Is real beauty controversial? A look at Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches

Source: Dove

Source: Dove

Last Sunday, Dove reinvigorated its Campaign for Real Beauty with a viral YouTube video that has gained almost 30 million views.

In the video, the women describe themselves to a forensic artist, who draws them without ever seeing them. The artist then draws them based on a description from a stranger who had spent time with the woman earlier. While the women focus more on their own flaws, the strangers describe much more attractive people. The video ends with the message, “You are more beautiful than you think.” Watch below:


Dove launched its Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004, and this is one of a few viral videos that have been part of it. In 2011, the brand scaled back from the campaign.

Like its predecessors in the Real Beauty campaign, the video has been fairly controversial. AdWeek’s David Griner sums up the criticism in 5 points:

  1. It features too many traditionally attractive white women.
  2. It seems to define beauty as being thin and young.
  3. It positions beauty as the yardstick by which women measure themselves.
  4. It shows women as their own enemies rather than victims of a sexist society.
  5. It is hypocritical because it comes from Unilever, which also makes Axe, Slim-Fast and more.

These criticisms, particularly the final one, very much echo those throughout the campaign’s history. The Real Beauty campaign is controversial by nature. It aims to spark conversation. From a marketing perspective, the video is unique because it does not mention a specific product. Instead, it aims to build an identity for the Dove brand.

It’s an interesting concept to have a brand that is selling women beauty tell women that they’re already naturally beautiful. However, I think there’s some value in the Dove campaign breaking through the mold. Even if Dove doesn’t get it 100 percent right, the brand is starting an unprecedented conversation about beauty in advertising. The Real Beauty campaign might not single-handedly improve women’s self-esteem, but it has the potential to create as much change as a for-profit beauty brand can make.

No matter what you think of the campaign, it’s sparked at least one pretty hilarious parody. The video below reveals what might happen if men were used for the Dove experiment instead of women.


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