Thursday, May 8, 2008

Is Dove's "Real Beauty" Fake?

Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign has been lauded for bringing some "truth" to the marketing of "beauty products". The brand has positioned itself as a champion for women--an advocate that understands real women age and that real beauty blossoms with age.

Turns out there may be more "truthiness" (to borrow from Colbert) than truth in the campaign. According to Ad Age, a renowned airbrush artist "is quoted as saying he extensively retouched photos used in the Campaign for Real Beauty, which, if true, could seriously undermine an effort that already has subjected Unilever to considerable consumer and activist backlash in recent months."

If this is true, it's a horrible thing to happen to both Dove and to marketing in general. Consumers keep tuning out from marketing because they view it as inherently misleading, and this sort of insincerity undermines all of our efforts.

Of course, there isn't much marketing that is completely truthful. Our industry is about persuasion and fantasy--if your floors are brighter, your family will love you; if you use this body spray, women will flock to you; if you drink this vodka, you'll be more worldly; etc.

Still, in the era of transparency and social media, you have to make sure the brand position you stake out is honest and real. Dove can't say "we support real women" and "aging is beautiful" and then get caught retouching the photos.

Nowadays, you can't really hide the truth--at least not forever! This is an important lesson about the changing landscape of media, the Internet, and consumer influence. For example, Wal-Mart cannot position itself as a family- and employee-focused organization and then sue a brain-damaged former employee to reclaim the cash it paid for health benefits. A decade ago, they may have controlled the awareness of this incident and the damage caused by tightly managing its media relations; today, a search for "wal-mart Debbie Shank" results in 63,000 results, and not one of them paints Wal-Mart in a positive light.

The contention that Dove retouched the "Real Beauty" of their models has not been proven, but the accusations about the Dove campaign and the actions of Wal-Mart help to demonstrate the need and requirement for more transparency. Consumers are very sensitive to a brand's genuineness these days, which makes "walking the walk"--not just in marketing but throughout the organization--more important than ever.

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