AdLib: Women call the shots on beauty
Media & Marketing with Michael Cullen
Twelve years ago, Unilever challenged the ageless notion of female beauty with its Dove ads. Some saw the 'Real Beauty' campaign as an audacious move, while doubters labelled it a cynical exercise by the Anglo-Dutch behemoth. The critics cried that rather making a big deal about little, its ad agency, Ogilvy & Mather (O&M), should devise something a lot slicker.
Unilever surveyed women worldwide to find that over two-thirds of them said the media and advertisers set unrealistic standards of beauty which most women cannot possibly achieve. Women said they still wanted to look and feel attractive but they felt the definition of beauty needed changing. Just 2pc chose the word 'beautiful' to describe their appearance.
How women feel about their looks reflects their true self and esteem, while 'beauty' involves a comparison with others, as if being forced into some sort of competition.
Why aren't women glad to be grey? What's wrong with wrinkles? Can't a redhead with freckles look adorable? Dove campaigns never used supermodels or pin-ups.
O&M opts for everyday women with cute noses, real curves, hirsute and tummies in ads. As Dove 'Real Beauty' rolled out in September 2004, women went online to cast their votes and join the beauty debate in chat rooms. Confessions, philosophical questions and rants (like "females are dying to try to fit into these stereotypes, fighting depression and self-hate and ridicule, and for what?") showed nerves were being struck.
O&M hired writer Susie Orbach for advice. Orbach's books on women's psychology include 'Fat is a Feminist Issue'. She told Unilever that just 30 minutes looking at a magazine can lower a woman's esteem. One in four college females had an eating disorder, prompted by a longing to be accepted, pretty and self-content. Most women wake up feeling their tummies to check how good or bad they were the day before.
"She involves herself in trying to look younger, skinnier, taller, bigger-breasted, smaller-breasted and making sure every surface is coiffed, painted, plucked, waxed, perfumed, moisturised, conditioned or dyed. Taking the job on for herself is her response to being targeted and it's her refusal - as it were - to be done to," Orbach said. Even if all enemies were banished, ageing would be waiting just around the corner. Dove's mission was to offer something to women not impossible, but practical.
The promotion of images of ever-skinnier, wan-looking Kate Moss-types - but apparently need-free women who shoved attitude into the lens - was posing serious problems for women.
Orbach urged Dove to include diverse, vibrant, pleasing and sexy images of women of all sizes, ages and physical types. Adland was promoting an idea of beauty that was narrow and exclusive, where everyone had to be thin. If Dove was going to turn things around, they would have to produce images of women in all of their sumptuous variety.
The 'untouched' photos of real women in the Dove ads are not exactly chopped liver in the looks department. Judging from the images of non-models in bras, panties and big, happy smiles, there's not much room for improvement. It's the women's radiant and credible smiles that make them work. Dove ads work because they are aspirational and doable.
* Unilever rival Procter & Gamble (P&G) has launched Victoria50.ie. It's a website for women aged 50 and over who are "living the life they want because it's their turn". P&G says the over-50s have moved on from being women of "a certain age" to individuals who exude confidence and feel fulfilled and sexy.
The 'Women of a Certain Age' survey saw CensusWide interview 6,400 females across Europe. Victoria50's ambassador is British TV presenter Carol Vorderman. She said her mother always told her life after 50 was downhill - a claim she firmly rejects. The site covers lifestyle, culture, fashion, health, beauty and relationships.
* Aer Lingus is on the lookout for a new creative agency, despite having only moved its business to KesselsKramer from Irish International last year. The Dutch group, with offices in Amsterdam, London and Los Angeles, rolled out a snazzy TV ad, voiced by Moone Boy star Chris O'Dowd and featuring cabin crew.
Targeting Ryanair customers, the ad has a new take on the big band classic 'Sentimental Journey', which saw Les Brown & His Band of Renown and Doris Day on vocals top the charts in 1945. While agencies interested in presenting signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), AdLib understands DDFH&B will pitch, along with Publicis and Rothco. In the brief, Aer Lingus has asked that proposals include the 'Smart Flies...' line. Brian Sparks at Agency Assessments was hired as pitch doctor.
* Ireland's biennial awards competition for showcasing advertising effectiveness is on September 22 when the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland (IAPI) hosts Adfx. This year's MC is comedian Dara O'Briain. The Adfx shortlist is on the IAPI website.
Michael Cullen is editor of Marketing.ie: firstname.lastname@example.org