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).

[...snip...] 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

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