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Dove #SpeakBeautiful is the ugliest form of patronising femvertising

I recently read an article that talked about how feminists should embrace the fact that brands are co-opting it in order to, well, sell stuff.

And broadly I agreed.

I’m a feminist and I also work in advertising, so it’s probably unsurprising that I’d be open to brands getting feminism onto more people’s radars, and hopefully recruiting a few more feminists, for the trade off of letting them sell some stuff in return.

Though admittedly there is a tiny part of me that squirms about it, as quid pro quo deals go, it doesn’t feel too painful. And that’s perhaps because for the most part the brands that have sought to flog product while furthering the feminist cause have done it reasonably well.

Recently I really admired the brilliant #LikeAGirl campaign from Always. Puberty’s a tricky time for everyone, but for girls it also means getting to grips with having periods. Another reason to feel self-conscious.

To my mind it is totally credible that Always would get involved with tackling the insults that perpetuate a woman’s struggle with confidence throughout life. They’re a brand with a justifiable reason to talk to young women at this life-stage, and to be seen to be doing so by women of other life-stages.

Like it or not, sometimes we need to be reminded that doing stuff #LikeAGirl is pretty kick-ass, even when we’re well beyond puberty. The fact that there was a fairly huge backlash about it, ironically proves how far we have yet to go.

Then there’s Dove and the Real Beauty campaign that’s been around in various guises for about a decade – working to undo the effects of the body shaming that is largely perpetuated by the beauty industry, and to help their (primarily female) audience to feel beautiful in their skin, regardless of it’s age or colour the shape of the body that it covers.

I’ve always kind of liked the notion of it. Cynic that I very much am, what’s not to like, really? And when they recently released their Real Beauty Sketches they brought some new life back into a potentially tired campaign idea, by drawing attention to how far we still have to go, to learn to love ourselves as we are and see our own beauty. A timely reminder done in a smart and thought provoking way

So, yay for these brands and others! They’re challenging stereotypes, tackling the things that undermine women’s confidence and make us feel prouder of ourselves, and using their enormous media spend to do it to loads of people. All great stuff.

Then Last Tuesday the Dove #SpeakBeautiful hashtag was the number one trending hashtag on Twitter and, well, UGH!

In one swift move they’ve gone from pro-women to patronising women. From empowering women to love themselves as they are, to tone policing women when they don’t. From helping women celebrate their beauty, to slapping them down when they don’t.

The Washington Post called it the “ugliest thing on Twitter today”, and they weren’t wrong. I instantly had a lot of feelings about the campaign, so I sat with them a while, in the hope that I would calm down. I didn’t.

Mostly whenever I think about it I want to set fire to things.

Firstly, as a feminist, it’s because of the reasons I listed above. How dare a brand tell me the right way to talk about myself?

Yes, women often say negative things about themselves on Twitter and it would perhaps be good to help me want to do it less often. But I’m afraid you need to [expletives] if you think it’s OK to interject without invitation to police what I’m saying.

Who died and made Dove the positivity thought police?

It’s invasive, condescending and kind of sinister; the absolute opposite of all the work that they’ve done with previous initiatives.

Which brings me to my second point, as a marketer, it miffs me that they’ve so successfully undone the good work of previous campaigns. In the rush to demonstrate their innovative thinking, by partnering with Twitter, they’ve lost sight of what made the creative platform form.

When you have such a strong creative platform it’s really important to understand what makes it work and not throw it under a bus because you’ve had your head turned by a sodding hashtag! They strayed away from the insight that made their work work. Poor decision-making and poor judgment, so now they’ve got to spend money making up lost ground. Silly.

And lastly, #SpeakBeautiful is a grammatical nightmare… but I’ve run out of words now, so I’ll just have to sit here with my still simmering feelings about how shocking the whole thing is, and try not to set fire to anything.

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