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The good, the bad, and the ugly of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty

The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty has been called a lot of things, from a “game changer” and “a breath of fresh air”, to “hypocritical”, “sexist”, and “sneaky”. So why has the campaign, whose major innovation was to use ads that featured real women rather than airbrushed models or celebrity spokespersons, sparked so much controversy? Taking a social psychological perspective, this article attempts to address the good, the bad, and possibly even the ugly side of Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty.

Dove launched the “Campaign for Real Beauty” in 2004, in response to the findings of a major global study, The Real Truth About Beauty: A Global Report, which had revealed that only 2% of women around the world would describe themselves as beautiful (Etcoff, Orbach, Scott, & D’Agostino, 2004). The main message of the Dove campaign was that women’s unique differences should be celebrated, rather than ignored, and that physical appearance should be transformed from a source of anxiety to a source of confidence. This message was delivered through a variety of communication means, including TV commercials, magazine spreads, talk shows, and a worldwide conversation via the Internet.Despite the immense popularity and commercial success of the campaign, it has also been subject to much criticism. Many critics have relentlessly questioned and brought into focus the campaign’s mixed messages, which have left some consumers feeling ambivalent towards the Dove brand. On the one hand, the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty can be viewed as espousing a positive message, with the goal of changing women’s attitudes toward their perception of beauty. On the other hand, consumers are also aware of the campaign’s conflicting goal, one that is imperative and alike to all advertising campaigns, which is to increase sales.  Taking a social psychological perspective, this article will attempt to address the good, the bad, and possibly even the ugly side of Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty. The goal of the article is neither to praise nor admonish the campaign, but simply to examine the complicated nature of advertising in today’s society, and to motivate consumers to take an educated stance with regard to advertising campaigns. How many of the ads you enjoy (or at least tolerate) actually reinforce stereotypes, or contribute to lowered self-esteem? It is an issue worthy of reflection.

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