • caffeinegoddess's picture
    caffeinegoddess

    There's more on the "facts" about firming lotion in an article from the Washington Post.

    The body wash label says it "moisturizes to improve skin's elasticity in days." The lotion label says "testing proves . . . after 2 weeks, skin is noticeably firmer," while the cream promises that in two weeks "the appearance of cellulite is visibly reduced." The language avoids making explicit health claims, which would require FDA approval.

    It goes on to say that the products may have some benefit but you have to be realistic about the results.

    Jul 27, 2005
  • AnonymousCoward's picture
    AnonymousCoward (not verified)

    I'm simply amazed at the amount of buzz generated by the campaign, and I think simply for that it should be considered a success. Look at us, a bunch of jaded ad brats discussing the details of what exactly this firming lotion does. I want to buy it, and I am a man who's not really even sure if firmer skin is desirable or not.

    As mentioned above, it's not as if Ogilvy/Dove chose to run the campaign for non-profit reasons, so who really cares what the ads mean in a deeper sense in terms of women's bodies, etc.? We'll leave that to the culture critics (okay, I only half mean that, but in this post I only have enough time to deal with the ad side of things). They have achieved their purpose as ads, and have been of a higher quality than so many lame campaigns recently.

    Unlike so many super bowl commercials, I think people will remember not only the ads from the campaign but the brand as well, if only because the ads require the viewer to fill in the missing information and ask questions like we have asked: What does firming lotion do if these women aren't skinny? Maybe that's the biggest success of the campaign, just getting across the message that this stuff isn't supposed to make you skinny...although that point doesn't seem to have sunk in, at least not into the minds of the men quoted here. But how about the target audience?

    Just by way of illustrating the point, open any women's magazine. Imagine a canned ad from L'Oreal or whatever, with just another beautiful model selling firming lotion. Now it would fit neatly into a well-known and over-used category of advertisements that every human past puberty largely dismisses. In a visual culture full of cliches and boring ads, the Dove campaign stands out.

    Oh, and Roeper's an f-ing idiot.

    Jul 28, 2005
  • AnonymousCoward's picture
    AnonymousCoward (not verified)

    It would be really interesting to consider the relationship between traditional media ads like this one and all the "buzz marketing" that is non-traditional and low-budget. What have the big ad guys learned from Jib-Jab and the like? Obviously something...

    Jul 28, 2005